by Carolyn Campbell MA, CPPC

I recently had a job-seeking client who came to our session quite stressed about an interview. Having passed the ‘skill set’ part of the process, he was asked to come back for a behavioral interview. He is very talented, but when put in a stressful situation he becomes a ‘deer in the headlights’, starts to ramble and looses his focus.

Behavioral interviews are an integral (and often challenging) part of the hiring process. Simply put, behavioral interviews consist of “What would you do?” or “What did you do?” types of questions. They help your potential employer find out about your past experience and how you might fit within their company.

Panic-stricken, my client told me, “I have no idea what questions they are going to ask me. I downloaded these sample questions from the Internet. A friend told me I should be ready to answer all of them. How can I ever remember this many examples?”

“Oh, my…” I said. “You don’t need to.”

“So, what do I do instead?”

I told him that he only needed seven stories. If he could remember seven, he could answer any question they might ask. The look on his face shifted from panic to hope. He said, “I can remember seven.”

Behavioral questions will vary, but there are typically seven categories they will ask you about. (If there is a different category specific to your field, simply replace one or add another …the key is to keep them in general categories.)

  • Teamwork
  • Customer service (handling difficult situations)
  • Stress management (stress typically occurs because expectations or outcomes were not clearly defined)
  • Problem solving
  • Leadership
  • Personal challenges (the key here is to turn your challenge into a ‘strength’)
  • Initiative


1. WRITE one story for each category. Keep them short. The interviewers do NOT want a long-winded answer; they want you to get to the essence of the situation and how it relates to the position.

Concisely describe:

  • The situation;
  • How it demonstrates your ability and how that ability relates to the position you are seeking;
  • The impact you had or something you learned.

2. WRITE questions you would ask a candidate if you were hiring for the position. You can Google “behavioral interviews” to find a ton of questions.

  • Ex: Have you ever worked in a situation where the rules and guidelines were not clear? Tell me about it. How did you feel about it? How did you react?

3. PRACTICE writing a “bridge” from your questions to your stories. The purpose here is to practice adapting one of your stories to the question asked. For the question above, you might select your teamwork, stress management, leadership, or problem-solving story.

Reframe the question out loud BEFORE you answer it. “When I was at Jones, Inc., there was a surprising situation in which my role was not clear…” Then bridge it to your story.

4. TAKE notes during the interview. WRITE DOWN THE QUESTION—BIG! Why? When we get nervous, it’s easy to lose our way. Having the question in front of you, in 18 font, will help you stay on point and focused. Always bring the story back to the question. For example, if using your teamwork story, you might conclude by saying, “By asking my team to brainstorm ways to find a new process, we all worked through the problem together. We were able to reduce the individual stress load and build camaraderie as we did.”

By taking charge of your stories, you will be more centered and ready to adapt to whatever comes your way. As for my client: he was ecstatic when he came back the next week. “It worked!” he said. “It was such a relief to have a plan!” The next day he was offered the job.

Carolyn Campbell has more than 30 years’ experience working with non-profit and for-profit businesses. In creative and connecting ways, Carolyn melds her expertise in community outreach, education and business development to help clients expand their reach and increase their impact…using their unique approach to life. Her areas of specialty include leadership, visioning, outreach and community building.