Behavioural interviewing is by far the best technique for gaining a really strong understanding of a candidate's experience and capability, which is why it is so widely used. Behavioural interview questions are designed to get you to give specific examples about your experience. In particular, your interviewer is looking to understand how you have behaved in certain work situations.
There is a trick to it.
When you are asked a behavioural interview question, you need to remember the STAR method. You may have heard of it - it is often used when writing selection criteria responses but it is equally as useful in an interview situation! The great thing about using this method is that you can anticipate some of the questions you might get asked, then prepare and practice your responses before your interview. Here's how to plot it out.
What was the situation or problem that you were dealing with? You want to outline the important aspects of the challenge, without compromising the confidentiality of your previous employer. You want to give enough detail about the situation for the interviewer to understand and appreciate the issue, but avoid giving too much information because you don't want your story to become boring.
What needed to be done? What needed to happen? What was the fix? At this time, you want to describe exactly what it was that you were trying to achieve. This part is like a little teaser because you are going to introduce the interviewer to your end game or goal. Before you start talking about what you actually did, your interviewer needs to know why. You want to be specific and let the interviewer know how your task is measured.
So, what did you do about it? This is where you outline the specific actions that you took to address the situation. Show your interviewer that you have the ability to follow a process, be methodical, both in your action and in your response to their question. Work through the steps that you followed to complete the task. Talk about collaboration with others, taking on additional responsibilities and times when you went above and beyond to get something done. Your actions are how you can really showcase and highlight your abilities, so this is where you want to focus your response.
Behavioural interview? Come at me bro! Feel confident and shine like a STAR!
What was the result of your action? What did you achieve? Think back to when you defined your end game. Did you get to the desired outcome? Refer back to the way your task was measured and talk about your results in relation to that measurement. For example, if you increased profit for the company, your measurement tool is money. If you can, provide details of the increase in terms of dollars or percentage of improvement. Don't forget to consider the other flow on effects from you achieving these results. Your manager was probably thrilled and commended you for your efforts. You may have been nominated for an award or perhaps there was some wider benefit for the company. Don't be shy - this is your time to brag a little!
For each question you want to formulate your response using the above method, but remember that you don't have all day! Each response should be no more that a couple of minutes, after all, you only have a short period of time for your interview and you have to address multiple questions within that time frame. Depending on the job you have applied for, your interviewers will probably be interested in your communication skills and the ability to provide a clear, informative and succinct response will be looked upon favourably.
Here is an example of the STAR method in action.
Q: Tell me about a time when you had to work with a team to complete a project. What challenges did you face and how did you overcome them?
A: When I worked as the Manager of ABC Corporation, we would often have sales blitzes for products that were being pushed on a national basis. In June, the focus was on toaster sales. Head Office had set my team a target of 100 sales for the month, but our customers were not responding to the advertising and we had only sold 22 toasters at mid-month. I was under a lot of pressure to turn this figure around to get as close as possible to the target of 100. I scheduled a meeting with my team and encouraged every team member to provide at least one idea about how we could improve our toaster sales. I wrote each of the ideas on a white board and as a team, we explored each option and put in place specific actions that we could take to implement our ideas. We also discussed ways that we could measure our progress in a visual way that would help to keep the team motivated. We put our ideas into practice immediately after the meeting and as a result, we saw a 600% increase in the sale of toasters within the last two weeks of the month. We not only smashed our target, but we were recognised by head office for best toaster sales in the region and we were used as a case study for whole of business sales training.
Do you see how I moved through each step of the STAR method to tell a story? I didn't want to get bogged down in the minute details - but I talked about measurables so that the interviewer could really get a feel for the magnitude of the result. Even though my interviewer might not know a lot about toaster sales, they can see that there was a significant improvement.
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Here are some final tips for your behavioural interview!
1. You will be marked on providing a succinct response. Nobody likes a rambler, especially if you are talking yourself around in circles. Plan your response using the STAR method and try to keep your response between one and two minutes. If the interviewer needs more detail than that, they will ask for it. You need to find a balance and ensure that you are giving enough information to provide the interviewer with an overview of the situation. You don't want to provide way too much detail and boring the interviewer with information that is unnecessary.
2. Use emotion where relevant. I will be posting more about using imagery and emotion in your interviews, but in the meantime, think about descriptive words and consider how people felt throughout your example. Descriptive words help the interviewer imagine the situation and feel the gravity of your actions. Ask yourself: "How can I explain this situation so that my interviewer feels as though they were there?" This is a skill that is not easy, so I would think small to start with. You don't want to be overwhelming, waffle too much or come across as a creep. Here are a couple of easy to implement examples.
- When I completed the project, the department manager was thrilled with the result - he couldn't stop smiling.The customer was very angry.
- He continued raising his voice and my team members were feeling very uncomfortable.
3. Don't be afraid to ask for some time. There are three common strategies for answering a behavioural interview question.
a) You think quickly on your feet and are able to knock out a well-thought out response without hesitation.
b) You start speaking immediately, but you aren't quite sure where your response is headed. You keep talking anyway and hope that your rambling will answer the question (which you may have forgotten).
c) You stop, formulate a response and then deliver it methodically to ensure you answer the question.
If your style is point "a", then lucky you - your ability to think fast and deliver great responses is a skill that you shouldn't take for granted. If not, then please know that c is always my next preference.
It is absolutely fine to ask your interviewer for a moment to think before you give an answer.
It is also completely acceptable to jot down a few notes to make sure that you don't forget any part of the question. Obviously you don't want to sit there and think for minutes on end, but you will be surprised by how much pressure is lifted when you just ask for some time - "Would you mind if I take a moment to think about that one?"
Behavioural interviewing is here to stay, so you might as well embrace the technique and make sure that your responses are doing your skills and experience justice. Have you ever been asked a doozy that you weren't sure how to answer? Let me know in the comments!