How do I best approach a behavioural interview?

Behavioural interviewing is a very common component of candidate selection in job interviews.

Essentially the applicant is asked to describe a particular challenging situation, what happened and how they handled the situation. Both interviewees AND interviewers should brush up on their skills.

Behavioural interviewing is used in order to explore the interpersonal challenges that exist in a workplace. Interviews are as much about determining cultural fit as they are about determining whether or not you have the ability to perform the task.

Here are some common examples:

  • Describe a time that you made a mistake. What happened, why did it happen and what did you do about it?
  • Tell us about a time when you were frustrated and angry at work. How did you overcome it?
  • Describe a challenge that you had to overcome which involved a difficult conversation with a co-worker?

These are difficult questions to answer when you are trying to assess what the interviewers are looking for. There is a tendency to want to put your best foot forward and not mention any negatives, but these questions force the respondent to analyse their actions and discuss how they handled situations and often the selectors are looking for people who admit mistakes, learn from them and make changes.

Having to admit that you have made mistakes is a common source of discomfort in these scenarios. This is where it is important to keep in mind that the interviewers want you to describe the learning experience. We have all made mistakes, we have all tried to cover something up and hoped to get away with it only to have it unravel. Try and frame your response around a) why the mistake happened b) how you responded c) what you learned and d) how you would respond next time.

The key to great interviewing is the detail – interviewers should PROBE for detail about the situation, really finding out how that person works, and often in uncovering detail the interviewer discovers the skilled people and uncovers those who are fluffing and creating fiction.

Scenario questions

Some interviewers use “behavioural scenario” questions and pose the SAME question to each applicant to see how they would respond although this requires a hypothetical answer. For example:

  • A co-worker and good friend you see on the weekend confides in you that he or she was doing something illegal at the expense of the company. How would you handle this?
  • You are asked to prepare a presentation for senior management and you are unfamiliar with the topic and have never presented at the company before.
  • You have been asked to complete an urgent report but this will mean you have to stay back two hours, and you have to leave on time.

A question about challenges is an essential part of any interview, so applicants can prepare by making a list of 10 challenges and specific actions and learning that occurred. Having these examples at the front of your mind when you are asked will make you more confident. Most people are nervous (on some level, at least) when it comes to job interviews, so anything that can increase your confidence is a valuable thing.

It is best not to try and double guess what the perfect answer is. It is much easier to be yourself and give an honest account than it is to lie or try to present a falsely positive impression. Being genuine makes the best possible impression. Interviewers often overlook or downplay discretions if they feel they can trust the person. Interviewing is about a dialogue between two or more people and building trust is the most successful avenue.

Keep in mind that job hunting will always be tough. There are always many more applicants than jobs available, and most advertised jobs have to reject a lot of highly qualified and appropriate applicants. It is a good idea to seek feedback if you are unsuccessful, but the reason is usually because the field of applicants was extremely strong.

Eve Ash has produced many DVDs and resources on interviewing including a popular series of programs for selectors and recruiters Selection Interview Skills including the Behavioural Interview Trigger Tapes and for applicants Job Interview Success Series.


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