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Behaviour based interviews – a guide for employers & candidates

Jennifer David, HR Manager at Vargo Recruitment, discusses behaviour-based interviews and how both employer and candidate can benefit from the experience:

Behaviour based interviews are fast becoming common practice in recruitment.  It’s certainly a tool that our clients use to assess future performance in the workplace and compare them to the values they look for in their staff.

Our how-to guide should help both candidate and interviewer gain the most from the experience.

What are behaviour based interviews?

As opposed to just looking at career history and interview performance, behaviour based interviews give the candidate an opportunity to demonstrate how they would behave in either hypothetical or real-life situations.

In practice hiring managers often ask a candidate to provide specific examples of times when they have demonstrated certain behaviours, knowledge skills and abilities, or alternatively ask the candidate a ‘how would you respond to’ type question.  The interviewer then evaluates the answers on a rating scale, determining how well the candidate answered the question and whether there were gaps in the candidates understanding.

This is useful because it helps the interviewer assess how the candidate is likely to perform against company values, as well as reveal the candidate’s experience level and how they would handle a given situation.  It can also give an insight into the character and personality of the candidate, and how they would fit in with the existing team – and also gives the candidate a chance to engage with the interviewer, build rapport and demonstrate their abilities in a real-life situation.

How can candidates prepare?

We are often asked this by candidates – and our advice is research, research, research! We can’t emphasise this enough. Typical questions will revolve around company values and those relevant to industry or skill set. Make sure you have numerous examples that can be used to show off your knowledge and experience.

This information can usually be found on their company website, but platforms like GlassDoor can give good insight into the kind of questions typically asked.

What kind of questions work well?

Behaviour based interviews almost always include questions relating to values like leadership, accomplishments, innovation, accountability and motivations. It’s usually common practice to ask follow-up questions, too, so that candidates can expand their answers.  Here’s some typical examples:

  • Describe a situation in which you established an effective working relationship in a team to complete a project?
  • Give an example of a problem that your have solved in a unique or creative way?
  • Tell me about a time when you took ownership for a mistake? How did you handle this situation? What steps did you take for corrective action?
  • Talk about a time when you had to work closely with someone whose personality was very different from yours?
  • Describe a time when your expertise exceeded your colleagues. How did you convey this knowledge to make sure everyone understood?
  • Have you ever been in a situation where you didn’t have enough work to do?
  • Tell us about your greatest accomplishment

What about other questions?

While behaviour based interviews are becoming more common, interviewers are still likely to ask general interview questions to learn more about the candidate’s career history.  Again, this is something candidates should be prepared for, as it will provide another useful opportunity to engage the interviewer.  From the interviewer’s perspective, they will be looking at more than just what the candidate says, assessing how they speak, how they build rapport and how they handle pressure.

How can candidates successfully answer behaviour-based interview questions?

To answer behaviour-based questions, a good rule of thumb is to have the STAR method in the back of your mind. The interviewer is not only looking for WHAT you say in your answer, but also HOW you structure it. These are normally marked separately, so try and stick to the following format:

S – Situation

Describe the situation you were in. This example must be specific and not just a general example of what you have done in the past.

T – Task

Explain what you were trying to accomplish. Try and focus on what YOU did, not what the team achieved.

A – Action

What action did YOU take? Expand on your involvement. The interviewer may not have worked in this role so you will need to guide them. What processes and systems did you use?

R – Result

What was the outcome? Who did it benefit? How did it impact the company? What was it that YOU did that impacted the result?

What questions should candidates ask at the end of the interview?

As the behaviour-based interview comes to a close, candidates are often given the opportunity to ask questions.  This gives candidates a chance to clarify aspects of the position like employment conditions – but don’t think the interview is over.   The right questions will give the interviewer a perception of your knowledge of the company, work ethic, level of professionalism, and interest in the role.  It is therefore important for candidates to think about these ahead of the interview.   Here are some pointers:

  • We recommend preparing 5 questions, and only asking 1 or 3 in practice.
  • We recommend avoiding questions about salary, hours, benefits and so – these can all be negotiated after offer.

Think about questions which show your willingness to progress within the company, and your enthusiasm for the role.  A few sample questions could be:

  • What is the office atmosphere like?
  • Is there opportunity for progression?
  • What is the timeline for interview feedback?

Finally, remember that behaviour-based interviews shouldn’t just be about rattling off well-rehearsed answers to common questions.

For both candidates and employers, it’s your chance to impress – try to relax and make the interview an opportunity to establish rapport, learn about one another and gather useful information.  Impressing each other is a great way to start building a potential employee/employer relationship.

About the author:

Jennifer David is the HR Manager for Finance and Technology Recruiter Vargo Recruitment and has extensive experience in recruitment.  In addition to traditional recruitment services, the company offer candidate support and coaching, with candidate tips on their blog, as well as providing a retained recruitment and bespoke employer branding service.  To learn more, visit the company website: