Behavioural Job Interviewing Strategies for Job Seekers

Behavioural interviewing is a popular and mainstream mode of job interviewing. Employers such as AT&T and Accenture have been using behavioural interviewing since the 1970s, and because increasing numbers of employers are using behaviour-based methods to screen job candidates, understanding how to excel in this interview environment is a crucial job-hunting skill.

The premise behind behavioural interviewing is that the most accurate predictor of future performance is past performance in similar situations. Behavioural interviewing, in fact, is said to be 55 percent predictive of future on-the-job behaviour, while traditional interviewing is only 10 percent predictive.

Behavioural-based interviewing is touted as providing a more objective set of facts to make employment decisions than other interviewing methods. Traditional interview questions ask you general questions such as “Tell me about yourself.” The process of behavioural interviewing is much more probing and works very differently.

In a traditional job interview, you can usually get away with telling the interviewer what he or she wants to hear, even if you are fudging a bit on the truth. Even if you are asked situational questions that start out “How would you handle XYZ situation?” you have minimal accountability. How does the interviewer know, after all, if you would really react in a given situation the way you say you would? In a behavioural interview, however, it’s much more difficult to give responses that are untrue to your character. When you start to tell a behavioural story, the behavioural interviewer typically will pick it apart to try to get at the specific behaviour(s). The interviewer will probe further for more depth or detail such as “What were you thinking at that point?” or “Tell me more about your meeting with that person,” or “Lead me through your decision process.” If you’ve told a story that’s anything but totally honest, your response will not hold up through the barrage of probing questions.

Employers use the behavioural-interview technique to evaluate a candidate’s experiences and behaviours so they can determine the applicant’s potential for success. The interviewer identifies job-related experiences, behaviours, knowledge, skills, and abilities that the company has decided are desirable in a particular position. For example, some of the characteristics that Accenture looks for include:

  • Critical thinking
  • Being a self-starter
  • Willingness to learn
  • Willingness to travel
  • Self-confidence
  • Teamwork
  • Professionalism

The employer then structures very pointed questions to elicit detailed responses aimed at determining if the candidate possesses the desired characteristics. Questions (often not even framed as a question) typically start out: “Tell about a time…” or “Describe a situation…” Many employers use a rating system to evaluate selected criteria during the interview.

As a candidate, you should be equipped to answer the questions thoroughly. Obviously, you can prepare better for this type of interview if you know which skills the employer has predetermined to be necessary for the job you seek. Researching the company and talking to people who work there will enable you to zero in on the kinds of behaviours the company wants.

In the interview, your response needs to be specific and detailed. Candidates who tell the interviewer about particular situations that relate to each question will be far more effective and successful than those who respond in general terms.

Ideally, you should briefly describe the situation, what specific action you took to have an effect on the situation, and the positive result or outcome. Frame it in a three-step process, usually called a S-A-R, P-A-R, or S-T-A-R statement:

  • situation (or task, problem),
  • action,
  • result/outcome.


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Mansoor Walli