Be ready to share stories that demonstrate the type of worker you are.

Part of what makes preparation for a job interview so difficult is that there are no guarantees of what to expect. You could have a standard interview with questions like 'What's your greatest weakness?' or find yourself in front of a hostile interviewer.

Another scenario you may encounter is the behavioural interview. This specific approach to interviewing is used when an HR manager wants information that the most popular interview questions don't glean. Therefore, it comes with its own common questions and preparation techniques. We explain.

What is a behavioural interview?

The behavioural interview is designed to review your skills, working style and personality by looking at past experiences, all to see if you're qualified to do the job at hand. However, in these interviews, there's less focus on proving your expertise and more focus on revealing how you go about your work.

Behavioural interviews give an HR manager insight into the way you think, approach problems and interact with others. This will help them determine if you are able to face the challenges of the role and meet their expectations for how it will be performed.

Some of the things that behavioural interview questions can asses are:

  • Problem solving skills

  • Leadership abilities

  • Time management

  • Stress management

  • Adaptability

  • Communication and collaboration skills

Your responses will often feature anecdotes and, ideally, include some reflection on the experience you describe.

What are behavioural interview questions?

Though you'll never be told outright that your interview will be behavioural, there are some keys to identifying when you're being asked a behaviour-focussed question. Often, these interview questions begin with phrases like:

  • Tell me about a time when …

  • Give me an example of …

  • Have you ever dealt with …

  • Describe a situation where …

  • When have you used ...

Any question that starts with these ‒ or similar ‒ phrases is an invitation for you to share about your past experiences, the lessons you learnt and, most importantly, how they've prepared you to do the job for which you're interviewing.

Some examples of behavioural interview questions include:

  • Tell me about a time you made a mistake with a colleague. How did you handle the situation?

  • How did you go about managing a long-term project to its deadlines?

  • Describe a time you gave a presentation. Was it successful, and why do you think that?

How to answer behavioural interview questions

Keep these tips and techniques in mind when answering behavioural interview questions.

Compile potential responses

Leading up to your interview, conduct research on common behavioural questions. Then, brainstorm through your career history to find the situations and anecdotes that address the questions you can expect. Whilst you do this, refer to the job listing; it can give you an idea of the qualities that are important for the role and, subsequently, the questions that may be asked.

As you've been going about your job search, you've likely kept a shortlist of your greatest accomplishments top of mind. However, this compilation should be different from that. Remember, behavioural interview questions are meant to reveal how you perform in employment-related situations. Seek out instances from your experience that reflect this so an HR manager can get to know you better.

Use the STAR method

Once you have fodder for your responses to behavioural interview questions, the next challenge is communicating them successfully. The best way to do this is to utilise the STAR technique. STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action and Result. By addressing each of these concepts in your response, you are more likely to provide a thorough answer.

Let's break down the four concepts so you know exactly how to compose your responses:

  • Situation: Describe a situation that relates to the question you were asked that had a successful outcome. You want to set the scene for the interviewer.

  • Task: Then, tell the interviewer what was required of you ‒ what you were tasked with. Zoom in on how the situation related to you.

  • Action: Next, describe the actions that you took to address or resolve the situation. Focus on your own actions, not your team's or colleagues'. 

  • Result: Lastly, explain what the outcome was in relation to the actions you took. 

If you follow this structure, you'll put together a response that is both effective and concise.

Be specific

Because you have a fair amount of freedom when answering behavioural interview questions, it may seem like you can give a more generalised answer. However, that cannot be further from the truth.

Behavioural interviews are, in fact, all about the details. The questions asked are often specific, and the interviewer is likely asking you these pointed questions for a reason. Therefore, you cannot shy away or hide behind vague answers.

Consider if you are asked to share an instance in which you faced a challenge. It's essential that you be upfront about that challenge. If you skirt around the topic, pretend you've never struggled or offer a vague recollection of a difficulty from years ago, you are neglecting to give the interviewer the information they are seeking.

This all starts at the first step of the STAR method; ensure the situation that you choose is a specific one.

Keep your response under 2 minutes

Your answers to behavioural interview questions should not exceed two minutes each. This may seem like a long time, but the seconds fly by when you're being descriptive; if you're not careful, you may find yourself narrating an odyssey for your interviewers.

As you prepare potential answers before the interview, hone in on the most important elements of every situation. Everything else are details that would distract from your point and should be omitted.

Succeeding in a behavioural interview

Whilst it may differ from the standard job interview, the behavioural interview is a well-loved tool used by recruiters to discern which candidates possess the qualities, working style and mindset that they desire. Because of this, it's important that you treat these more anecdotal enquiries with as much care as you would any other interview question. By telling the right story the right way, you can show any interviewer that you have what it takes to excel in their position.

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This article was updated in August 2020. It was originally written by Laura Slingo.

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