A User’s Guide to Behavioral Interviewing

by Gina Fleitman

Back in the 1970s when American Express was the #1 name in credit cards, they coined the tagline “Don’t leave home without it.” That sentiment applies equally well to Duquesne MBA-SBP’s Career Practicum course. In fact, to borrow from Mastercard’s campaign of the late 90s, I’d simply call it “priceless.” In addition to private coaching on the essentials – resume, cover letter, elevator pitch, etc. — Professor Christine Hughes has put together a masterful three-semester curriculum on how to get THE JOB. Expert guest lecturers and panel discussions cover a plethora of relevant topics – networking, communication, personal skills assessments, cover letter basics, the dynamics of job interviews, what goes through the mind of the HR person interviewing you, leadership, DE&I, and everything in between. All were valuable — but my favorite lectures were those on behavioral interviewing.

To offer some context: I’m a nontraditional student. After 30+ years working in sales and marketing, in May 2020 I went back to school fulltime for Duquesne’s MBA-SBP program. Apart from being asked the occasional oddball question (as a college senior I interviewed with IBM and was asked, “if you were an animal, what would you be?”), the interviews I had as a candidate or conducted as an employer were experientially focused — essentially a microscope on the resume to ascertain if the candidate possessed the skills required for the job. 

But today’s job candidates are more likely to hear questions that fall in the behavioral category. Behavioral interviewing techniques were introduced in the 1980s based on the premise that past behavior is predictive of future behavior. So in addition to identifying the technical knowledge and skills required by the position, the employer determines the “soft skills” — personal characteristics or competencies — required for the job: integrity, collaboration, adaptability, innovation, etc. The interview is then structured to inform the interviewer if the candidate possesses these competencies. It’s unlikely the interviewer will get an honest answer simply by asking the candidate, “Do you have integrity?” so the strategy is to instead ask, “Tell me about a time when you were faced with an ethical dilemma.” A good interviewer will be able to parse the interviewee’s answer to determine their “integrity/ethics” score.

Our guest lecturer Michael Haid suggested we structure our answers to behavioral interview questions using the CAR formula:

Circumstances you were faced with

Actions and behaviors you did to address the circumstances

Results of your actions

He also gently admonished us to be specific, genuine, and positive in our answers.

Prof. Haid explained that some of the most commonly sought-after competencies include problem solving, decision making, collaboration, innovation, goal setting, adaptability, communication, and integrity. For Collaboration, he explained we might get asked, “Tell me about a time when you worked on a team and things went well” – or “Please tell me about a time when you worked on a team and things did not go well.” He then revealed the scorecard an interviewer might be checking off while we answer:


Actively participates as a member of a team to move the team toward the completion of goals.


  • Facilitates goal accomplishment: Makes procedural or process suggestions for achieving team goals or performing team functions; provides necessary resources or helps to remove obstacles to help the team accomplish its goals.
  • Involves others: Listens to and fully involves others in team decisions and actions; values and uses individual differences and talents.
  • Informs others on team: Shares important or relevant information with the team.
  • Models commitment: Adheres to the team’s expectations and guidelines; fulfills team responsibilities; demonstrates personal commitment to the team.

This was an invaluable cheat sheet to help us prepare for a question we’re highly likely to hear in an interview!

But perhaps the most important takeaway for me was a wake-up call regarding how I should prepare for an interview. In addition to studying the company and how my experience aligns with the job requirements, I now know I need to prepare my Behavioral Interviewing stories. What will I say when an interviewer asks me, “Tell me about a time you needed to make a difficult decision” or “Tell me about a time you had to pivot on a dime to adapt to a situation”? While it’s possible I won’t be prepared for every behavioral question, of this I’m certain: “winging it” is a suboptimal strategy. If I can be prepared to tell authentic stories that display my competencies re the most commonly sought-after characteristics, I absolutely can and should think through them ahead of time. And I’ll be prepared to reply using Prof Haid’s snappy CAR formula. To quote Am Ex, I won’t go to the interview without it!