Interview Tips - Behavior Based Interviewing

The author of this article lives and works in Melbourne, Australia in a major IT Recruitment Company, ADAPS. This article was borne out of necessity from issues that our Client Managers are experiencing with candidates who exhibit great technical skills but present poorly on paper (resumes) and in interview situations.

This article accompanies another article, Living and Working in Australia. In that article I describe the brilliant living conditions of Australia and my company’s willingness to sponsor VISA’s and pay upfront LAFHA allowances for highly skilled IT Professionals interested in moving to Australia for high paying contracts.

While this article is directed at IT Professionals, it obviously has relevance to ANY candidate using resumes and interviews. In particular our Client Managers found that poor interview technique would waste our Client Managers time, and would make them loathe to place a candidate in front of our Clients.

Behavioral Interviewing - Tips for Candidates

Behavioral interviewing (or behavioral event interviewing, BEI) is a standardized method of interviewing designed to measure how you will perform on the job. The principle behind the technique is the belief that the best indicator of future behavior is past behavior.

The Traditional Interview

 

In a traditional job interview, the interviewer will run through the applicant's resume using open-ended questions to gain more information. Many of the questions a job applicant will be asked can be anticipated in their own mind beforehand. For example:

 

  • Tell me more about your last job?
  • Why did you leave your last job?
  • Why are you interested in this job?

Behavioral Interviewing

 

During a behavioral interview, you will be asked a series of standardized questions designed to get you to talk about how you handled or responded to certain situations in the past.

With each answer, you'll be expected to describe situations from your past and your feelings and observations about them. The interviewer will use this information to assess your proficiency in one or more job-related areas, which may include anything from adaptability to leadership to problem solving.

 

Behavioral questions may be 'dropped' into a 'chatty interview' or you may be formally required to answer a set list. You can expect interviewers to have several follow up questions and probe for details that explore all aspects of a given situation or experience.

What are the questions like?

 

Behavioral questions usually begin with a statement like: 'Tell me about a time when...' or 'Can you a describe a situation where...'.

 

The following are some examples of typical behavioral questions and the competencies they demonstrate:

  • Describe a difficult problem that you tried to solve. How did you identify the problem? How did you go about trying to solve it? (Demonstrates problem solving)
  • Describe a time when you tried to persuade another person to do something that they were not very willing to do. (Demonstrates leadership)
  • Describe a time when you decided on your own that something needed to be done, and you took on the task to get it done. (Demonstrates initiative)

Preparation Tips for a Behavioral Interview

Preparing for a behavior based interview can be daunting. Here are some tips to get started:

  • Be familiar with the job for which you're being interviewed. Read the advertisement or job description to identify which personal attributes and behaviors are likely to be key success factors for the role. For Client interviews it is advised that you research the company's website and any external information about them from business directories etc.

    Make a note of two or three examples for each personal attribute that will best illustrate your suitability - you may want to bring these into the interview with you as prompts. Remember that different companies and industries may require different personal attributes, even for the same position. For example, 'self-managing' can mean very different things to different companies.

  • Be able to draw from a variety of experiences that demonstrate your skills and abilities. A good story can also combine work experience with a non-work experience (shows you can use the skill in a variety of settings). Examples may be from your work experience, your personal life or some social or other situation. Of course a unique work situation story (unless otherwise specifically requested) should take priority. Be as open, expressive and succinct as possible about each experience.

  • Let others help you out - use examples of quotes from bosses or customers, i.e., "My boss gave me a good performance review, they liked the way I stepped in to get the job done without being told to." This demonstrates your willingness to accept contribution, your flexibility and teamwork skills.

  • Think 'STAR' - Situation or Task, Action and Result. There are several variations of this acronym in the recruiting industry, but all of them are intended to provide structure and focus to your answers. When asked about a type of situation, the interviewer is looking at how you responded to it by via a specific example. Using the STAR model you would break your answer into the three segments of; description of the task, then the action you took, and the final measurable result.

    This makes it easier for the interviewer to visualize and record your specific behavioral responses to specific events and so gain the best impression of your potential future performance. Prepare at least one STAR response for each personal attribute you may be questioned on. Make sure you don't use the same example for all the attributes.

  • Use recent examples. As you will be probed for detail around the situation, it is better to use events in the last 12-18 months as the detail will be clearer in your mind. Be specific as possible about your contribution and the quantitative results achieved. Specific absolute or relative (%) gains in areas such as cost or time savings will give you the interviewer a clearer picture of your abilities. If specific measurable results don't apply to your example, you might explain how it streamlined processes, empowered others or resolved communication or productivity issues.

  • Practice telling your stories until they are vivid and concise, one to three minutes long. An interview can be likened to a marketing activity, where you are the brand. You will only get an interview because your resume and past roles suggest that you have the appropriate technical skills set (your attributes). Often what separates you from the other candidates at the interview stage is the interviewer's belief in how you will fit into the company's culture and specific IT team (your personal benefits).

    Remember, you are selling your technical AND personal skills. Being able to communicate your adaptability and relatedness at an interview is essential to becoming the leading candidate. This 'story telling practice' is an important preparation tool to assist you in creating a natural flow to your stories so that the interviewer can focus on your potential benefit to the client.

  • Ask to come back to the question. If you are stuck for an answer to a particular question, it is reasonable to ask the interviewer if you may move on to the next one and you'll come back it.
    More Sample Interview Questions:
    • Think of a problem person you had to deal with, describe the situation and tell me how you handled it.
    • Describe a situation in which you felt it was necessary to break company policy or alter procedures to get things done.
    • Can you give me an example of when you came up with a clever way to motivate someone?
    • Tell me about an important goal you've set in the past and how you accomplished it.

      The following is a list of typical questions that you may be asked at a BEI Interview. Do not attempt to learn answers off by rote but be prepared for these types of questions, usually (but not always) mixed in with technical ones.

      • Think of a problem person you had to deal with, describe the situation and tell me how you handled it.
      • Give me an example of a colleague/ vendor/ customer who was hard to communicate with and tell me how you handled it.
      • Describe a situation in which you felt it was necessary to break company policy or alter procedures to get things done.
      • Give me a general description of your responsibilities in your current or last job.
      • Tell me about something you've done in your job that was creative. Think of a specific example. Tell me exactly how you handled it.
      • Tell me about a time you made a quick decision you were proud of.
      • Tell me about an important goal you've set in the past and how you accomplished it.
      • Do you know the expression 'to roll with the punches'? Tell me about a time when you had to do that.
      • When you had to do a job that was particularly uninteresting, how did you deal with it?
      • Tell me about a time when an upper level decision of policy change held up your work. How did you handle it?
      • Describe a situation in your last job where you could structure your own work schedule. What did you do?
      • Tell me about a time when you've stuck to company policy or procedure, when it might have been easier and more effective not to.
      • Think about a problem you might have had in being decisive, and tell me how you handled it.
      • Describe a time when you had to communicate some unpleasant feelings to a supervisor.
      • What's been your experience of dealing with poor performance of subordinates? Provide an example.
      • In your current position, what sort of decisions do you make without consulting your boss?
      • Can you think of any major obstacles you had to overcome in your last job? How did you deal with them?
      • What types of things have made you angry, and how did you react to those situations?
      • You've told me a lot of your strengths for this job. But I need to get a balanced picture and get some knowledge of where you might need some improvement. Describe for me a time when you made a mistake that illustrates your need to for improvement.

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