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How to answer behavioural interview questions

Behavioural job interview questions are based on the premise that past behaviour is the best predictor of future behaviour – and that’s why they are so often asked by employers when assessing candidates during a job interview.

These types of competency-based interview questions typically begin with the phrase, “Tell me about a time when…” The key to successfully answering behavioural interview questions is to not only understand what skills and expertise you bring to a role, but most importantly, being able to back up your claims with real examples from your previous experience.

Using CAR to answer behavioural interview questions

The golden rule when you’re answering behavioural interview questions is to follow what’s known as ‘CAR’: Context, Action, Result.

Context is about describing a situation and setting the scene for a relevant example from your past. The key here is to choose your example well – one that clearly demonstrates the quality or skill the employer is asking about.

Action is about explaining what action you took. Be really specific rather than making vague statements and outline your steps and rationale.

Result is about detailing the outcome of your action. Offer specific facts relating to the result. For instance, quote figures and statistics, or feedback from your manager, that back up your assertion.

Sample behavioural interview questions and answers

Your ability to answer behavioural questions can make or break your attempt to secure that dream job, so we’ve put together some sample competency-based interview questions to help you better prepare.

Results orientation: Tell me about a time when you had to deliver results in the face of major challenges.

    Context: “One of my previous employer’s sales divisions had been experiencing decreasing sales – so I was brought in to help reverse the situation. My challenge was to manage the team effectively so they were able to actually exceed (not just meet) their sales targets.”

    Action: “Over a six-month period, I introduced several initiatives within the team, including: setting specific and measurable sales targets for each individual within the team; introducing weekly sales meetings for the team and for each individual within the team; and implementing a structured sales training program.

    I also conducted market research to identify what our main competitors were doing, set up focus groups with major clients to discover crucial pain points, and introduced a new remuneration system that linked sales performance to remuneration packages.”

    Result: “We lifted sales by 60% and exceeded sales targets by 25% in the first quarter, and continued the upward trajectory throughout the next year.”

Problem-solving: Give an example of a time you solved a major problem for your business.

    Context: “One of my colleagues had enlisted an overseas supplier to provide goods for an event in Sydney with an agreed shipping date, but hadn’t factored in the time required to consolidate the goods at the wharf, clear customs and transport the goods to the event location. These factors, combined with limited sailing dates, meant that the goods would not reach the event in time. My colleague was panicking and asked if I could help find a solution.”

    Action: “Using my knowledge that sailings to Melbourne were more frequent than to Sydney, I discovered that the goods could be shipped to Melbourne two weeks before the shipping date to Sydney. I therefore suggested that the goods be shipped to Melbourne instead, cleared through customs, consolidated and loaded onto trucks there, and transported overnight from Melbourne to Sydney.”

    Result: “As the goods were able to be shipped to Melbourne two weeks earlier than they would have been shipped to Sydney, this allowed adequate time for clearance, consolidation and transport, and the goods arrived in time for the event. My colleague was very relieved!”

Initiative: Tell me about a time when you demonstrated initiative.

    Context: “When I started at my last company, all customer service requests were handled by phone. This was taking up valuable staff time and errors in documentation and quotes would occur regularly, causing further issues, delays and customer dissatisfaction.”

    Action: “I took the initiative of developing an automated online workflow whereby customers filled in their service requests online. All the necessary information was provided by them, minimising documentation errors, and service requests were automatically logged and reviewed daily. Customer details were also captured and automatically added to our database.”

    Result: “With staff time no longer tied up taking calls, labour costs were saved and productivity improved by 20%. The new system also led to quicker turnaround times and greater customer satisfaction. The system has been so successful and saved so much in time and resources that it is now being rolled out across our other locations.”

Communication: Give an example of how you are able to adapt your communication style to different audiences.

    Context: “One of the major parts of my job is to pitch to prospective clients, and my success hinges on my ability to adapt my communication style to different people and organisational cultures. I demonstrated this ability recently when I pitched to a technology start-up known for its ‘fun’ culture and young staff.”

    Action: “Understanding that a formal and conservative approach wouldn’t work effectively with this organisation, I made sure to keep my style and language friendly and informal, dressed casually, and ensured my presentation was visually appealing and fun, despite being quite technical. I knew that delivering the presentation in this manner would help establish rapport and make them feel confident not only in our technical ability, but in our ability to work effectively with them on a personal and cultural level.”

    Result: “We won the pitch and were later told that our friendly and enthusiastic approach helped get us over the line as they wanted to work with a company that would be both technically adept and fun to work with. This company is now one of our key clients, who we continue to work with as they expand.”

Organisation and planning: Tell me about a time you had to organise a large event.

    Context: “In my last role as a PA I had to organise a conference for our national management team. This required the highest level of attention to detail and planning, from finding a venue to organising speakers, catering and accommodation, overseeing the budget and communicating with stakeholders.”

    Action: “The key for me was detailed forward planning and documentation – I drew up a list of all actions required with timelines, created spreadsheets, checklists and a running sheet, recorded all quotes and contact details, and used daily reminders on my phone and email about specific tasks. Following this strict and detailed schedule allowed me to keep everything on track and know exactly where I was at, and nothing slipped through the cracks.”

    Result: “The conference went very smoothly and the feedback I received from attendees was overwhelmingly positive. Because of my success in organising the event, I was asked to help plan other company events and my role has expanded to encompass this added responsibility.”

Overcoming challenges: Describe a time when you overcame a challenging situation.

    Context: “At my last company, we went through a very challenging time and I was asked to find a way to reduce staff costs and save money within a short timeframe.”

    Action: “In determining the best way forward, I looked at a range of options: to reduce headcount, cut departmental budgets, freeze wages, change our capital structure and accounts policies. I conducted cost-benefit analyses for each option and weighed up both short-term and long-term consequences and risks.”

    Result: “Laying off staff is never easy, but in this case it was a necessity. But by implementing a multi-pronged approach with a raft of changes and allowing some employees to move to part-time hours, I was able to minimise headcount loss and therefore IP loss, and dilute any negative effects to the company’s operations and staff morale.”

Adaptability: Tell me about a time when you had to demonstrate adaptability.

    Context: “I was working as project lead on a major marketing campaign for my company when by coincidence, two weeks before launch, a competitor launched a campaign that was very similar in content. Pushing ahead with our plans would have seemed like we were copying our competitor, even though we’d already been working on our campaign for weeks.”

    Action: “I knew we had to immediately change tack, so I called an emergency meeting with my team. We had a huge brainstorming session – having already done our research, and with our goals unchanged, it was more about changing the look and feel of the content, and coming up with a few fresh ideas.

    I quickly mapped out a new plan and assigned various team members to create the new content. I also enlisted the help of a freelancer who I knew would be able to produce quality content quickly. It was all hands on deck and we all worked some long days in those two weeks before deadline.”

    Result: “With a large dose of hard work and good humour, we managed to launch on time and produce a very successful campaign that generated a 28% spike in leads. In the end I felt that the new content was even better than what we had originally planned, and I was very proud of the way my team and I were able to quickly pivot and deliver.”

Now that you’ve prepared for questions you may be asked in an interview, do you know what questions you should ask the interviewer in return? Discover some of the best questions to ask in an interview.

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