Behavioural interview questions
Why employers use behavioral interview questions
Interview questions based on a behavioural method can help employers to make better informed employment decisions.
A traditional interview question such as “Why should we hire you?” allows a candidate to tailor their response directly to what they think the interviewer wants to hear, while even more testing questions such as ”What would you do if xxx happened?” are quite impersonal, revealing relatively little about the candidate’s personality and skill set. This kind of questioning style allows the interviewee to distance themselves a little, avoiding having to draw on past experience or give real-life examples to back up their response.
A well-structured behavioural interview question makes it tricky to respond without revealing something of your personality or making some reference to previous experience. It gives the interviewer more to work with and a deeper insight into your thought processes and behaviour. This style of questioning relies on the candidate giving truthful or at least semi-truthful answers.
It's OK to let your personality shine through a little when facing behavioural questions.
Typical structure of a behavioural interview
While each will differ depending on the organisation and the person asking the questions, a typical behavioural interview will be structured as follows:
- Opening (5%)
- Job / Organisational culture (10%)
- Questioning / Information gathering (75%)
- Candidate questions (5%)
- Wrapping up (5%)
Categories of question and model answers
Leadership skills come in many different forms, as do the questions that test for this particular attribute.
Your employer may look for evidence of personal traits such as patience and open-mindedness, as well as clear examples of how you work and interact with others in a professional setting.
A sample leadership-focused question may ask you to describe a situation where you had to delegate a task to someone else. In answering this, you could mention a situation where you evaluated the individual strengths of the people you were working with, before matching different aspects of the task to the person with the requisite skill set.
You may face questions regarding what you didn’t like about a previous experience, role or individual. Tread carefully: demonstrating bitterness or a negative approach may reflect badly on you and your attitude, so look to emphasise the positives by shifting the focus to how you successfully dealt with the situation.
For example, when answering the question “Tell me about a time when you were unhappy with a classmate or colleague?”, seek to highlight how you managed to resolve a potentially difficult situation between the two of you, rather than attributing blame to the other person.
Both positive and negative decision-making questions are commonly asked in behavioural interviews. Here, the employer is looking to assess the interviewee’s ability to stick to a decision, be fair and demonstrate critical thinking, reasoning and logic.
An example of when you handled a tough decision well could include describing how you had to choose between two potential partners to work with on a joint university assignment. Again, it’s crucial to highlight your thought process and how you came to a logical conclusion.
Problem solving is a sought-after skill by employers who may be evaluating your ability to identify issues and challenges and then work independently and logically to resolve them. In this case the most important thing is not the solution itself but how you went about reaching it.
A sample problem-solving behavioural question could be: “Explain a time where you had to make best use of your decision-making skills.”
A typical answer to which might go as follows:
“The clothes store I was working at two summers ago was having problems with late deliveries of some products. After a little investigation, I discovered that some of the invoices we had received from our suppliers were not being paid on time, which was causing the delays. From there it was just a question of making sure bills were paid on time.”
The ability to work within a team is vital for most graduate roles and will continue to be an important skill throughout your career. To be seen as an effective team player, you can expect to be judged on your people skills, interactions with others and evidence of strong relationships during your work and/or studies.
A typical question could ask to describe a situation where you had to resolve an issue between a group of friends or colleagues. An effective answer to this might be:
“I made sure not to rush in immediately in the hope that the issue would resolve itself. When this wasn’t the case, my next step was to talk with each of the group members to get their perspective. From here I was able to put across the opposing views to each of the other members. The most important thing was to maintain an objective stance and to avoid taking sides.”
Your ability to communicate effectively is important for any graduate role, particularly in situations where you are likely to be dealing with clients or customers on a regular basis.
You may be asked by your interviewer to describe a time where your communication skills were tested. A strong answer might be:
“I was given responsibility for running a company’s social media presence during my internship. The target audience was people with an interest in financial markets, so it was crucial to tailor my style and tone to reflect this. This meant having to read up on financial terminology. My manager was very impressed with the level of interaction I achieved.”
