Four people sit at a conference room table. A lady is about to have a competency-based interview for a new job.

How to Give The Best Answers to Behavioural Interview Questions

Joel Mason
Interviews

How to Give The Best Answers to Behavioural Interview Questions

Joel Mason • Nov 07, 2022

I remember my first behavioural interview, unfortunately I was completely unprepared to answer behavioural interview questions and found myself completely out of my depth.

Iv'e since learned a lot about behavioural interviews, having now experienced this style of interview many times.

I eventually trained to recruit my own employees using this style of interview, and have gone on to coach many people through their own behavioural interviews as a recruitment agent and interview coach.

If you're serious about progressing in your career, and you want to work for high-caliber organisations, you need to know how to perform in behavioural interviews.

For example, you would definitely be asked behavioural interview questions in an interview with Google, and most multinational organisations would also use the same style of interview.

In fact, if you’ve missed out on job opportunities in the past, there’s a chance it was because you were unprepared for a behavioural interview and had not learned to answer this style of interview question.

In this article I’m going to explain what behavioural interviews are, provide you with a list of behavioural interview questions, and explain exactly how you can prepare for behavioural interview questions and answer them confidently. By the end, you'll be ready to face any behavioural interview situation head on, and hopefully land yourself a great role in an awesome organisation.

What is a behavioural interview?

A behavioural interview is simply a type of interview style.

In a behavioural interview interviewees are asked pre-prepared and structured questions, questions that are designed to make people draw on past experiences, providing examples that demonstrate important behaviours or competencies.

What's good about behavioural interviews?

Although behavioural interviews can be challenging, there are a lot of benefits to this interview style.

Behavioral interviews not only benefit the interviewer, they also benefit you, the interviewee.

Let's look at why behavioural interviews are often better.

Behavioural questions reveal a lot about you

The basic premise goes something like this; knowing how you performed in a past situation gives the interviewer a good idea of how you’re likely to perform when faced with a similar situation in the future.

For example, the way in which you handled a conflict situation in the past, is quite likely to be indicative of how you’ll handle conflict in the future.

As you can imagine, behavioural questions give the interviewer a much better sense of you as a potential employee. Your interview answers give them an insight into how you work and how you’ll perform if they were to hire you into their organisation.

A typical behavioural question will go something like this;

'Tell me about a time when you…’

• ‘Give us an example of when you have…’

Behavioural interviews are fairer

The great thing about behavioural interviews is that they are much more objective.

All candidates are asked the same questions and being scored in the same manner.

Behavioural-based interviewing is a much fairer and more transparent means of assessing candidates, their capabilities and their fit for an organisation.

Not only do behavioural questions reveal competencies and skills, they also provide a pretty accurate assessment of cultural fit.

Behavioural interviews lead to better hiring decisions

In a behavioural interview you can’t just tell the interviewer that you are great at handling conflict, you actually have to demonstrate your conflict handling abilities with a real example from your past.

Needless to say, companies experience a higher success rate as a result of using competency-based questions

Behavioural interviews allow you as the candidate to sell yourself better

From your perspective as a candidate, behavioural interviews are a great opportunity to demonstrate the difference that they can make to an organisation. Although behavioural questions can be daunting, it is actually easier to perform well in this style of job interview.

This is because you know exactly what to expect, you can prepare in advance and master techniques, such as the star method, that provide you with a framework by which to structure your answers. We’ll talk about this in more detail later in this article.

What behaviours are assessed in a behavioural interview?

Behavioural interviews are often referred to as competency interviews because they are essentially assessing your grasp of certain key competencies. These competencies are likely to be considered essential for success in the role for which you are applying. Of course, this means that certain roles will have quite unique requirements.

For example behavioural interview questions for software developers might be different from behavioural interview questions for product managers. However, having said this, there are some competencies or behaviours that are common across many roles and so you should be prepared for them.

10 competencies that are assessed in most behavioural interviews

• Leadership

• Influencing

• Negotiation

• Handling Conflict

• Problem Solving

• Adaptability

• Critical Thinking

• Project Management

• Decision Making

• Collaboration and Team Work

How should you prepare for a behavioural interview

Preparing for a behavioural interview comes down to three things:

• Understanding the role for which you are interviewing, and which competencies are likely to be required

• Preparing examples from your past that adequately demonstrate these competencies

• Structuring your answers and examples properly so that you can deliver them articulately and succinctly in your interview

Let's explore each of these three points in more detail.

1. Understand the role you are interviewing for

Think about the role you are interviewing for and begin to list out the competencies that you’ll need to possess in order to perform well if you get the job. A leadership role might require different competencies than a sales role, for example.

Begin to list out these competencies and rank them in order of importance. You’ll want to start preparing for the crucial competencies first and afford them the most time and attention.

In our dedicates guide you’ll find printable worksheets to help you with this process.

