Why are behavioural questions so important to employers? It’s because they focus on how you behaved in the past to predict how you’ll act in the future. And while these types of questions are favourites of employers, they’re the type of questions Job Seekers fear most. Luckily, with these tips and a little preparation, you’ll master behavioural questions and impress in an interview.
Most companies use behavioural questions when interviewing. In fact it is very likely you’ve faced Behavioural interviews questions before, you can recognise them quickly as they often begin with:
- Tell me about a time…
- Give me an example of when…
- How did you…
What’s Your STAR Story?
The secret to answering behavioural questions is to use your storytelling skills (true stories, not falsehoods)! Stories make the Interviewer feel like a participant in the narrative, and makes them more likely to connect with you. Also, a story is more likely to engage the listener emotionally and be remembered after the interview is over, making you stand out among the applicants. Well crafted and true stories are highly compelling.
But how do you come up with a compelling story spontaneously during an interview? At Kingston Human Capital, we’ve taught Job Seekers how to successfully prepare for these unpredictable questions using the STAR approach.
STAR is a succinct, easy-to-follow framework that ensures you provide the interviewer with all the right details— not too much, not too little.
Figure out your best stories
The first step is to figure out what experiences from your past are going to make the best stories. Think about the top moments in your career; your greatest achievements. Jot them down.
Analyse the Job Description for themes
Once you’ve got your “Greatest Hits or Accomplishment Stories” identified, analyse the Job Description and pick out the key competencies the position requires. You’ll start to see common themes of what’s important to this employer, such as deadlines, teamwork, stakeholder management etcetera. Jot those down as well.
Why bother jotting down the themes? Because its highly likely that you’ll be asked a behavioural interview question that is designed to investigate your experience and skills with those themes. So if you identify the themes that are important in advance you are putting yourself in a position to predict (with a high degree of accuracy) the behavioural question you will be asked in relation to exploring your capabilities along that theme. And, when you can predict some of the behavioural questions you will be up against, you have a better chance of preparing a well crafted story/answer that satisfies it. You can prevent off-the-cuff waffle and being caught unaware.
Now, review each “accomplishment story” and ask yourself:
- Is this story relevant to the role I am applying for?
- Is this story my best story that highlight the skills required?
- Is this the best story for the audience? (Interviewers)
- Does this story speak to the themes that I identified in the Job Description
Not all of your stories will be a good fit; so save them for later. Focus on the ones that are relevant to the job at hand and best showcase your skill set.
Creating Your STAR Response
SITUATION — The idea here is to give the interviewer(s) the context and background. Its really important to set the scene so the rest of you story makes sense. Essentially, you’re telling them what the challenge was and why it was important to resolve it. Resist the temptation to go into too much detail— but be sure to give enough information to clarify your role and make them understand the difficulty, complexity and scope of the situation.
Most candidates we interview do a fair job of setting up the situation. The key thing to remember is that your Interviewer may not be familiar with your previous employer or your role in that company. So, don’t rely on your interviewer to, “just get it”. Avoid jargon, mention titles of other people important to your story, and leave out unnecessary details that will distract the listener.
TASK — Now that you’ve described the situation, it’s time to get specific about the task. What did you have to do? What were the consequences if the task wasn’t completed? What would the long term impacts be? This doesn’t have to be long or detailed, you just need to clarify the challenge you faced. Here’s an over-simplified example to illustrate Task in relation to Situation:
Situation – “We were very lost, it was stormy, and the four children with me were shivering from the cold.”
Task (challenge + consequence) – “I had to find shelter before dark or we would all freeze.”
APPROACH — Here you want to describe the actions/approach you took to complete the task and solve the problem! Then back it up with WHY you did what you did. This shows what you are like on the job, what you’re like to work with, and how you tackle problems. Also, consider underscoring your actions by pinning it back to some of the key competencies (and themes) you identified in the Job Description.
Again, here’s an oversimplified example:
Situation – “We were lost, it was stormy and the four children with me were shivering from the cold.”
Task – “I had to find shelter before dark or we would all freeze.”
Approach (action + reason) – “I used the skills I learned in camp to make a quick lean-to because I knew it needed to be built quickly and there were limited resources.”
RESULTS — Every good story has a positive ending. You need to emphasise a positive outcome for this story, not only to show that you are results-driven but also to end in a crisp, upbeat and impactful way that leaves a good impression. When crafting the Results part of your answer be sure to mention any tangible results like:
- Revenue Generation
- Cost Reduction
- Time Saved
- Promotions Earned
- Clients Won
- Clients Saved
- Issues Resolved
Give hard data if possible; Interviewers love hard facts, metrics, and percentages. If you don’t have tangible results or metrics, give anecdotal results. Impress your interviewer by sharing the positive feedback you received from your manager, client, co-workers or customers. You can talk about improvements made, friction reduced, culture changed, and relationships improved— whatever the positive outcomes of your Actions were.
So many of the candidates we interview sell themselves short in Results. It does feel strange to sell yourself, but you can’t assume your Interviewer is connecting the dots and understanding how your Action improved the company’s bottom line— so, go right ahead and state it.
The good thing about doing the STAR exercise is you will find that these professional accomplishments can be used as answers to a range of different behavioural questions and demonstrate multiple competencies. So, take the time to jot down your achievements, put them in the STAR framework, and make those dreaded behavioural questions your shining moment in an interview.
Here are some more quick tips for creating your STAR stories:
- When preparing and writing your professional (true) stories, don’t write them word for word or you will sound scripted and wooden. Instead, jot down the general points of your story and keep it natural.
- Tell the human side of the story, it creates an insightful narrative that is easy to remember.
- If you are a humble person by nature and you have a tough time saying great things about yourself, quote other people saying them, like your boss, customers, or colleagues.
- Choose only your best stories; you have limited time to make an impression.
- Make sure your stories are relevant to the role.
- Review the Job Description, look for reoccurring themes and competencies, then take a moment to predict some of the behavioural questions you may be asked. Decide which of your stories best answers them.
- Stories with risk, urgency, drama or great human outcomes are powerful, as are measurable results like percentages, revenue, and sales numbers.
Want more? Click here to check out a list of the 75 Most Commonly Asked Behavioural Interview Questions.