Behavioral Interviews Explained: Tips and Tricks

If you haven't interviewed in a few years, you may find that the questions have changed. Long gone are the days of simply talking about your likes and dislikes. Today, hiring managers want to get inside your mind and understand how you have worked in the past to predict how you will work in their future. This article explores tips and tricks for behavioral interviews. Nurses General Nursing Article

Behavioral Interviews Explained: Tips and Tricks

You worked hard on your resume and applied for jobs that spoke to who you are as a nurse. You received a call and landed an interview. Now what? How do you prepare? What type of questions will they ask?

Most hiring managers use behavioral interviewing techniques these days. The idea behind behavioral interviewing is simple: the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.

This means that the hiring manager will ask questions that require you to think about past situations and how you handled them. They want you to tell them details about your behavior in an effort to predict how you will handle yourself in their workplace. These questions will be open-ended questions followed by as much time as you need to describe your actions.

How to Answer Behavioral Questions

Behavioral interview questions can challenge your brain. You must think about specific situations and quickly pull out the necessary information to answer the questions. Below are a few quick tips to use when answering behavioral interview questions:

Think about the skill they are asking about and answer their question specific to that skill. For example, if they ask, "Tell me about a time you had a conflict with a team member and how you resolved it?", they want you to understand your ability to work in a team and your conflict resolution skills. Try to keep the story relevant to these two skills.

Describe the event or situation with as much detail as possible. The manager wants to know the situation in order to understand how you responded.

Be specific. Avoid concepts. Tell them about your behaviors and what made you choose that particular way to handle the situation.

Don't talk about the behaviors of others. The only exception to this rule is in the case that it helps tell the story about how you reacted. Just make sure to bring it back to your response and not the behaviors of others.

Don't be critical, talk about others, or tear down others in your story. The hiring manager wants to know who you are as a person. If you start talking about others negatively, they will quickly start thinking this is how you will handle yourself in their workplace.

Talk about the actual situation and how you responded. If you feel you should have handled yourself differently, tell them that after you described the situation.

Be honest. Don't skip over or embellish details.

Use the S.T.A.R method when telling your story:

  • Situation - Describe the situation. Give enough detail for the interviewer to understand what happened.
  • Task - Describe the task you needed to accomplish.
  • Action - Tell them the action you took. Keep the focus on yourself. Don't tell them what you might do, tell them what you did.
  • Results - Let them know how the situation was resolved. What happened? What was accomplished? What did you learn?

How to Prepare for Behavioral Questions

Many people think there is no way to prepare for behavioral interviews. I mean, how exactly would you be able to know what questions the hiring manager will ask?

While you can't know the questions that will be asked, Wayne State University offers these quick tips for preparing for behavior-based questions:

  • Think about 6-8 situations from your past where you demonstrated top workplace behaviors or skills. This could be teamwork, discipline, patient care, or leadership. Use the S.T.A.R. method to organize your thoughts around these situations.
  • Half of these situations should be positive. Think about your accomplishments or how you met your goals.
  • The other half should be situations that started out negatively but ended positively. Or, with the best possible outcome, given the situation.
  • Use various situations. Draw from past jobs, volunteer experiences, or just life in general.
  • Use recent examples if possible.
  • Review your resume before going into the interview. This will help jog your memory.
  • Review the job description for the job you applied to and think about the skills needed to succeed.

Behavioral interview questions can rattle your nerves. They are designed to make you think. Give yourself time to think through each question and what they really want to know. Try to organize your thoughts before you answer, so you're not rambling.

Some people struggle with 'selling' themselves, even in job interviews. Do you have a story about a behavioral interview or question that went well? Or, maybe you have a story about an interview that went awry. Whatever your story is, we would love to hear it. Put it in the comments and get the conversation started.

Workforce Development Columnist

Melissa Mills is a nurse who is on a journey of exploration and entrepreneurship. She is a healthcare writer who specializes in case management and leadership. When she is not in front of a computer, Melissa is busy with her husband, 3 kids, 2 dogs and a fat cat named Little Dude.

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I'm always impressed by the endless inventiveness of bosses to find new and sadistic ways torment decent people just trying to find a job.

Yeah sounds like dumb-games management types play. No wonder they often hire such horribly, unskilled candidates

Excellent article!! Gives me a lot of ideas. This is so true of how interviews usually go too. I like the "STAR" method. Thanks for sharing.

Specializes in ED, Pedi Vasc access, Paramedic serving 6 towns.

I think this sort of interviewing is a joke!! You really think people are going to answer that they responded poorly to a particular situation? They're not!!! They are going to make up something if they have to. This is a foolish way to interview, and in my opinion only makes a candidate more nervous and less willing to be themselves. This type of interview does not reflect on how good of a nurse they are, or aren't!

You are much better having a candidate come out of their shell and feel comfortable, and also shadow with staff or at least interview with them, as that is another way to get a candidate to come out of their shell and show some of their true colors!

I interviewed for a CICU position and this all they asked, I was so nervous by the end I could barely speak!! Guess what though, I would have been a kick ass CICU nurse, but they never got a chance to hire me since they didn't allow me to speak and come out of my shell! Fast forward to last month, same hospital, different unit. No behavioral questions, but yet the interviewer was still able to soliciate the information she needed to make a hiring decision. I was completely relaxed during the interview, also did a shadow, same thing completely relaxed because I wasn't being asked to name some minute situation that may have happened 10 years ago!


I have to agree with Annie here. Interviews styles have grown to be more unnecessarily uncomfortable for the people getting interviewed.

Specializes in Nursing Professional Development.

As an interviewer ... I find I get more open and honest responses when I help the candidate to relax. So I avoid those types of questions. No one is comfortable with those types of questions -- and the whole process becomes a game in which the candidate tries to fool the hiring manager with fake, prepared stories and examples. I get more information from a candidate in a relaxed, spontaneous conversation. Sometimes I am amazed at how people will "shoot themselves in the foot" when they let their guard down.