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Behavioural Question Types

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Behavioural questions (also called behaviour-based questions) can be human or factual, but they are asked in a way that requires a detailed response with examples based on past experience. The interviewer assesses whether the applicant could do the job well based on this past experience. Questions (often not in question form) typically start: "Tell me about a time ..." or "Describe a situation ...".

Sample behavioural questions

Question Describe a team project you have been involved in. What was your role? What did you do? How did you react to problems that arose within the project?
How to answer This question gives you the opportunity to demonstrate both problem-solving skills and team skills. Pick an example of a project from any area of your life which clearly demonstrates both areas of skills. Show how the way you reacted to problems had a positive outcome.
Sample response Last summer I helped organise a youth festival. It was quite a big cultural event – the first of its kind in my home town – and there was a lot of organisation involved. My job was to liaise between the town council and the organisers of the event. I needed to be very diplomatic as several members of the town council were worried that the festival would attract troublemakers. I'm pleased to say that everything went so well that we'll be organising another event this summer. It might even become a regular fixture in the town calendar.


Question Tell me about a time when you felt you didn't achieve your goal or when you had a major disappointment. Describe the situation and tell me how you reacted.
How to answer Don't fall into the trap of talking about yourself in a negative light! Talk about a situation that is not related to the job or show how you reacted to a negative situation in a positive way. Show that you can deal with both the highs and the lows of a job and that you can learn from mistakes.
Sample response My final exams are in a few months, and I expect to get a good degree – about the equivalent of a 2.1 in the UK. My exam results in my first two years weren't that good, though. That was very disappointing for me, but I've always had to finance my studies myself by working. Over the last couple of years I've learned to organise my time better to combine work and study and it's paid off – my exam results have improved dramatically.

With the behaviour-based question "Tell me about a time when you had to work under pressure. How did you deal with the pressure?" the interviewer is interested in whether the candidate will be able to deal with pressure or stressful situations at work. Many students want to talk about examinations in answer to this question, but remember that probably all job candidates will have taken stressful examinations at some time. Try to think of a more original example that will grab the interest of the interviewer.

Behavioural questions that ask about what you did in past situations are asked because past behaviour is the best predictor of future behaviour. They may be interested in your grades for the same reason.

You may also be asked to speculate on how you might handle a hypothetical situation in the future. Again, you may be able to refer to one of the problem – action – outcome – learnings scenarios you prepared.

“Hmmmmm. I haven’t been in that exact situation (stalling while you think of an answer) but I had a similar experience with ... (situation, action you took, outcome) so I would probably approach this situation the same way.”

If you can’t think of something from past experience then just give your best guess as to how you would handle it. The interviewer is interested in your thought processes, not necessarily the answer, so you can ‘think’ aloud.

“First I would want to know what ... Then I would probably ask them ... I would check first with ... I would keep the customer informed while I ...”

After you’ve answered the question, you can ask the interviewer how the company would like to see that kind of situation handled. Their reply will help you answer future questions and show them that you use all the resources available to you!

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