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Managing Your Career
Preparing for a Behavior-Based Job Interview
The 7 questions you must be ready to answer.

It’s not about what you would do, it’s about what you did do.

That’s the essence of behavioral-based interviewing, which aims to discover how the interviewee acted in specific employment-related situations.

Why is behavioral-based interviewing so popular? Because, according to Carolyn Steffel, a recruiter at Edward Hospital, a magnet hospital in Naperville, IL, “You can teach someone skills, but you cannot easily teach someone a behavior. Despite the nursing shortage, we say no to nurses who don’t fit our organization’s core competencies.”

Core competencies are behaviors that an employer deems necessary for the job for which you are interviewing. By doing a little investigative work (i.e., visiting the hospital’s web site to study its history and mission, reviewing the job description, or revisiting the job posting), you can find out the core competencies an employer is looking for. It’s critical to be fluent in these competencies, because behavioral interviewing hinges on them.

For instance, most hospitals want nurses to demonstrate strong customer service abilities. Instead of focusing on, “How would you handle a patient who is screaming about the care he is receiving?” a behavioral interview asks, “Give an example of when you went above and beyond the call of duty to make a patient comfortable.”

Steffel recalls a memorable answer to this question: “One nurse actually took home laundry for a patient’s family member, who was far away from home and didn’t have the resources to take care of it herself. This demonstrated the nurse’s willingness to address the full scope of a patient’s needs.”

Other core competencies employers look for include leadership abilities, problem solving skills, communication skills, initiative, and ease at developing and maintaining peer relationships. Before the interview, it’s important to anticipate questions and formulate answers that tell a clear, detailed personal story.

Following are some questions to consider:
• How have you gone above and beyond the call of duty? Why did you?
• What do you do when your schedule is interrupted? Give an example of how you handle it.
• Have you had to ask a team member to do a task they weren't thrilled about? How did you motivate them?
• How have you handled a difficult situation with a co-worker?
• Give an example of how you worked effectively under pressure.
• Give an example of an occasion when you used logic to solve a problem.
• Give an example of a goal you reached and tell me how you achieved it.

During the interview if you don’t understand a specific question, ask for clarification before answering. And after you’ve answered, expect the interviewer to follow-up with more questions. Even if you shine on the first, second, and third question, your fate might be determined if you fumble the last question.

According to Steffel, you must be consistent in your answers and persevere through the final question. Steffel recalls an interview in which the nurse handled all the questions well except the last, which focused on peer relationships. She made many pejorative comments about a peer, and as Steffel probed deeper, she realized this nurse wasn’t a good fit for their organization.

According to Steffel, “At our hospital, like most hospitals, we want people who embrace challenges. Even if we don’t always agree, we want people who are willing to compromise and work toward a solution.”

So, take a look at your behavior: Will you fit in at the organization that you are applying with? Maybe. Maybe not. The interview is a way for both interviewer and interviewee to find out—so you’ll stick with the job and find satisfaction.

Read more Managing Your Career articles

3 Responses to “Preparing for a Behavior-Based Job Interview”

  1. TheCannulator Says:

    This a very useful article ,however the subject is huge.

    What stops the applicant from just telling a good story?

    Many staff are more than suitable for positions or promotions in real life however become blubbering messes in the interview. How many times have these (the most suitable applicant) been overlooked?

    Group dynamic assessments where cohorts of applicants are present are a much better way of letting applicants show their real traits that make them suitable applicants.

  2. Richard Says:

    Although there are several advantages for using this method of interviewing it does have its pitfalls. First there has to be an assumption that a thorough job analysis has been undertaken and that the interviewer is conversant with the job requirements. I work Out of hours and my manager works 9-5 in and office up the road. How many managers actually have time to do a thorough review of the job criteria and, more importantly, how many managers have distanced themselves from the day-to-day work and are in effect detached from the realities of the job. Secondly research has shown that people with the “gift of the gab” always do better in these types of interviews. Articulation is a key element of this method and highly articulate candidates may be able to make a credible case at interview and be over-rated resulting in an over scoring of their actual capabilities. How many people have we met that “talk-the-talk” but do not actually do any work and how many times do we meet the quiet dependable people that just get on with it?

  3. Jeff Says:

    Despite some of the shortcomings of this type of interviewing, in many instances it may still be the best option. Finding and keeping great nurses can be expensive for hospitals so anything they can do to make the process as exact as possible they will try.


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