Behavioral Interviews (And how you can use them to your advantage)

by Brad McNally, Head Editor, INALJ Ohio

Behavioral Interviews (And how you can use them to your advantage)

brad.mcnallyAs most other job seekers, I’ve been to many interviews in the past. Some have been extremely interesting, but a few stick out in my memory. There are many types of interview questions to prepare for, and (like many others) I generally try to know as much as possible before going into an interview about the place, the people, and the position. One of the most interesting interviews I was granted was for one of the largest public libraries in the country (in the top 15) for a branch manager position.

A week or two later, sitting at my desk, I received an email about an interview for the position. Although I was extremely excited, I emailed back to set up a time and date. The next email from the Human Resources department really had me confused. One of the first things said was very similar to “Arrive in the main library, take the elevator up to the 3rd floor. Pick up the phone in the lobby and tell them your name. Someone will come get you.” Inside, I couldn’t help but think I had just signed up to be a spy.

Then I read the next line: “We use behavioral interview techniques. Please prepare accordingly.” I had no clue what this meant, so I began searching and thinking about how to answer questions. Now, almost two years later, a short conversation with a fellow head editor made me realize that many people have concerns about these types of interviews.

What is behavioral interviewing?

Even if you’ve never been told that you would be completing a behavioral interview, chances are that you have done one in the past. Instead of traditional interview questions, which are more straightforward, these questions address your own behavior in past positions. The employer defines a set of skills that they would want in a new candidate and try to ask questions to see how the candidate has handled situations in the past and if they possess the desired skills.

What questions should be expected?

Questions asked of an applicant in this type of interview are more pointed. They generally go into more detail and will include follow-up questions. Typically, they are along the lines of the following:

  • Give an example of a time when you had to make a risky decision. How did you address it? How did it work out?
  • Have you ever dealt with a company policy you weren’t in agreement with? How did you do it?
  • Share an example of a time when you handled a difficult situation with a supervisor. How did you do it?

There are many lists available of these types of questions, but there is an easy way to organize your response that works extremely well.

The STAR interview technique:

The STAR interviewing technique is part of the behavioral interview process. As a candidate, if you are prepared to answer with this information, the interview will go much smoother. The acronym (STAR) gives a clear guide to what information is needed from the candidate.

  • Situation: Specifically what the actual situation was that you are relating to the question.
  • Task: What was your responsibility in that situation? Describe the task that was asked of you.
  • Action: Explain what action you took. How did you complete the task or meet the challenge?
  • Result: What was the outcome of your action?

By knowing this template, you can be prepared to answer a large number of questions about your background and work history. In fact, I have even jotted down the question as it was asked, and outlined my answer as I was speaking to an interviewer. While it may not be the best practice, I was offered the job after the interview, so it (anecdotally) was not the worst idea.

How you can use this to your advantage:

Personally, I love answering interview questions this way. You know your past work better than anyone else. As long as you know how to address it, use it to your advantage. Before the interview, read some of the common questions and think of situations. One of the important things to remember is that the employer is judging your previous behavior so you should be prepared to tell the story of how it all happened. If you can use your excitement about challenges you’ve faced in previous positions to show how you can benefit the organization, they will be pleased. Also, because you know your work history better than anyone, you can steer the conversation to really show your strengths.

Just to be completely honest: I actually was not offered the spy job (which turned out to not be spy-related at all), but they did contact me regarding future postings that I may be interested in. I actually was not completely sure how I would have taken the job due to logistics any way, but the interview preparation definitely was useful in the next two interviews, which led me to my current position.


Naomi House

Naomi House, MLIS, is the founder and publisher of the popular webzine and jobs list (formerly I Need a Library Job) and former CMO (Chief Marketing Officer) of, a crowdfunding platform focused on African patrimony, heritage and cultural projects. INALJ was founded in October 2010 with the assistance of her fellow Rutgers classmate, Elizabeth Leonard. Its social media presence has grown to include Facebook (retired in 2016), Twitter and a LinkedIn group, in addition to the interviews, articles and jobs found on INALJ. INALJ has had over 21 Million page hits and helped many, many thousands of librarians find employment! Through grassroots marketing, word of mouth and a real focus on exploring unconventional resources for job leads, INALJ grew from a subscription base of 20 friends to a website with over 500,000 visits in one month. Naomi believes that well-sourced quantity is quality in this narrow job market and INALJ reflects this with many new jobs published daily. She has also written for the 2011, 2012 and 2013 LexisNexis Government Info Pro and many other publications in the past decade. She presents whenever she can, including serving on three panels at the American Library Association's Annual Conference in Las Vegas; as breakout presenter at OCLC EMEA in Cape Town, South Africa; as a keynote speaker at the Virginia Library Association annual meeting; at the National Press Club in Washington DC; McGill University in Montreal, Canada; the University of the Emirates, Dubai, MLIS program and the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Naomi was a Reference, Marketing and Acquisitions Librarian for a contractor at a federal library outside Washington, DC, and has been living and working in Budapest, Hungary and Western New York State. She spent years running her husband’s moving labor website, fixed and sold old houses and assisted her husband cooking delicious Pakistani food. She is preparing to re-enter the workforce and is job hunting. Her husband is now the co-editor of INALJ, a true support!  She has heard of spare time but hasn’t encountered it lately. She pronounces INALJ as eye-na-elle-jay.