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How to Prepare for a Behavioural Interview

What is a Behavioural Job Interview?

The purpose of a successful resume is to get you an interview.  It’s your performance at the interview (and references and assessment results) that win you the job. A behavioural job interview is premised on ‘the best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour’ and asks you what you did in a range of scenarios.

Rather than asking how you would behave in certain scenarios, they ask how you did behave. Behavioural questions use this logic to help the interviewer understand how you have acted in specific work-related situations so they can interpret your fit for their role, team and company. The interviewer will identify the core behaviours or traits that are important to the role and then ask questions that encourage you to provide evidence that you have the right capability or experience to be successful in the job.

What do Behavioural Questions Look Like?

Most behavioural questions will start with something similar to “Can you tell me about a time when you…”

Example questions are:

  • Describe a stressful situation at work? How did you handle it?
  • Tell me about a time you had to solve a difficult problem. What did you do? What was the outcome? Do you wish you had done anything differently?
  • What process have you used to check that you have the right details from a customer?
  • How have you handled a situation in the past where your manager has “changed the goalposts”?
  • Have you ever had to convince your co-workers to try a different idea or approach? How did you do it?
  • When was the last time you had to think “outside the box”, what was the outcome?
  • Can you tell me about a project you initiated? What did you do and what was the outcome?
  • Have you ever been in a situation where there was conflict in your workplace? How did you handle the situation?

How to Answer Behavioural Questions

The trick to a good interview is to take your time. After the interviewer has asked the question, take a short pause (and a deep breath to calm your nerves). Review the question in your mind and decide on the skills you need to focus on. Use your bank of career narratives that we discuss below, to find an example or anecdote from your work experience that best demonstrates that skill.

When you slow the pace of an interview down, you are more likely to respond to the questions clearly and completely. Without taking time to pause, people tend to speak faster, get entangled in their words, run off course or forget the actual question half-way through a ramble.

More importantly, if you’re too busy thinking of an answer while the interviewer is still asking the question, you risk missing key elements and not delivering the answer they really want to hear.

 Prepare Ahead with a Bank of Career Narratives

Umms, ahhs and a general lack of clarity can be kryptonite to a good interview. Avoid the potential pitfalls by developing a series of career narratives that you can use across a range of questions or scenarios.

While most of these narratives should describe situations or experiences where you really shined, it’s also important to have a few examples of challenges you have had to navigate in the workplace. Ideally, these examples of challenges still end with a positive outcome or a clear lesson learned so that you can demonstrate how you have grown from the experience.

The best way to develop your narratives is to reflect on times at work where you felt like you did a really good job. Once you have the experience, break it down using a simple formula.

Use a Formula to Create Good Stories

There are lots of formulas and the STAR approach is probably the most popular. We think you can simplify it even more with a good Australian SAO : Situation, Action, Outcome.

Set the scene or situation

Talk about your action or idea

Close with the outcome

Every good story starts by setting the scene – this is normally describing the situation or problem In the next sentence talk about the things you did to help fix the problem or improve the situation

Finish with how your actions helped the organisation, improved something or fixed the problem

To give an example, we’re going to use an experience of keeping volunteers informed.

Set the scene:  We had an excellent team of volunteers but it was time-consuming to update them on training requirements, process changes and upcoming volunteer opportunities. We were spending as much time managing the volunteers as we were benefiting from their support.   

Talk about your action or idea:  I decided we needed a better approach to information sharing and felt a quarterly newsletter would suit our volunteers. They agreed on the benefits and we established the newsletter with all information they needed to know, sign-up sheets for upcoming events, health and safety guides, volunteer appreciation, birthday announcements and more.

Close with the outcome: We received excellent feedback from the newsletter and many volunteers reported that really enjoyed reading the personal stories we featured. We increased the number of people signing up to volunteer at events by 25% because more people understood how to do it. We also improved the safety of volunteers with no reported OH&S issues since the release of the newsletters.

This narrative could be used across a range of questions including:

  • Tell me about a time where you had to solve a difficult problem.
  • Describe a situation in which you recognized a potential problem as an opportunity
  • What have you done in the past to minimise workplace stress?
  • Tell me about a time that you used your written communication skills to make an important point?
  • When was the last time you thought “outside the box” and how did you do it? Why?
  • Tell me about a problem that you’ve solved in a unique or unusual way. What was the outcome? Were you happy or satisfied with the result?
  • Describe a project or idea that was implemented as a result of your efforts.
  • Tell me about a time when your initiative created a positive outcome?

Using a formula is a great way to help you stay focussed and on topic. As demonstrated above, your responses don’t need to be long. We timed the above and the whole response was under a minute.

For our final tip, we asked professional resume writer Louise De Chiera of Successful Resumes Southwest WA for her advice. Louise speaks to lots of jobseekers and passed on “It’s good to remember that most behavioural interview questions are designed to focus on a problem or scenario. While it’s important to describe the problem you faced, don’t focus too much on the negativity. This isn’t the right time to talk about how terrible your last boss was or how lazy your co-workers were. Make sure you reorient the answer to end on a positive outcome or if there wasn’t a good outcome, talk about how you learned from the experience.”

Combine great content with winning body language and we’re sure your interview will be a success!

Do you have power career narratives that showcase your skills? Submit your resume for a free critique to find out.

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