Let’s Talk … Preparing For Behavioural Interviews

Behavioural interviews

Want to know what the top career counselors and coaches know about behavioural interviews?

At some point in your career, it is inevitable that you will be required to attend such an interview as part of the recruitment process for your dream job or career.

Many candidates feel un-nerved and anxious about behavioural interviews. This is not necessary. With a little knowledge and preparation you can present well at this type of interview.

Behavioural interviews are commonplace in large and medium sized organisations and many line and hiring managers are trained in the practice. (Sidenote: Lets Talk Career run these interviewer training programs throughout Australia – if interested click on this link).

So what are they? And how can you blitz them?

What is a behavioural interview?

A behavioural interview is one where the interviewer (or interview panel) asks you questions which ask you to talk about your past experience. They often start with “Tell me about a time …” or “Give me an example of when…” .

These sentences are usually followed with a competency (a skill, knowledge or attitude) that they are looking for in a candidate. Competencies may be things like strategic thinking, team work, attention to detail, organisational and planning skills and customer service orientation. There are hundreds of different competencies. The best way to understand the competencies the interviewer is looking for is to review the job advertisement and the position description. Both will provide strong hints.

The general theory behind behavioural interviews is that past behavior will predict future performance. Interviewers are interested in how you have acted in the past in a given situation. They believe this shows how you will act in the future in the same(or similar) situations.

With behavioural questions, the interviewer is interested in what you have done in the past and what your actual experience has been. They are not interested in hypotheticals. They do not want to hear what you would do IF but rather what you did do WHEN.

When responding to a behavioural question it is worthwhile knowing that the interviewer is most likely scoring your answer based on the following 3 criteria:

1/. Its relevance. Relevance is about similarity. The employer wants to know if the example you give in your answer is likely to be a similar task, accountability or situation to the role they are recruiting for.

2/. Its recency. Put simply, the employer is noting how recent the example you give is. To score higher, try to focus on an example that was not too long ago.

3/. Its impact. How significant the activity, task or action was and what sort of impact it had. For example, take cost savings. If one candidate talks about saving five dollars and another talks about saving five million dollars, the interviewer can see that one example had far more impact on the company’s bottom line than the other.

When answering a behavioural question it is important to pick an example which scores you the maximum points possible. You do this by focusing on a situation which was relevant to the job, recent and had a big impact on the team or organisation’s performance.

Here’s an example:

If you were asked to tell your interviewer about a time you demonstrated good team work and you use an example from 10 years ago which involved the staff footy team, it will not be received the same way as an example that focuses on how you worked collaboratively with your team on a big deadline-driven project that made the company 25 million dollars. You get the picture. One answer is trivial and unrelated to work, while the other is (presumably) highly relevant, recent and linked to company success.

The other thing to be aware of with behavioural interviews, is that it is not uncommon for an interviewer to say something like “Great answer, can you give me another example?” This does not necessarily mean you answered inappropriately. It means they are looking for depth in your experience. They want you to demonstrate that you hold the competency e.g. team work, in more than one situation or environment.

How do I answer a behavioral interview question?

When answering a behavioural interview question it is best to break it down.

Focus on the STAR technique, which is:

S – Situation

T – Task

A – Action

R – Result


SDescribe the situation. This provides the interviewer with the context for your answer. An example of a situation might be “When I was working at GMH, absenteeism was 15%. This was costing the organisation 2million dollars per annum in casual labour and sick leave costs.”

T Describe the task. This outlines what needed to be done. An example of a task might be “Absenteeism at 15% was considered a major problem in the organisation and one that needed to be brought down to the industry average of 5%.”

ADescribe the action/s. This outlines what YOU did to address the absenteeism issue. It is important when describing the actions to talk in the ‘you’ and not in the ‘we.’ An example of an action might be “Firstly I reviewed the statistics to better understand what was happening in-house. I then held focus groups and found that our 12 hour night shifts were having a significant negative effect on our workers’ health. I did some research and found that 8 hour shifts had a more positive impact on health. I met with the union delegates and together we agreed on a trial change in shift time.”

RDescribe the result. This outlines what the outcome or impact was. It is important that the result is something you are proud to demonstrate as your achievement. An example of a result might be “I was thrilled when absenteeism decreased to 8% within the first 6 months. My general manager recognised my contribution by paying me a bonus.”

The 4 steps to prepare for a behavioural interview?

Many people feel they can’t prepare for a behavioural interview. This is not true. You absolutely can!

1/. The first thing to do is to think about your own experience. What are some of the achievements that you are most proud of? When was a time you really excelled? Ideally, think of 6 to 10 different scenarios. Try and make them relatively recent if possible.

2/. Now write down the STAR for each scenario. What was the situation? What was the task? What were your actions? What was the result or outcome?

3/. Then think about the position description of the role you are applying for. What are the duties? What are the responsibilities/accountabilities? What are the competencies they look for in their ideal candidate? What are the organisational values?

4/. Start matching your scenarios with the competencies and organisational values. It is possible that one scenario could answer a question exploring any number of different competencies or values. You can tailor the answer to suit the actual question, but you will be well ahead if you identify what you want to talk about.

To explain further. Take the STAR example and absenteeism answer above. With a small amount of tweaking, this example could talk to your amazing problem-solving skills, your fabulous influencing skills, your ability to research facts and statistics and your collaboration skills. The list goes on.

In summary

While behavioural interviews can seem daunting, once you understand exactly what they are and what your interviewer is looking for in your answers, you are well on the way to performing at your best. Job search, like many things, is a skill. You can take steps by preparing – think through your achievements and practice your answersso that you play the job search game well.

By working with a career counselor or career coach, you can put your best foot forward at a behavioural interview. If you are interested in discussing your situation, contact us today to book an appointment.

Lets Talk Career has over 30 executive coaches and career counselors throughout Australia who can coach you through your interview preparation. Call us on 1800 284 255 to learn more!

We would be delighted for you to reproduce our articles, as long as they remain intact and contain the author’s details as follows: ‘Kris Reynolds is Managing Partner at Lets Talk Career (www.letstalkcareer.com) in Australia. Kris can be contacted on 1800 284 255 or kris@letstalkcareer.com.


Kris has over 20 years executive HR and executive coaching experience in Australian corporates. With a Masters Degree in Leadership, she works with senior executives to both improve their leadership performance and achieve greater career satisfaction.

Author: Kris

Kris has over 20 years executive HR and executive coaching experience in Australian corporates. With a Masters Degree in Leadership, she works with senior executives to both improve their leadership performance and achieve greater career satisfaction.