Behavioural job interview: how to provide your examples
If you are invited for a behavioural job interview (sometimes called behavioural-based job interview), you can expect to be asked for many examples of how you acted in specific situations. Such questions are part of any job interview, but in a behavioural one, they will be dominant. Learn how to excel!
Similarities to, and differences from, other types of job interviews
In a behavioural interview, just like in any other form of interview, the employer wants to learn about three key things:
- your competencies
- your motivation
- whether your personality will fit well into the organization and the team
However, in a behavioural interview, you are not going to be asked about those three things directly. For example, such interviewers will not ask “What motivates you to give your best performance?”, but instead, they will ask something like: “Could you please provide us with an example of when something made you really motivated?” The employer considers your past behaviour to be a reliable predictor of your future behaviour, and so will ask you for examples of real situations and your behaviour in them.
Questions at behavioural interviews typically start with:
Could you please provide us with an example of a situation where...
... you faced a challenge or a specific situation:
e.g. had too little time; had to do something you had no previous experience with; faced a dilemma and found it hard to make a decision
... you successfully used a skill...
e.g. your writing skills; sense of anticipation; stress-resistance; negotiation skills; planning skills; diplomacy; ability to motivate others
...you achieved something...
e.g. something you consider your biggest professional achievement so far; you contributed to a change; you got recognition; you went beyond your previous limits
...you failed to accomplish something...
e.g. you made a mistake; you could not meet a deadline; you disappointed your manager; you could not solve a problem
...you dealt with a specific type of colleague or managerial behaviour...
e.g. you had to work with a colleague with whom you found it difficult to collaborate; you worked together with someone with a working style very different from your own; you were managed in a way that doesn’t work very well for you
...you felt very motivated/ lacked motivation/ lost motivation....
The specific type of situation they will ask about will depend on the job requirements. They want to know how you might act in situations you are likely to face in your new role. They will often ask about the things that have been included in the job description, but sometimes they might also try to surprise you with a completely different question and see how you react. The following tips can help you react to any kind of behavioural question.
How to best answer behaviour-based interview questions
The tips are not too different from any other type of job interview, so let´s just summarize the key things:
1. Be sure to answer the question asked – not something else.
Too often people talk about something other than what the interviewer asked about. Were you asked for an example of using your analytical skills? Then offer an example of using your analytical skills and do not digress into details about your company and its projects. By simply sticking to the question, you are already gaining an advantage over a good proportion of candidates.
A tip: Listen carefully and then repeat the key words at the beginning of your answer: it gives you time to think of an example, while it also helps you stick to the question asked.
e.g. One recent example of when I applied analytical skills was...
Yes, I did have a situation when I had to make a change at very short notice, and that was when...
One more tip: do not overprepare for the interview and never learn examples by heart. Not only doesn’t it sound natural, it also increases the risk that you will want to use your prepared examples even at the cost of missing the actual questions.
2. Use the following structure to include all important information.
There are three important parts of the information to include:
Challenge → your contribution → result
Challenge – briefly describe the task, situation or challenge that you needed to handle.
Your contribution – clarify what you personally did and contributed.
Result – explain what was achieved. If possible, quantify it: e,g, say the number of people it had an impact on, the amount of time or money saved, the number of participants, the scope of the result etc.
Use this scheme for every single example you provide. To practise the structure when you are preparing for the interview, put together three examples: one of an achievement, one of a mistake you made, and one of a challenging situation you faced. Soon the structure will become automatic and you will never forget to convey the most important parts of the information.
By the way, would you believe people most often “forget” to say what the result was?
3. Be brief.
Get to the point quickly and at the very beginning of your answer. By doing that you prevent the interviewer from interrupting you with a comment or a new question before you have even mentioned the crucial thing.
Say the most important thing in the first sentence, then add a bit more information.
In order not to be too long, your answer should take up to 30 seconds, which is equal to more or less 7 very brief or 3 longer sentences.
Of course you are not going to measure your time during the interview, but get the feeling for it. For example, when using the scheme of the challenge + your contribution + the result, you should say either one long or two short sentences about each of the parts – no more than that, or you are getting too wordy.
If you would really like to provide the interviewers with more details, do so in two steps: say your example briefly first, and then offer more:
e.g. Would you like me to tell you more about it?
Would you like me to provide more details on how I proceeded with the task?
If they want to know more details, they will certainly give you the chance or they may ask additional questions. It is never a mistake to be brief!
Every job interview, including a behavioural-based one, is a dialogue. Do not hesitate to ask them your questions not only at the end, but also during the interview. You should not ask more than they do, but you can ask a lot. It shows your interest and gives you credit. You can ask about anything apart from the salary – it is up to them to raise that topic.
The interview is your opportunity to learn about the job and the work environment before making any commitments, so make the best use of the chance.
For more tips, check:
- How to present yourself if you lack working experience in the field
- Sorry, you are overqualified
- Gaps in work history: How long is too long and how to present yours to employers
- What not to say at a job interview