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Behavioral interview tips

These behavioral interview tips will help you to understand what to expect in a behavioral interview and how to prepare for one.

What is behavioral interviewing?

Behavioral interviewing began to emerge during the 1980s. The questioning technique was developed as part of a process called targeted selection. Behavioral interviewing is also known as competency based interviewing.

The process was developed because many employers and recruiters found that traditional interviewing techniques and approaches produced at best, only a fuzzy picture of what the candidate had to offer.

Traditional interview questions tended to be fairly superficial which meant that employment decisions using these techniques tended to be made on 'gut feel', rather than on any objective assessment of the candidate's suitability.

Behavioral interviewing, as the term suggests, focuses on a candidate's behavior, in particular:

  • their past behavior and
  • on the specific, past application of the skills and attributes required in the job

The underpinning philosophy of behavioral interviewing is that past behavior is the best indicator of future performance in similar circumstances.

Behavioral interview tips

A behavioral interview will contain questions that focus on your past experiences and performances.

You will be asked to provide quite specific examples of your actions in past situations.

The interviewer will ask questions which typically begin as follows:

  • Tell me about a time when......
  • Describe a situation in which you.....
  • Think back to a time when you.....

Behavioral interview questions
What will you be asked?

Behavioral interview questions go beyond exploring whether you have the right skills for the job. Instead when giving your behavioral interview answers you will be expected to:

  • provide a specific example, situation or challenge
  • explain your role in that situation
  • describe in detail the actions (behaviors)that you took to deal with or work through the situation
  • explain the results from your actions

Behavioral interview tips

If you think what we've just described sounds like the S.T.A.R. formula that we explained in the career highlights section of the website, you're absolutely correct.

S.T.A.R of is, of course, an acronym for:

  • S - Situation
  • T - Task
  • A - Action
  • R - Result

The S.T.A.R. formula provides a way to explain in a coherent way how you have used a skill that is required in the job, and the results you've actually produced in the past by using that skill.

An interviewer in a behavioral interview will often structure a behavioral interview question using the S.T.A.R. formula.

For example - "Tell me about a time when you had competing priorities in your work (Situation). What were those priorities (Task)? How did you attempt to manage this situation (Action)? What was the outcome (Result)?

Behavioral interview tips
Questioning technique

You can expect highly structured questions which use a S.T.A.R. type format.

Expect to be asked questions about situations where you have been challenged either in your work or in broader life. Try not to become defensive when asked these types of questions. Stay calm and focus on explaining how you worked through these situations.

It is important to realise that in behavioral interviews there isn't a right or wrong answer. The interviewer genuinely wants to understand your past experience and application of skill and knowledge that is relevant to the position.

A well trained interviewer will not allow you to give generalised answers. So.....be prepared for some prompting or guiding from the interviewer if you don't provide information that has been asked for in the question.

This will also happen when your answer is vague, or you are not specific in spelling out your actions. For example "tell me more about how you planned to deal with this situation".

Some people come out of a behavioral interview feeling quite exhausted. This is because the interviewer will ask questions that really probe your experience. So preparation is vital.

Can't think of an example in response to a question?

Before you respond take a moment to think.

With behavioral interview questions it is better not to think of half baked examples, or worse to invent a situation. You will come across as being incompetent in the area they are questioning you about.

If you genuinely can't think of an example then say so.

Don't be upset by this. Stay calm, and stay focused on giving great information to answers where you do have examples.

Behavioral interview tips
Preparing for the interview

While it is not possible to accurately anticipate questions and prepare behavioral interview answers, you can be reasonably confident that the questions will be closely related to the selection criteria for the position.

The best job interview advice in how to prepare for a behavioral interview is to use a worksheet as follows:

They want
I have

Under the "They want" heading, make an itemised list of all the skills and attributes that have been listed in the job advertisement.

Under the "I have" start to list specific examples you can think of where you have used the skill or attribute in the past. Ideally have several examples for each and every item in the "They want" column.

Beyond the specific attributes listed in the job ad, it is a really good idea to gather examples from your past where you have used so called "transferable skills".

Behavioral interview tips

Every job requires a range of transferable skills to some degree, so expect to be asked behavioral interview questions related to these skills.

Common transferable skills are grouped in the following areas:

  • Communication skills - interpersonal and written
  • Team working skills
  • Leadership
  • Planning and organising
  • Problem solving and decision making
  • Initiative and enterprise
  • Self management skills
  • Learning skills
  • Technology skills

Ensure that as part of your preparation for a behavioral interview that you are able to describe past situations where you have used these types of skills.

The final preparation tip for a behavioral interview is to practice your answers.....and make sure you practice saying your answers out loud!

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