The ins and outs of (behavioural) interviews

After the initial excitement of being selected for an interview passes, panic soon sets in. But once you experience a few interviews, you’ll realise they usually follow a specific formula depending on the type of job, organisation and person conducting the interview. 

Casual/conversational interviews are the kind of interviews where you will likely go for a coffee with the manager, who will then ease you into the interview by having a general discussion about the organisation and the position it has to offer. You will then be asked to outline your career history, skills, experience and what you can bring to the role.

Stress interviews take on a much more formal tone from the outset, and are usually conducted by a panel of three or four. Questions will be fired at you from all directions and you should brace yourself for very direct questions such as ‘why are you applying for the job’ and ‘what experience do you have’.

Behavioural interviewing is a common interview technique in Australia, particularly in salary, management and government positions. In this type of interview you will be asked a number of specific scenario-based questions to establish how you act in various situations and circumstances that are likely to occur within the organisation.

STAR – Situation, Task, Action, Result – is the ideal method for responding to behavioural interview questions. In a STAR interview, the candidate will provide an example of a specific situation, explain the task they had to perform, outline how they actioned the duty and describe the result. The key is to provide a specific example of how you responded to a specific scenario from your work history – it’s not a textbook answer or a ‘what you would do in that situation’ response.

Behavioural interview questions usually relate to the job you’re applying for so look carefully at the job ad for clues to what duties the role includes. If the role is a customer service role, for example, expect to provide an example of how you have provided customer service.

Case study:

“How do you deal with angry customers?”

A typical, vague answer from a candidate not using the STAR format is –

“I will be patient and find out the customer’s exact problem, and help them to come to a resolution.

A good answer using the STAR format is –

“I follow a system for dealing with angry customers, which begins by thanking them for letting me know their concern, and recognising that I understand how their particular problem must make them feel. I then let them know that I will work to resolve the issue and take appropriate steps to do so. As an example of this, I was working at a pizza shop and had a customer complain that their pizza was cold on delivery (situation). I recognised that it was my job to help turn this customer’s experience into a positive one (task), so what I did was (action) say: “Oh no that’s terrible, there is nothing I hate more than cold pizza! I am terribly sorry that this has occurred and I know how frustrated you must feel. Unfortunately I can’t heat that pizza up for you now so I can do one of two things. I can send you another pizza right away and personally watch over the process to ensure it is piping hot when it arrives, or I can send you a voucher for a free pizza with a note to make sure you receive a much better experience next time, on us”. Once I said that, the customer was happy that I was genuinely interested in them having a great experience and was happy to heat their pizza in the microwave and let us try better next time (result).

By following the STAR format, the prospective employer will have a clear picture of how you manage a specific situation, and what behaviours you utilise to reach a desired outcome. Some interviewers will require you to answer in this way, but many won’t. Regardless of what type of interview situation you find yourself in, the Institute of Careers recommends using the STAR format to respond unless you have been told to answer in a different way.