Anyone can rehearse amazing answers to standard interview questions; you can get away with answering what you think the employer wants to hear. Obviously, this is not the ideal situation for the recruiter who wants the real you to shine through. Behavioural questions on the other hand, are usually a bit trickier to answer. It’s said that they predict 55 % of the employee’s future job behaviour while standard questions only show 10 %. No wonder it’s common amongst employers and recruiters to choose behavioral questions for interviews!

Now, what’s the difference between ‘behavioural interview questions’ and the ‘standard interview questions’?

A standard question could be “How would your colleagues describe you?”

- Answered with simple adjectives.

A behavioural question could be “Tell us about a time you had to give negative feedback to a colleague.”

- Answered in a storytelling descriptive way.

The behavioural interview questions usually start off with phrases like “Tell us about when/how/in what way” or “Describe a situation”. You are expected to give an elaborate answer on how and in what way you’ve handled a situation of some sort. Some of the most common skills that the interviewer wants to investigate with these type of questions are: teamwork, leadership, problem solving, handling conflict, organisation and structuring.

STAR method

To provide the perfect answer for these behavioural questions there is a method to use, known as the STAR method. The method was developed in order to formulate and answer the questions in a structured, descriptive way. The method can be used to formulate a story for any behavioural interview question and is set up as following:

S- Situation

What are the circumstances that needed attention? Where and in what setting did this occur? (Company/ department/ group/ sports team/ family reunion)

T- Task

What was the specific task you had to deal with? What had to be overcome/accomplished? (Project/ misunderstanding/ conflict/ bad results/ goal)

A- Action

What did you do to solve/ manage the situation?

R- Result

What were the results (quantifiable if possible)? What were your strengths/ weaknesses in that situation? (Remember that it doesn’t have to be a success story where everything turned out great, the importance is that the employer sees you reflecting on it)

One thing to add to this method that’s appreciated by most employers is to go one step further by elaborating - “In retrospect, what would I have done differently”.

If you scroll all the way down to the end of the article you’ll find an example of a question with a STAR method answer.

Now you’ve gotten the basics, let’s move on to tips and tricks.

Firstly, you need to evaluate your own experiences in order to match the things you think the employer considers relevant. If there is a job description for the position, this should be your guide mark when coming up with examples. From that you’ll get an indication on what kind of skills the employer is looking for.

You should always relate your answer to a specific situation. Explain it by telling it as a story and paint the interviewer a detailed picture of the situation. Listen carefully to the question and take a few seconds to gather yourself. You already got the listeners’ attention and by speaking slowly you have the chance to think through what you’re saying while sounding confident and calm.

It’s likely that the recruiter has one behavioural question for each skill they’re looking for; therefore you should come up with different examples, of different scenarios.

Think about 7-8 examples of situations, both negative and positive, that would demonstrate your skills. Presenting negative situations, maybe even with bad outcomes, demonstrates your self-awareness, humbleness and analytical skills.

To create an effective answer the interviewer can relate to, try to use examples from your previous work life - even if it was only an internship. If you feel that you don’t have relevant work experience to showcase, promote extracurricular activities you’ve excelled in, such as awards, school projects or even sports. The employers are foremost interested in what you’ve been doing in the recent past: give as fresh up-to-date varied examples as possible!  

Keep in mind that it’s not always obvious what the employer is getting at when asking certain questions. Behavioural questions depend much on your interpretation and what you make out of them. For instance, take a look at the the example below

“Tell us about a situation where you were faced with a problem.”

Before answering, ask yourself: what is the interviewer getting at and what is the point of him/ her asking this? It’s more likely that the interviewer is not interested in the problem itself, but rather in how you solved it. For more facts on how to do this, read our articles on problemsolving and listening skills

Having a structured plan on how to answer these questions in an organised elaborate way will definitely pay off in the end. This is a chance to prove yourself, your skills and show a bit of your personality to stand out from the rest of the applicants!


Example of a behavioural interview question & possible answer:

The interview question: Tell me about a time when you used creativity to increase productivity.

You: Use a situation from the time you spent working & travelling in Australia after finishing high school.

Situation/TaskWorking at a farm in Australia there was a constant turnover of international staff in the workforce. For every new person joining the team, they needed both an introduction and guidance which was time consuming and affected the productivity negatively.

ActionTo ensure that the new members got the same introduction and that nothing was left out, I developed a comprehensive three-page document that was given to every new employee stating both tasks, routines and good-to-know info in addition to the introduction tour.

ResultSince implementing the system the information that needed to be communicated was always available, and we thereby decreased the number of misunderstandings due to lack of knowledge. As well, the system was made more efficient and now anyone working at the farm can easily introduce the work to someone else.

I found a way to ensure that standard information was more clearly understood, and communicated in a more efficient way.