How to Behave on Your Job Interview

By Kelly Vandever
Communications for Everyone, LLC

You’ve done it. You’ve completed your college degree. You’ve made it through the resume jungle. And you’ve finally secured an interview with a real live person. Knowing you only have 60 minutes, if you’re lucky, how do you create an impression in the hiring manager’s mind that you’re the right person for the job? How do you answer questions truthfully to represent the real you? And how do you do all this when the hiring manager is asking really lame questions? It easy—if you know how to “behave.”

Please don’t misunderstand. I truly agree with the message on interviewing provided by Anne Brown and Beth Zefo in their book “Grad to Great.” You absolutely need to be your authentic self when you interview. But, there is a way to paint a picture of yourself that more actually and faithfully portray who you are and how you work. That way is to use what is called behavioral interviewing.

Behavioral interviewing is a technique that has been used for years by hiring managers to discover the best candidates for their jobs. Behavioral interviewing is based on the premise that the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. Managers ask questions based on the needs of the job and try to elicit specific examples of previous similar work or school experience in order to project how the interviewee will perform in their position. Questions typically begin with phrases such as, “Tell me about a time when you…” or “Give me an example of how you…”

While the behavioral interviewing technique is extremely valuable, not all hiring managers know of or use the technique. Whether you’re interviewing with a manager using behavioral interviewing techniques or a manager who is using less productive interview questions, you will be well advised to follow the points below.

Use specific examples

Whether you’re asked a behavioral interviewing question or asked a non-behavioral interviewing, answer the question using specific examples.

  • Give example of the projects you completed. If the project had a name, tell the interviewer the name of the project and give further explanation if the project name doesn’t adequately explain what the project was about.
  • Provide details about what you actually did, especially if the project was a group assignment. Avoid using the word “we” so often that the hiring manager wonders if “you” actually did anything yourself on the project or merely coasted along on the coat tails of the other group members.
  • Talk about what happened on the project—the good, the bad and the ugly. When things go well, life is great for all of us. But employers want and need to know how you handle things when they go bad. They want to know how you’ve resolved problems in the past so that they can ascertain if your style will work for them in the future.
  • Describe the results. Successful managers are results oriented managers. They want to hear about the end results and what you learned.

When you use examples, even if you’re not asked for them, you paint a picture of what you’ve done and how you’ve done it. The picture that you paint helps that hiring manager envision you in the role he or she is trying to fill. That hiring manager is going to feel better about you as a candidate because you’ve given concrete examples. They may not be able to put their finger on why, but they are going to like you better than another candidate who only gave general, generic answers.

Be honest

Simple advice, yes, but you will never go wrong being honest. Don’t answer the way you think the hiring manager wants you to answer. Answer with your experience and factors that are important to you. If how you solve problems and how you handle issues when things go wrong doesn’t work in the hiring manager’s company culture, you’re both better off knowing that up front and not taking that job. Trust me, there will be another company that is a good cultural fit for you. You want to hold out for finding that right fit. The right fit with the right company will lead to a better, more productive work experience for you and your employer.


Go through your academic career and make a list of projects—what was involved, which were group exercises and which were individual assignments. Have examples of working on a team. Recall the problems you had and how you overcame those obstacles. Look for examples of what you did well, of what you were proud of. Do the same with any work experience you had. Look specifically for examples that will appeal to the hiring manager in the industry that you are applying for. If you’re going to interview with a high tech company, you want examples of school or work experience that demonstrate you can work in that kind of a professional setting. Not an example from when you were a high school cheerleader—and yes, that was an example that one college intern used in an example with me when interviewing for an information technology position. Invest time in remembering what you did and how you did it. The time invested will be well worth the effort when you present yourself competently and professional to that hiring manager.

Practice, practice, practice

Interviewing is a skill like any other skill. The more you do it, the more comfortable you’ll be in your own skin. Practice with fellow class members. Practice with a trusted professor or friend. Ask a family member to help. Find a family friend who hires people and ask them to practice with you. Imagining what you will say is very different from actually saying it out loud. You need to hear questions asked and practice answering them aloud. Better to stubble over your words in a practice scenario and rethink how you want to say them than to stammer through the experience in front of the hiring manager. On my web site,, under the “Helpful Information” tab, you can find “lame” interview questions to help you practice. Remember to still use the techniques discussed above and ask the person you are practicing with to keep you honest in using the techniques.

Interviewing can be a very scary thing, but it doesn’t have to be. Follow the steps above, be yourself, and you can “behave” yourself into the right job for you!

Kelly Vandever has seen life from the perspective of recruiter and hiring manager. After three years managing officer recruiting for the United States Navy covering 13 states and Puerto Rico, Kelly entered civilian IT recruiting for three more years before becoming a manager of information technology professionals for eight years where she was the hiring manager. Kelly is the president of Communications for Everyone, LLC, a firm that provides speeches, training and coaching to organization on leadership, presentation skills and interviewing. For more information, visit the company website at or email Kelly at