Behavioral Interviews and the Career Changer


How Behavioral Interviews Work

In a behavioral interview, the interviewer will evaluate your competencies (such as teamwork, analysis, planning, and initiative) in relation to those she has determined to be required for successful performance on the job.

Behavioral interviewing is designed to elicit information from a job candidate about relevant past behavior and performance. The theory is that past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior. The interviewer will ask you to discuss your past experiences in an attempt to assess your proficiency in one or more job-related competencies.

She may ask you to describe a situation in which a certain behavior occurred, your behavior or actions in the situation, and the results or outcomes of your behavior or actions. As a career changer, this will give you an opportunity to discuss how you successfully demonstrated these required competencies. These skills and abilities, and the aptitudes they reveal, are highly transferable.

You’ll have lots of work experience to draw from when answering behavioral questions. But you can also take examples from non-vocational experiences, such as your volunteer activities or education. It doesn’t matter if your work history doesn’t have much to do with the job you’re interviewing for: You can shine in a behavioral interview without ever having been near your new career.

Getting Ready for an Interview

How can you prepare to highlight your transferable skills in a behavioral interview? Start by making a chart with three columns.

In the first column, list the experience you have. Be specific. Use your resume, but don’t forget volunteer activities, special training, military experience, and nonvocational experiences. In the second column, list the competencies each piece of experience required. In the third column, note how you demonstrated each competency.




Designed new circuit system


Secured relevant data

Developed alternative courses of action

Based solution on logical assumptions and factual information


Identified a need

Took it upon myself to improve the situation

Went above and beyond what was required

Developed partnerships

Established shared goals

Showed sensitivity and appreciation of partners’ needs

Expressed a willingness to compromise

Evaluating the Job’s Competencies

Carefully consider what competencies are important for your new career. They may be quite different from those in your previous career. For example, in a scientific career, technical expertise may be more highly valued than teamwork. But if you’re a scientist who wants to switch to a career in a less technical arena—such as business—technical expertise may be less important than other abilities.

To determine what competencies the interviewer will evaluate, carefully read the job description, classified ad, or job posting, and think about what qualities you know are necessary for success in the job.

Next, review your chart and develop a narrative that demonstrates each of the competencies. Adjust your description to focus on the aspects that are important to your new career. Remember to explain the situation, the action you took and the result you achieved.

Finally, study your chart and practice your answers—you don’t need to memorize them, but know them well enough that you won’t get stumped on interview day. When you go in for your interview, you’ll be prepared and confident, and ready to answer any behavioral question that comes your way.

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