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Behavioral Interviewing

What is “behavioral interviewing?”

“Behavioral interviewing” denotes a style of interviewing where employers ask questions that call on candidates to provide examples of specific competencies or skills that are thought to be markers of success by the employer. In other words, instead of simply asking a student about a resume entry or asking a general “tell me about yourself” question, the employer asks for specific examples of past actions in order to determine future performance and behavior. Oftentimes, firms use these types of questions to determine whether a student would be a good fit for the employer.

What types of questions might I be asked?

Behavioral interviewing questions are often based on the core competencies that the employer has identified. Core competencies are those characteristics and behaviors that are indicators of success. These often include, among others:

  • Effective communication and listening skills
  • Leadership
  • Ability to work well on a team
  • Taking ownership over your work
  • Ability to manage multiple projects
  • Achievement drive
  • Ability to give and receive constructive feedback
  • Ability to build and maintain professional relationships

Some examples of behavioral questions include:

  • Tell me about a time when you made a mistake and how you dealt with it?
  • Give me an example of a time when you were a leader on a team and how you motivated the group?
  • Have you ever had to communicate a difficult or unwelcome message?
  • Tell me about a time when a project did not go as planned and how you dealt with the outcome?
  • Have you ever had to complete a project with unexpected deadlines?
  • Tell me about a time when you failed to meet expectations and/or set your sights too high?
  • How have you juggled multiple obligations in the past?
  • Describe a time when you worked on a task that you did not want to complete or worked with a leader who you did not agree with.
  • Can you discuss a time when you approached and solved a problem you previously knew nothing about?

Sometimes interviewers will ask for two or three examples of a particular type of behavior so be sure to have more than one example.

How can I best prepare for this type of interview question?

  • First, spend some time thinking about what skills and qualities are most attractive to the prospective employer. Research the employer and, if possible, speak with Penn Law Alumni working there to get a sense of the traits and characteristics valued by that employer.
  • Review your resume to jog your memory about past experiences. Think about times you had to act as a leader, times you dealt with and overcame conflict, times when things did not work out as planned, times when you worked as a member of a team or managed others, etc.
  • Be prepared to give examples of past behavior that demonstrate desired skills and qualities using the “STAR” Method. The STAR method helps an interviewee provide an organized and thoughtful behavioral interview answer.
    • S ituation - describe the situation you were in or the event you were confronted with.
    • T ask - discuss the tasks that needed to be completed.
    • A ction - make clear the actions you took to complete the tasks and deal with the issues in your situation.
    • R esults - describe the results. What happened that was positive?
  • Practice! Practice answering these types of questions. Contact a CP&P counselor if you would like to set up a mock interview to practice answering behavioral interview questions.

Additional resources:

To read more about behavioral interviewing, including the increased use of this style of interviewing by law firms, and for examples of the types of questions asked, please review the following:

Some firms and organizations known to ask behavioral interviewing questions:

  • Baker Botts
  • DLA Piper
  • Drinker Biddle
  • DOJ
  • DOL
  • FDIC
  • Kaye Scholer
  • McKenna Long & Aldridge
  • Morgan Lewis
  • Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe
  • Paul Hastings
  • Pepper Hamilton
  • Saul Ewing
  • Vinson and Elkins
  • White & Case