How to Nail the Interview: Behavioural Interviews (2 of 9)

October 30, 2013

Learn more about Behavioural Interviews

Here is our first installment of Argentus’ series: How to Nail the Interview. In the series, we discuss the different types of interview format you could encounter in a job search and should help prepare you as a candidate. Why have you ended up in this particular format of interview? What are some things to watch for and common pitfalls to avoid? And what are some potential advantages to this type of interview that you can exploit?

You often hear about interviewers asking questions that get the candidate thinking outside the box: “If you could be any animal, what would you be and why?”. “If you were a tree, what tree would you be?” “How would you cure world hunger?” Open ended and nebulous questions like that. Somewhere between this approach and your standard, traditional interview (“Tell me about yourself?” “Where do you see yourself in five years?”) is the Behavioural Interview, which is very popular with HR/Talent Acquisition Specialists who want to be able to give a hiring manager a fuller and more robust objective view of who the candidate is and how a candidate would respond to the demands of a job.

In a behavioural interview, the hiring manager or recruiter asks specific, pointed questions about the candidate’s past experience, and then tries to rate the candidate’s answers on an objective scale. Here are some examples:

What’s an example of a time when you had to lead a project that didn’t excite your team at all? How did you motivate them and what was the result?

What has been the most stressful situation you have found yourself in at work?

Describe a difficult situation in the workplace where you went above the call of duty.

Think about an instance where your actions on the job contributed to cost savings for your employer. How did you identify this opportunity and how did you put it into practice?

You’ve likely heard questions like this before. These questions can be tricky. It puts you on the spot, and takes more preparation than a traditional interview. You need to make sure that your answers are carefully crafted – not long winded –  but never too brief.

Common pitfalls in this interview format happens when the candidate doesn’t LISTEN to the question and goes off message or she/he comes off sounding like they did not understand and thus they’re grasping at straws. Make sure the behavioural example you give is relevant to the job at hand and specific.  Secondly, make sure you describe specific experiences, instead of trying to give a more general behavioural picture of yourself.  Third, make sure you’re succinct. Economy of language is one of the toughest things to nail in an interview like this. You want to seem competent.  But if you can’t give a concise account of an experience, it makes you sound like you get easily lost in the weeds.

It’s a difficult format, but there are some benefits that you might not consider. For example, if you’re a less experienced candidate without many years under your belt, this style of questioning lets you focus on other, non-work experiences such as school, campus activities, membership in organizations, to show that you’re capable. But be sure not to take it completely off work otherwise you will find yourself in trouble. If you’re a manager or an executive-level candidate, you have these work experiences to draw on, and answering these questions this way on the spot just makes you look more credible. Period. It shows you’re quick on your feet.

Have you ever heard the old writers’ adage “Show, don’t tell”? Behavioural interviews give you the opportunity to show how you deal with situations, instead of just telling the hiring manager about your skills and previous job responsibilities. Or so the thinking goes. If you have any tangible examples of work to support/accompany what you are saying, do bring them along to the interview.

Stay tuned for The Meal Interview next.

Thank you to Sam White at Argentus for writing this post

Over and out




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