Behavioural interview questions and how to prepare for them


Behavioural interview questions are becoming more and more popular with interview panels, so if you’re not aware of what they are or how to answer them, read on for a briefing that will help you answer them confidently.

This type of question is increasingly being used because recruiters feel that your answers provide more insight into how you would behave in the new job, than your responses to more structured questions which you have probably prepared in advance.

So what is a behavioural interview question?

Basically, these are questions that seek to find out what you would do in certain situations. They tend to be framed in this kind of way: “Can you describe a time when you have had to deal with a member of staff who was underperforming?” This is an open question to which there is no right or wrong answer but your response will reveal quite a lot about your character, view of the world and way of dealing with people. It will enable the panel to judge whether you would fit into the organisation.

Sometimes the interviewers will see how good you are at thinking on your feet by proposing a complex business problem and asking you how you would approach it. These questions are to some extent unpredictable, however if you have been to a few interviews, you will begin to see some patterns emerging.

The interviewers are often interested in situations where there has been conflict of one kind or another, or the potential for it. They may ask if you can think of a time when you have had to deal with a difficult team member and how you resolved the problem. Or they may want to know whether you have ever been in a situation where you have had to balance competing interests.

To answer these questions well, you need to prepare some business scenarios in your head and then rehearse describing them in about a minute. This will prevent you waffling when you come to describe your experience and enable you to practise delivering the whole story fluently.

Use the person specification to give you ideas

One way of trying to imagine the kind of behavioural questions you might get asked is to look at the person specification for the job. If this says, for example, that the successful candidate will be persuasive and a good communicator, the kind of behavioural question you might get is: “Can you tell us about a time when you have had to use influence and persuasion to achieve a business objective?”

So jot down some ideas for scenarios and stories against the key personal characteristics that the recruiters are looking for. The process of doing this will help to organise the information in your head and you can review your notes shortly before the interview to ensure that your “stories” are fresh in your mind.

Examples of behavioural questions

Here are a couple of examples – there are lots more to practise on here.

  • Have you ever been in a situation where you could not complete all of the tasks assigned to you? How did you deal with this?
  • Tell me about a time when you had to tell someone something they did not wish to hear. How did you do this?

CAR or STAR? Choose your method

CAR and STAR are two methods for structuring your answers so that you don’t get lost, waffle or fail to make your point. CAR stands for Context, Action, and Result. In other words, give the context, say what you did and then say how what you did made a positive difference.

This is a great tool to employ when you’re going through the person specification and digging out the attributes you think the recruiter is looking for. There’s more detail on how to do this here.

STAR is a variant, and stands for Situation, Task, Action, and Result – in other words it splits the context into the situation and what you were asked to do. There’s more information on using the STAR method here.

How to answer behavioural questions well

  • As discussed, go through the job and person specifications and mine them for personal characteristics, talents and abilities that might be the focus of a behavioural question.
  • Use CAR / STAR to structure a story around the attributes you have identified. Doing this will also help with a question you weren’t expecting because you will have got into the habit of thinking about your previous experience in this structured way.
  • Make sure you think of different examples to talk about – this should be easy if you have practised various stories after analysing the different attributes you think the recruiter is interested in.

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