Recruiters love asking candidates about their past experiences. Here's what they actually want you to say.
Everyone knows that companies invite candidates for a job interview to see if they’re suitable for the vacancy at the company. Not only do potential employees have to possess the necessary skills to successfully complete their projects and duties if they were to land the job, but this person also has to be a good fit within a professional environment.
While companies aren’t judging you on your tastes (your favourite ice-cream flavour or music genre), they are judging your values, character, and vices. If they can fish how you’d react in certain situations, if they can get a sense of what type of choices you’ll make in a given work situation, then they’ll be able to decide if you’ll be an asset or liability to their organisation.
And they’ve created a great way to get this sense: by asking you about past behaviour so that they can predict what your future behaviour will be like. That's why in every job interview you attend, you will be asked at least one behavioural question.
Behavioural questions usually begin with:
“Tell us about..."
…your proudest professional achievement.
…a time you were dissatisfied at work.
…a time when you worked under extremely close supervision and how you handled it.
...a successful presentation you gave and why you think it was a hit.
“Give an example of when…”
…you were able to be creative with your work. What was exciting or difficult about it?
…you had to explain something complicated to a frustrated client.
…you had to rely on written correspondence to get your ideas across to your team.
…you had to juggle a full plate of responsibilities and how you had to be strategic about meeting your priorities.
“Describe a past situation when you…”
…took initiative and solved a problem, without being asked.
…were able to successfully persuade someone to see things your way.
…failed and how you dealt with it.
…struggled to build a relationship with someone important. How did you overcome it?
What they really want to do is explain how you’ve dealt with various professional situations, how you handle difficulties, and which soft skills you possess.
How to answer behavioural questions:
The best way to answer this type of question is to follow the S-T-A-R method:
S = Situation
Provide a context and describe the background.
You should try to answer: How was the problem brought to light?
Example: At my last company, we had been receiving a big amount of negative reviews from our customers.
T = Task
Describe the problem and the challenges of the situation.
You should try to answer: What was wrong?
Example: I voluntarily joined the task force that was created to find a solution, and I was voted to be the leader.
A = Action
Explain what you did to try and fix the problem.
You should try to answer: What moves did you make?
Example: We analysed customer service feedback for the next 2 weeks and noticed a pattern: most complaints were about unprofessional customer service staff. I called regular brainstorming sessions to come with viable solutions. Eventually, we decided to hold ongoing sessions with customer service staff to offer better guidelines to handling customers, while paying extra attention to those who seemed to have less patience and/or shorter tempers than others to minimise the effects of stressful encounters.
R = Result
State the benefits, savings, rewards, or recognitions that were realised after the situation was resolved or solved.
Try to answer: What difference did you see after taking action?
Example: Not only were the customer service agents more appreciative of the care they received on a personal and professional level which caused staff morale to increase, but negative customer feedback dropped by 25% in 3 months.
Behavioural questions can be overwhelming
If you haven’t already noticed, this scenario can be used to answer many behavioural questions: it shows how you were a leader, it shows how you acted in a difficult situation, it shows how you worked in a team and it shows you set a goal and reached an objective. So you don’t need to have a different scenario for each behavioural question. Your story can be changed based on the attribute you need to highlight.
Read: Ace your phone interview
Preparing for Behavioural Questions
Behavioural questions are usually asked so that your motivations and values as well as your communication skills, people skills, adaptation skills, and/or time management skills can be exposed. So in your interview preparation, you should try to remember an incident or scenario that brought each of these to the fore.
Another great tip is to have a look at the description of the vacancy listing (the one you answered). Highlight the responsibilities and skills you’ll need to fulfil the role successfully. Then, think of real life professional situations where you had to use those skills.
It’s that easy.