Posted by Robert Half on 23 November 2016
Firstly, congratulations on making it through to the interview stage -- you're one step closer to landing that new position. While you might be comfortable answering interview questions related to your skills and job experience when the time comes, have your prepared for the behavioural interview questions?
Yes, those can be the unpredictable ones, however, hiring managers are turning to them more and more. Behavioural interview questions ask what you’ve done — or would do — in certain circumstances. The idea is that your answers provide insight into your work experiences and personal attributes for the interviewer.
Managers are looking for people who are competent and a good fit for their organisation, even for temporary and part-time jobs, and they can get at that by asking behavioural interview questions.
How to tell when you are being asked a behavioural interview question
When you hear the words: “Tell me about a time when...” it’s highly likely that the hiring manager is asking you a behavioural interview question. Other variations include:
“Describe a time when...”
“Give me an example of...”
“Have you ever...?”
Some behavioural interview questions require you to put yourself in a situation and use your imagination for an answer. You have to think on your feet, especially if you’ve never considered the question in advance. Let’s say you were asked, “How would you persuade your supervisor to move financial functions to the cloud?” Or this: “What steps would you take if you were told that you needed to increase productivity in this job?” You’ll have to come up with an immediate solution to what could be a tricky matter. What helps to make behavioural interview questions like this easier?
Developing your stories
In the past, you may have solved similar problems to the hypothetical question being asked. To make these top of mind during your interview, take the initiative now to create a storehouse of work experiences. As you think about issues you’ve tackled in the workplace, try to compose several short stories you can share in 60 seconds or less.
For example, you might be asked to talk about a time when you worked with colleagues as part of a team. How did you contribute to make it a successful collaboration? Or was there ever a time when you had to overcome stress, deal with a crisis or handle a failure? What did you do?
Don’t memorise your lines but try to have a general strategy for approaching topics with compelling anecdotes.
Exploring different topics and scenarios
It’s true that behavioural interview questions can be about something you may have encountered in the past, or they can be a “what if” question, where you have no past experience to call on and have to use your imagination.
Either way, the stories you’ve prepared can help. Even if the question isn’t specifically about something you’ve handled before, your preparation will make you more in the habit of describing your thought process and approaches. Think about how open you are to new ideas, how good you are at negotiating solutions and what you might draw upon to think through a problem.
Sample behavioural interview questions:
Want some more practice? Here is a list of commonly asked behavioural interview questions:
- Have you ever had to get buy-in from a resistant audience to a project or idea? Tell me how you approached it.
- Tell me about a time when you had to give a team member constructive criticism. How did you go about giving it?
- Give me an example of a time when you had to explain something complex to a client or colleague. What did you do?
- Tell me about your greatest career achievement to date. Can you describe what steps led to the outcome?
- Describe a project that you worked on, that led to your professional development.
- Tell me about a time when you set a goal and met your objectives.
- Tell me about a time when you had to lead a project and your other team members weren’t contributing as you had envisaged. How did you tackle the situation?
- Describe a time when a member of your team was under-performing. What did you do?
- Tell me about a time when you had to analyse information to solve a problem. How did you go about doing it, and what was the result?
- Describe a project that you worked on where you had to take steps to solve a problem. What was the problem and what was the logic you applied to solve it?
Attention to detail/organisational ability
- Tell me about a time where you discovered an error, made by either yourself or a colleague. What did you do? How did you approach the situation?
- Have you ever had to create or implement a new system to achieve greater productivity? What did you do?
- Tell me about a stressful time when you were under pressure. What was causing the pressure and how you managed the stress?
Creativity and innovation
- Describe the most innovative idea you’ve ever had and the impact that it had on the company.
- Have you ever solved a problem in a way that was unexpected? Tell me about it.
- Tell me about a time where you offered an innovative solution to a improve productivity.
- Give me an example of a time where your integrity was challenged. What did you do?
- Describe a time when honesty was not the best policy.
- Describe a situation where you had to make an unpopular decision. How did you go about communicating it to your team?
- Give me an example where you’ve had to work with someone who you didn’t get along with. How did you approach and resolve the situation?
- How have you interacted with a difficult project manager or team leader?
- Tell me about a time when you haven’t achieved what you set out to do. How did you deal with it?
- Have you ever had a project or idea rejected? What happened and how did you react?
- Describe a situation where you found yourself outside your comfort zone.
- Describe a time when your team or company was undergoing some change. How were you impacted?
How to answer behavioural questions: The CAR or STAR method
The CAR principle gives you a structured way to respond to the interviewer, by giving Context (describe the background and situation that you were in), Action (describe what action or steps you took) and Result (describe the professional outcomes you achieved).
The STAR method provides a similar structure, and stands for Situation or Task (describe the specific event or task you were given), Action (describe what steps you took) and Result (describe the professional outcomes you delivered to the business).
Question and answer example
“Tell me about a time when you were faced with a stressful situation and how you handled it.”
Context (also known as Situation or Task): I was leading a special project team. Our client shifted the deadline forward by two weeks. This had a significant impact on our suppliers. Some could deliver to the new deadline, but others couldn’t.
Action: Leveraging the strong relationship that I had developed with my client already, I took the time to understand what was driving him to change the deadline. Once I understood the detail as to why it needed to be shifted, I realised that I could deliver the project to the client in phases - thus satisfying his needs, and keeping the suppliers happy. I developed a phased delivery plan and proposed this to the client.
Result: The client accepted the phased schedule, and we delivered the project on time. The client was very satisfied and as a result we were appointed another new project worth £500,000 to the business.
Three tips to answering behavioural interview questions effectively:
- Do your research. Find out what skills and behaviours the employer is looking for, and mine your own CV to find examples that you think will demonstrate a good match for the role.
- Practise the CAR or STAR method out loud in advance. If you remind yourself of the acronym while telling your story, you’ll stay on point.
- Don’t keep referring to the same experience. Arrive at an interview armed with a few different examples that you can adapt according to the different questions asked.
This is a case where past behaviour (yours) may indeed be used as an indicator of future success (also yours). So practice thinking on your feet, developing your stories and exploring different topics — and you’ll rock your job interview, which might just lead to the next step in your career.