2. List the examples that you'll use in your job interview

Think back through your career and begin to make note of challenges you have overcome and successes that you have enjoyed. It may help to have your CV at hand in order to jog your memory. If you’re someone who has kept a record of your successes, this will be easy for you!

Keep in mind the way that competency questions are structured, they will typically begin with ‘tell us about a time when’ or ‘give us an example of when you’. Remember the competencies that they are likely to be assessing for, and make sure that the examples you choose to use actually demonstrate that you possess those competencies.

3. Use STAR to structure your examples

STAR is a very simple and easy to recall acronym that provides a framework by which to structure your examples and interview answers. Structuring your answers and examples using STAR enables you to provide the interviewer with all the information that they are looking for, in a manner that’s easy to follow and understand.

Your Guide to Behavioural Interviews

You can become a behavioural interview pro today!

Schedule an interview coaching session, and work with an expert today

Learn more

Get your CV professionally edited and make sure YOU get noticed

Refresh your CV!

What does STAR stand for?

S = Situation

T = Task

A = Action

R = Result

Let's examine the STAR interview method in more detail

Situation

This is where you describe an actual situation that took place in the past, for example, the time you had to turn around an underperforming team, the time you had to challenge your boss on a decision that they made or the time you had to work with a difficult employee.

You’ll need to give a very brief outline of when the situation occurred and what the circumstances were,

Not too much detail is required at this point, as you are simply setting the scene.

e.g. "When I was working for my first company, I was given a brand new team to manage and I was responsible for ensuring they hit their collective target."

Task

This is where you talk about the actual challenges that you faced, what was required of you, what you had to do. It can be helpful to repeat back some of the language from the question.

Again, not too much detail, just give the facts, the meaty bit comes next.

e.g. "The team were very diverse and they all had different priorities. In order to meet our goal, I needed to influence them to come together and pull in the same direction."

Action

This is where you focus most of your time as you describe exactly what you did to overcome the challenge.

A piece of advice here, describe what you did and not what your team or boss or colleague did, they are interviewing you after all.

It helps to use the word ‘I’ more than ‘we’ when taking about the actions that you took.

We talk more about the mistakes you should avoid in our guide.

As you describe the actions you personally took, you need to demonstrate that you knew what you were doing when you took on this challenge and convince the interviewer that you could replicate that performance again.

Take them through the process step by step, in order that events took place and provide relevant detail. Write this out in bullet points that take the interviewer on a journey. Don’t forget to keep it succinct, punchy and leave out anything that’s irrelevant.

Results

An often-forgotten piece of the puzzle, results are where you tell the interviewer the outcome of your actions.

If your actions didn’t achieve the desired results, it was pointless.

You need to tell the interviewer that the steps you took led to a positive outcome for the organisation.

Use facts and figures here, gather your evidence, this is what will make your example really powerful and compelling.

How to prepare for a behavioural interview

Let's look at what you can do to begin preparing for a behavioural interview.

Write out your answers

Don’t just think you interview answers through in your head, write them out.

Writing things down on paper helps us to structure information in the most logical way.

When you see something written down, you’re able to spot the flaws, identify the waffle, fill in the gaps and arrange the information in the best possible way.

Rehearse

Once you have your examples written out, get in front of a mirror or webcam, with a voice recorder or a friend or expert, and practice presenting your examples.

Listen back over them, identify where you stumble, where you talk too much, where the example feels weak and refine it.

There is nothing more powerful than real-time feedback from an expert, if you have an interview coming up consider scheduling an interview practice session with us.

Time yourself to see how long you take to communicate your example, and always ask yourself “am I answering the question and demonstrating the required competency?”

10 behavioural interview questions to prepare for

Here are 10 example behavioural questions to get you started, and don’t forget to check out our comprehensive guide on this topic!

• Tell us about a time when you had to deal with a big change, how were you able to adapt?

• Tell us about a time you had to do something that was completely new to you, how did you handle it?

• Tell us about a time when you had to learn a new skill or system, how did you adapt?

• Tell us about a time you had to adapt your communication style in order to work effectively with a team or team member?

• Tell us about a time when you had to work with somebody who you found difficult to get along with. What did you do?

• Tell us about a time you had to admit you were wrong or had made a mistake, what did you learn?

• Tell us about a tough decision that you had to make at work.

• Tell us about a time when you had to persuade your co-workers or team on an idea or a point of view, how did you secure their buy-in?

• Tell us about a time you had to challenge a decision made by your line manager or boss.

• Tell us about a project that you planned and executed. How did you manage your tasks in order to complete the project on time?

Use the methods outlined above to prepare for these questions.

Conclusion

Behavioural interviews can be challenging but are a great opportunity for you to demonstrate how great you are and exactly why a company should do everything they can to bring you on board!

If you are serious about your career and want to work for the best companies, you need to learn to master this style of interview.

Download our guide today, or schedule an interview practice session and give yourself a competitive edge!

More interview tips

The most important questions to ask in an interview

How to end a job interview

Your Guide to Behavioural Interviews

You can become a behavioural interview pro today!