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Understanding Behavioural Interviews
by Daisy Wright
The Wright Career Solution

The next time you are invited to an interview, instead of being asked the traditional interview questions you have grown accustomed to, the interviewer may ask you to tell stories. If the interviewer asks you to “Describe a time when…” or “Give me a specific example of….”, it’s your cue that you are being asked to tell a story. This technique is known as Behavioural Interviewing and is being used by more employers as they search for the person with the ‘right fit’ for the job. Such an interview is based on the premise that past performance is a good predictor of future performance, which means if you were successful at a particular task in the past, chances are you will be successful in the future. In answering questions like these, if you are able to demonstrate your skills and accomplishments as they relate to the competencies the employer is looking for, you are more likely to convince the interviewer that you are the right person for the job.

How the process works
The employer develops a behaviour competency profile based on the behaviour necessary to be successful in a job. A concurrent rating scale is also developed to evaluate the candidate. The rating scale could be based on a scale of 1 to 5, or as a Low Performer, Average Performer or High Performer. Say, for example, the employer is looking to fill a supervisory position. Some of the behaviour or job-specific competencies might be Communication, Teamwork, Flexibility, Interpersonal Effectiveness, Organization and Planning. Specific questions and statements are structured to elicit responses that would correspond with each competency. The candidate is then asked to give an example (or tell a story) that would shed some light on how s/he dealt with a particular situation. The candidate would then be evaluated based on the rating scale.

To enhance your chances of doing well in the interview learn to use the storytelling technique known as STAR or SAR. What was the Situation or Task, what Action(s) did you take and what were the Results. This method helps you to recall specific job-related examples of your skills and accomplishments, and helps the interviewer gain a better understanding of what you did in each situation.

If you are relating a story where you worked as part of a team, when framing your responses, make sure to zero in on the role you played in the situation. What did you do? How did you contribute to the project? If the interviewer hears “we” too often, she may conclude that you did not play a significant role and evaluate you on that basis.

While behavioural interviewing is on the rise, it does not signal the end of traditional interview methods. Many interviewers still ask close-ended questions where the answer requires either a ‘yes’, ‘no’ or very little explaining. Others believe they are adept at selecting the right person for the job regardless of what method they use, while others base their selection on their “gut feeling”. The savvy interviewee who wants to make sure s/he has covered all bases would incorporate both techniques. So, the next time you are in an interview, if you are asked a traditional close-ended question like “Can you work under pressure and meet deadlines?” instead of just saying “Yes”, use the opportunity to incorporate behavioural interview techniques into your answer and distinguish yourself from the other candidates.

Here are some examples of traditional questions framed as behavioural questions:

Traditional Questions
  1. Can you work under pressure and meet deadlines?
  2. Are you a team player?
  3. What do you think it takes to be successful in a company like ours?
  4. How would a colleague or supervisor describe you?
Behavioural Questions
  1. Describe a time when you were under a great deal of stress to meet several deadlines.
  2. Give me an example of a time when you worked as a member of a team and one member wasn’t doing her part.
  3. Describe your most rewarding work experience.
  4. Tell me of a time when you went out of your way to help a coworker
  5. .

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