Employers naturally want to hire people who can organise their workload effectively and possibly those of others. The interviewer will want to see evidence of being able to put together a plan or strategy and work towards this in a methodical way. You should also look to explain how you fit others into your planning and organisation processes.
If asked the question, a good example you could give of organising or planning could be a recent event for a student society or club, again making sure to emphasise your thought processes and the different steps involved, as well as how you worked effectively alongside others.
The CAR and STAR approaches
Two popular and extremely useful techniques for preparing an answer to a behavioural-style question are CAR and STAR.
The CAR approach
The CAR approach helps you to structure your answer as if it were a short essay.
Context is your introduction, where you describe the scenario you are confronted with. The Action forms the main body and should be the longest part of your answer. The Result is the conclusion and, like the introduction, should be relatively short and succinct.
Context: Begin by detailing the challenge that you were dealing with. A typical challenge may relate to your team, technology, or timing.
Action: What action did you take? What were the different steps involved?
Result: What was the final outcome? While ideally the result will be positive, there is no harm in admitting the difficulties you encountered, so long as you still achieved a satisfactory result. Ideally your answer will be quantifiable, eg you managed to achieve xxx times as many sales.
The STAR approach
The STAR approach involves being positive about your actions throughout your response. Be careful not to stray too far from the truth, as your interviewer may choose to delve deeper into your story by asking for specific details.
Situation: What was the situation facing you or your team?
Task: What tasks were involved in that situation?
Action: What actions did you take?
Result: What result did you achieve?
How to prepare for behavioural interview questions
The best preparation for a behavioural-style interview is to research the role in-depth beforehand, identifying what character traits or skills the employer is likely to deem important for that role. Having selected those behaviours you feel to be most relevant, spend time building up a bank of examples from your recent experience that provide evidence of each trait.
Make sure the examples you give are varied and come from different areas of your experience. For example, you could give examples of situations you encountered during a recent internship or part-time job; a number from your studies, and so on. In selecting your examples and composing your ‘story’, try to make sure that each has a positive outcome.
Also give some thought to the structure of your story and how you plan on explaining the different thought processes involved. Use the CAR and STAR techniques to guide you. While it might help to write some brief notes on your examples to help you remember them, try not to learn your answers verbatim, which is likely to undermine the authenticity of your response when it comes to the interview.
Top 10 Behavioural Interview Questions and Sample Answers
Here are the top ten behavioural interview questions you may be asked during a job interview. Review the responses, and consider how you would answer the question. You don't need to memorize answers, but know what experiences you would share and how you would describe them to the interviewer.
1. Tell me about how you worked effectively under pressure.
I had been working on a key project that was scheduled for delivery to the client in 60 days. My supervisor came to me and said that we needed to speed it up and be ready in 45 days, while keeping our other projects on time. I made it into a challenge for my staff, and we effectively added just a few hours to each of our schedules and got the job done in 42 days by sharing the workload.
Of course, I had a great group of people to work with, but I think that my effective allocation of tasks was a major component of the success of the project.
2. How do you handle a challenge? Give an example.
One time, my supervisor needed to leave town unexpectedly, and we were in the middle of a touchy negotiation with a new sponsor.
I was tasked with putting together a PowerPoint presentation just from the notes he had left, and some briefing from his manager. My presentation turned out successfully- we got the sponsorship, and the management team recommended me for an award.
3. Have you ever made a mistake? How did you handle it?
Once I misquoted the fees for a particular type of membership to the club where I worked. I explained my mistake to my supervisor, who appreciated my coming to him, and my honesty. He told me to offer to waive the application fee for the new member. The member joined the club despite my mistake, my supervisor was understanding, and although I felt bad that I had made a mistake, I learned to pay close attention to the details so as to give accurate information in the future.
