Behavioural interview questions are based on the assumption that past behaviour is the best indication of what future behaviour will be like.
In asking detailed questions about specific tasks you undertook or experiences you had in a real life setting in prior roles, the employer can ascertain how you may react in similar situations in the role you are interviewing for.
How to tell when you are being asked a behavioural interview question
When you hear the words: “Tell me about a time when...” it’s highly likely that the hiring manager is asking you a behavioural interview question. Other variations include:
“Describe a time when...”
“Give me an example of...”
“Have you ever...?”
How to answer behavioural questions
1. Do your research
Find out what skills and behaviours the employer is looking for, and mine your own CV to find examples that you think will demonstrate a good match for the role.
Practise the CAR or STAR method out loud in advance. If you remind yourself of the acronym while telling your story, you’ll stay on point.
Don’t keep referring to the same experience. Arrive at an interview armed with a few different examples that you can adapt according to the different questions asked.
2. The CAR method
The CAR principle gives you a structured way to respond to the interviewer, by giving Context (describe the background and situation that you were in), Action (describe what action or steps you took) and Result (describe the professional outcomes you achieved).
- Context (also known as Situation or Task): I was leading a special project team. Our client shifted the deadline forward by two weeks. This had a significant impact on our suppliers. Some could deliver to the new deadline, but others couldn’t.
- Action: Leveraging the strong relationship that I had developed with my client already, I took the time to understand what was driving him to change the deadline. Once I understood the detail as to why it needed to be shifted, I realised that I could deliver the project to the client in phases - thus satisfying his needs, and keeping the suppliers happy. I developed a phased delivery plan and proposed this to the client.
- Result: The client accepted the phased schedule, and we delivered the project on time. The client was very satisfied and as a result we were appointed another new project worth $1 million to the business.
3. The STAR method
The STAR method provides a similar structure, and stands for Situation or Task (describe the specific event or task you were given), Action (describe what steps you took) and Result (describe the professional outcomes you delivered to the business).
More sample behavioural interview questions
Want some more practice? Here is a list of commonly asked behavioural interview questions:
- Have you ever had to get buy-in from a resistant audience to a project or idea? Tell me how you approached it.
- Tell me about a time when you had to give a team member constructive criticism. How did you go about giving it?
- Tell me about your greatest career achievement to date. Can you describe what steps led to the outcome?
- Describe a project that you worked on, that led to your professional development.
- Tell me about a time when you had to lead a project and your other team members weren’t contributing as you had envisaged. How did you tackle the situation?
- Describe a time when a member of your team was under-performing. What did you do?
- Tell me about a time when you had to analyse information to solve a problem. How did you go about doing it, and what was the result?
- Describe a project that you worked on where you had to take steps to solve a problem. What was the problem and what was the logic you applied to solve it?
Attention to detail/organisational ability
- Tell me about a time where you discovered an error, made by either yourself or a colleague. What did you do? How did you approach the situation?
- Have you ever had to create or implement a new system to achieve greater productivity? What did you do?
Creativity and innovation
- Describe the most innovative idea you’ve ever had.
- Have you ever solved a problem in a way that was unexpected? Tell me about it.
- Give me an example of a time where your integrity was challenged. What did you do?
- Describe a time when honesty was not the best policy.
- Describe a situation where you had to make an unpopular decision. How did you go about communicating it to your team?
- Give me an example where you’ve had to work with someone who you didn’t get along with. How did you approach and resolve the situation?
- Tell me about a time when you haven’t achieved what you set out to do. How did you deal with it?
- Have you ever had a project or idea rejected? What happened and how did you react?
Take a look at our job interview tips hub for more interview tips and advice.