Be a Star: Behavioural Questions at Interview

by |
We’ve all been there: you’ve landed an interview for the job of your dreams, you have built rapport with the interview panel, and they seem impressed with your CV. But then it comes: the dreaded behavioural question. These are the classic questions that will inevitably be asked at some point in the recruitment process: “How do you prioritize projects and tasks when scheduling your time?” or, “Tell me about a time when you missed an obvious solution to a problem.”
The danger with behavioural questions is giving a vague answer. These type of questions are specifically designed to give the interviewer an insight into how you have behaved in past employment, with the idea being that past behaviour is the best indicator of future performance. The key to answering these questions well is to give answers that give genuine insight to how you act as an employee, and to tailor your answers to reflect the professional qualities valued by your potential future employer. Overall, emphasise how your past behaviour has been an asset to previous employers.

The STAR approach has become famous for a reason. It is structured so that you give concise, personal, quantifiable answers to your interviewer.
  • Situation: describe the specific situation you were in. It is important to give your employer context so they understand the stakes involved. 
  • Task: explain your role in the scenario. What was required of you? What needed to be accomplished?
  • Action: describe the actions you took to resolve the situation. Be concise – there is no need for extraneous details.
  • Result: what was the outcome of the situation, and what did you learn? Try and give a quantifiable answer to demonstrate the value of your response (i.e. “We were able to secure them as a long-term client, which brought in $X per year”).
Before your interview, prepare a few scenarios by taking the time to reflect on your career so far. What are some major challenges you have faced and overcome? What do you consider your career highlights? How do you manage your relationships with clients and co-workers?
Often, behavioural questions are designed to probe you about past failures or low-lights in your career. Employers do not expect you to be infallible: everybody makes mistakes. Don’t attempt to turn a question like this into an exploration of your strengths (i.e. the humble-brag “sometimes I’m too much of a perfectionist”; “I pay too much attention to detail”). What an interviewer is looking for in these situations is your ability to be honest and self-reflective about your own behaviour, and a willingness to take responsibility for any missteps and work effectively to solve the problems. Obviously, an interview isn’t the best time to disclose your biggest career mistake, but interviewers appreciate candour and a demonstrated ability to work through challenges.  
For more interview advice, check out Mahlab Senior Consultant Nalini Moore’s “Interview Hints” at our Info Hub:

Lisa Gazis is the Managing Director of Mahlab (NSW). Lisa manages the NSW recruitment operations and is also actively involved in the strategic recruitment of legal professionals, partner and legal team recruitment.  In addition she works closely on senior corporate and partner level search and recruitment campaigns. Lisa provides strategic consulting services to corporations and law firms in Australia and abroad. Lisa writes and is a regular key speaker on recruitment issues such as industry trends, recruitment and retention strategies, staff remuneration and career management.