4. Give an example of how you set goals.
Within a few weeks of beginning my first job as a sales associate in a sales department, I knew that I wanted to be in the Hotel sales. I decided that I would work my way up to department manager, and at that point I would have enough money saved to be able to attend design school full-time.
5. Give an example of a goal you reached and tell me how you achieved it.
When I started working for XYZ Company, I wanted to achieve the Employee of the Month title. It was a motivational challenge, and not all the employees took it that seriously, but I really wanted that parking spot, and my picture on the wall. I went out of my way to be helpful to my colleagues, supervisors, and customers - which I would have done anyway. I liked the job and the people I worked with. The third month I was there, I got the honour. It was good to achieve my goal, and I actually ended up moving into a managerial position there pretty quickly, I think because of my positive attitude and perseverance.
6. Describe a decision you made that wasn't popular and how you handled implementing it.
Once, I inherited a group of employees when their supervisor relocated to another city. They had been allowed to cover each other’s shifts without management approval. I didn’t like the inconsistencies, where certain people were being given more opportunities than others. I introduced a policy where I had my assistant approve all staffing changes, to make sure that everyone who wanted extra hours and was available at certain times could be utilized.
7. Give an example of how you worked on a team.
During my last role, I worked as part of a reception team in the Front office department. The front office manager leading the department was writing a development operational report. We were each assigned different sectors to focus on, and I suggested that we meet independently before our weekly meeting with the front office manager to discuss our progress, and help each other out if we were having any difficulties. The FOM really appreciated the way we worked together, and it helped to streamline his report as well. He was ready to start on his final copy months ahead of schedule because of the work we helped him with.
8. What do you do if you disagree with someone at work?
A few years ago, I had a supervisor who wanted me to find ways to outsource most of the work we were doing in my department. I felt that my department was one where having the staff on premises had a huge impact on our effectiveness and ability to relate to our clients. I presented a strong case to her, and she came up with a compromise plan.
9. Share an example of how you were able to motivate employees or co-workers.
I was in a situation once where the management of our department was taken over by employees with experience in a totally different industry, in an effort to maximize profits over service. Many of my co-workers were resistant to the sweeping changes that were being made, but I recognized some of the benefits right off the bat, and was able to motivate my colleagues to give the new process a chance to succeed.
10. Have you handled a difficult situation? How?
When I worked at ABC Global, it came to my attention that one of my employees had become addicted to painkillers prescribed after she had surgery. Her performance was being negatively impacted, and she needed to get some help. I spoke with her privately, and I helped her to arrange a weekend treatment program that was covered by her insurance. Fortunately, she was able to get her life back on track, and she received a promotion about six months later.
There are other Common Behavioural Interview Questions you should consider preparing for and here are a few lessons to help you tackle some behaviour-based interview questions.
1. Teamwork Interview Questions
If the role calls on being a team player, here’s specific advice on how to show that you work well with others.
2. Leadership Interview Questions
If people may be reporting to you (or you’re a project manager), then you should expect questions about your ability to lead and motivate others.
3. Handling Conflict Interview Questions
Some roles require a lot of interaction with clients or prospective customers (or challenging situations with other employees). The employer may ask for examples of how you handled or defused tricky situations.
4. Problem-solving Interview Questions
If the role requires creativity and critical thinking, then the employer may want to hear about challenging issues/situations that required some innovation or outside-the-box thinking.
5. Biggest Failure Interview Questions
More and more recruiters and hiring managers are asking failure questions. Whether you like it or not, you need to be prepared to have a good answer.
6. Work Ethic Interview Questions
Every hiring manager loves a hard worker. No matter the job or the industry or the experience level, they want to hire someone with a strong work ethic and a commitment to getting the job done.
7. Greatest Accomplishment Interview Questions
Every manager wants to hear about your “greatest hits.” They want to know you’ve left a trail of amazing accomplishments.
How to Prepare
To help you prepare for a behavioural interview, review the job requirements, and make a list of the behavioural skills that you have that closely match them. Then write down examples of when you applied those skills during a work.