Preparing for Interview Questions: Behavior vs. Technical

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behavioralinterviewBy: Sandi Ohman

The career search process has multiple steps. After progressing through the initial phase of applying and maybe completing a phone screening, the next phase is the interview. There are various styles of interviews, including case study, group/panel interviews, group activities, presentations, and knowledge/skill tests. Throughout most interview styles, the common denominator is the questions. Two common styles of questions are behavior-based questions and technical questions. Candidates need to be prepared for both styles so to be prepared in the interview.

Behavior-based Interview Questions

Interview questions in this style are intended to see a specific behavior demonstrated by the candidate. It is much easier to believe a candidate possess certain skills if they can share situations where they have demonstrated those skills. A few keys to this style of interviewing are: 1) give enough detail in the response so the interviewer can follow the story and clearly see the behavior they are seeking being demonstrated by the candidate; 2) use an mental outline to structure answers, ensuring enough detail is given, for instance Situation, Behavior, Outcome (SBO) or Situation, Task, Action, Result (STAR); 3) keep answers on point, don’t ramble or follow tangents. Some experts indicate each step in the SBO structure should be 20-30 seconds long. This is not a hard rule, as questions and examples do vary. The point is that 20-30 seconds should be enough time to clearly explain/demonstrate pertinent information.

Warning: don’t lie/fabricate/embellish examples/situations. Too many times this will come to light and does not reflect well on the candidate.

Preparing for the behavior-based question starts with reviewing a position description and identifying the skills that are essential to the job, such as team work, communication skills, self-starter, etc. These are soft skills that are not clearly demonstrated on a resume but are essential to working in many, if not most, organization environments. Think of examples when these skills have been demonstrated; use a response structure to form answers to possible questions, and practice, practice, practice out loud. While the questions that the candidate prepares for might not be exactly the questions asked, the preparation will typically allow them to use the same, if not similar examples, to answer the interviewer’s questions effectively.

Technical Interview Questions

The technical interview questions can follow a similar response structure as a behavior-based interview, but the content is typically quite different. A technical question is designed to determine knowledge of hard skills. For example, an engineer, medical personnel, pilot, accountant, or lawyer should expect these types of questions. These specific careers require passing a test to be eligible to work in these career paths (medical and legal exams, CPA exam, pilot ratings, and professional certifications). These exams are testing technical knowledge, as are hiring managers that ask technical questions.

Keys to successfully answering technical questions are: 1) not only showing knowledge of the concept/skills but understanding of it so that it could be applied in different scenarios; 2) use examples that demonstrate specific experience with the technical skills/knowledge the interviewer seeks; 3) consider all relevant experience and knowledge, whether listed on the resume or not.

Overall, the best advice in preparing for behavior-based or technical interview questions is practice, practice, practice. The time to start practicing is when starting the career search, whether for internships or full-time experiences – don’t wait until the interview is scheduled.

Additional information on interviewing can be found on the Career Services website,

Sandi Ohman is the Senior Program Manager in the Career Services Office at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.  She has been with the university for over 9 years and has advised students in most all degree areas while in Career Services.  Sandi brings additional experience having worked in the finance industry for over 6 years in her previous career.  She received her Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration from the University of Florida, and her Master of Arts degree in Educational Leadership from the University of Central Florida.

2017-05-25T09:49:38-05:00February 5th, 2015|Career Services Resources, General, Job Search Advice|

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