How to Prepare for a Behavioural Interview

"Self-confidence in an interview comes from sound preparation!  Read on for tips on the why and how of preparing for a behaviour-based interview” Steffan Brunner, Associate Director and Leadership Development Practice Lead

What Is Behavioural Interviewing?

Behavioural interviewing focuses on a candidate’s past experiences by asking candidates to provide specific examples of how they have demonstrated certain behaviors, knowledge, skills, and abilities. The interviewer evaluates their past behaviour to predict how the candidate will perform in the future.

But even in behavioural interviews, candidates should be prepared to answer different types of questions. Behavioural interviewing questions differ from situational questions:

  • Behavioural interview questions deal with the past or present.
  • Situational interview questions deal with the future.


Why Do Employers Use the Behavioural Interviewing Approach to Hiring?

A poor hiring decision costs companies more than the bottom line. There is often a negative impact on productivity and culture, too. For example, hiring a below-average employee can leave a bad impression with clients or add to other employees’ workloads, even motivating them to look for another job. Behavioural interviewing helps to ensure you’re the right fit for both the company and the position you applied for.

In a behavioural interview, the interviewer aims to collect a lot of different information that they need to know about the candidate. Your résumé gives the interviewer a good idea of your knowledge and experience. But what about your soft skills? How do you handle day-to-day challenges? Do you learn from mistakes and grow? Learning about your successful project is important, but what the interviewer really needs to ask is:

  • How did you decide what to do next?
  • How did you handle your frustration?
  • What did you learn from this problem?

When you answer these questions with real examples, the interviewer learns about your thinking style, motivations, tendencies, and preferences.

Behavioural interviewing can accurately predict how someone will act—good or bad. Using past behaviour to predict future behaviour is a proven technique that can help assess for the future performance or success of an individual. It also helps hiring managers think objectively and avoid making decisions based on instinct or gut feelings alone.


What Are Some Common Behavioural Interviewing Questions?

Here are some typical behavioural questions linked to a few of the most common competencies that could come into most interview scenarios:

  • Adaptability: Describe a time when you adjusted well to a major change. Contrast that with a time that was more difficult for you.
  • Collaboration: Have you ever helped a peer or team member develop an idea? Tell me about one of those times.
  • Decision Making: Tell me about a decision you thought about for a long time. How did you finally make your decision?
  • Motivation: Describe a recent job that was a good fit for you. Why was it a good fit?
  • Planning & Organising: Tell me about a time when you had to coordinate resources (people, processes, departments, equipment) to complete a complex project.
  • Stress Tolerance: We all have times when we feel overwhelmed with our responsibilities. Give me an example of a time when you felt overwhelmed. How did you react to this?
  • Teamwork: Give me an example of a time when you had to build an effective working relationship with an internal partner to be successful.


Behavioural Based Interview Tip #1: Make a List of the Top Skills or Qualifications from the Job Description

When you’re preparing for your interview, start by looking at the job description. The job description should give you a sense of what’s most important to the hiring manager and company—i.e., what interviewers are most likely to ask you about or look for in your answers. Prepare to highlight your most relevant qualities and qualifications in your answers. This might include skills or experiences, but it could also be why you want to work for the company or how you represent their values.

For example, if the company is looking for a “self-starter,” you might want to be ready to talk about a time when you took initiative at a past job. Or if the job description mentions “data-driven decision making,” “using data,” and “data analysis,” come prepared to speak about how you’ve analysed data in the past and what results you were able to achieve. You can even jot down some specific numbers so you’re ready to give the interviewer a full picture of something you’re likely to be asked about.


Behavioural Based Interview Tip #2: Prepare Answers to Sample Behavioural Interview Questions Using the STAR Format


After reviewing the job description, prepare answers to behavioural questions that you think you might be asked. Once you have some sample questions in mind, practice structuring your answers in the STAR format. STAR is an acronym for Situation/Task, Action, Result. The behavioural examples you provide in an interview should have all three elements.

Here’s an example:

“I was part of a team working on a complex project. When the project fell behind schedule, everyone started blaming someone else. (Situation/Task)

I called a meeting, and by focusing on the facts, I persuaded the team that we needed to stop attacking one another and address the issues that were stalling the project. (Action)

When we focused on those issues, we came up with a plan that rescued the project, and we completed it on time.” (Result)

Also, remember that a behavioural example in the STAR format should be no more than two to three minutes long (depending on the question). And you’ll want to deliver your example with energy and enthusiasm.


Behavioural Based Interview Tip #3: Practice Aloud

To make sure you are fully prepared for behavioural questions, I recommend practicing your answers in the STAR format out loud. This exercise gives you a chance to time the length of each answer to make sure it’s not too long or rambling. Practicing out loud also helps you to memorise the example so you can recall all of the details during the interview.

In addition, memorising examples should help calm your interview nerves and avoid conversational fillers like “umm” and “err.” If possible, have someone ask the behavioral questions and listen to your responses to check for clarity and that you cover each component of the STAR in your examples.


A Few More Behavioural Based Interview Tips

Here are a few other tips that apply to any interview situation.

1. Prepare questions you want to ask the interviewer ahead of time. Sometimes it can be hard to think of questions as soon as the interviewer asks, “What questions do you have for me?” Be sure to prepare in advance a list of questions you might want to ask the interviewer.

2. Research your interviewer on LinkedIn®. If you know the name of the interviewer, look them up on LinkedIn. You might find that you have something in common with them. Maybe you’re from the same hometown, went to the same college, or belong to the same professional association. Bringing this up during the interview can help you establish a connection and shows that you are well prepared.

3. Ask clarifying questions after you respond. At the end of your response to a behavioural question, you could ask, “Does that answer your question?” or “Was that enough detail for you?” This shows that you are conscientious and concerned that the interviewer is getting the information they need to evaluate you as a candidate.

4. Take notes along the way. Always go into the interview with a notepad. Your notes might be a prompt for a question later on, or help when you are preparing for your next interview with the company. Taking notes shows that you are present and prepared.

5. Be aware of your body language. Be sure to make eye contact, sit up straight, and don’t fold your arms, which can be interpreted as being defensive.

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