May 10, 2009

Dealing with behavioural interview questions

In a previous post, I discussed how to successfully answer situational interview questions, given that they are one of the most common types of questions asked during an interview.

In this post, I will talk about a closely-related, but not the same, type of interview question – the behavioural or behavioural-event question.

To start, let's identify what is different between the two, as it’s quite common for people to confuse behavioural and situational questions when in fact, they aren’t the same.

The main difference between the two question types has to do with what the focus is – with situational interview questions, the focus is on what you would do in the future if confronted with a particular situation. On the other hand, behavioural interview questions focus on past behaviours and situations.

The reason why behavioural and situational questions are considered different comes down to the fact that what applicants say or believe they would do in a given situation is sometimes different from what they have done in the past.

As such, behavioural questions aim to identify specific examples of an applicant’s past performance and experience. In other words, behavioural questions subscribe to the age-old adage that "the best predictor of future performance is past performance."

Here are some examples of behavioural questions:

1.) Give me an example of a time when you set a goal and were able to meet or achieve it.

2.) Tell me about a time when you had to go above and beyond the call of duty in order to get a job done.

3.) Tell me about a time when you gave excellent customer service.

4.) Describe for me a time when you received horrible customer service.

5.) Tell me about a time when you had too many things to do and you were required to prioritize your tasks.

6.) How do you deal with conflict with coworkers? Give me an example.

7.) Give me an example of a time when something you tried to accomplish and failed. What did you learn?

8.) Give me an example of when you showed initiative and took the lead.

9.) Tell me about a situation in which you had to deal with a very upset customer.

10.) Give me an example of a time when you used good judgment and logic to solve a problem.

So, if you are confronted with a behavioural question in an interview, here are some tips that will help you ace the question ... and hopefully the interview:

- Before the interview, analyze the job ad and look for key skills that you will likely be asked about. This way, you can prepare your answers by thinking of past experiences that highlight your strengths. For example, if you’re applying for a job in a retail store, you’ll likely be asked "Tell me about a time you offered outstanding customer service."

- Be on the lookout for these types of questions during the interview. If you look at the sample questions above, you can see a pattern – many behavioural questions start with "Tell me about a time ...", "Describe for me a time ..." or "Give me an example". Phrases such as that are a dead give-away that the question is behavioural-based.

- Begin your answer by describing the particular circumstances leading up to your action/behaviour. Make sure you describe, in detail, exactly what you did and what the results were.

- As much as possible, talk about yourself in the first person using the word "I". Begin your sentences with phrases like "I said ...", "I asked ..." or "I did ...". This lets the interviewer know that you’re talking from experience.

- Take your time! I cannot stress this enough. As with the situational interview questions, don’t rush to answer – take your time. I recommend taking a moment to collect and clarify your thoughts so that you can provide a concise and coherent answer.

- Steer clear of answers that are red-flags for interviewers. In other words, don’t give a perfect answer where you portray yourself as someone who never makes mistakes – let’s face it, we all do! If anything, prospective employers will be looking to see how you handle failure and what steps you take to grow, learn and benefit from your mistakes.

Essentially, Toronto Fire Services has a great analogy for understanding behavioural interview questions and how to conceptualize your answer. As they say …

Think of answering behavioural questions as though you are writing an essay – your first paragraph describes what you will be writing about in your essay, the middle consists of facts, events, description and the end describes the results or outcome.

No comments: