Being on the candidate side of a behavioural interview can be somewhat stressful. If you have never encountered one, a behavioural interview is one in which the interviewer asks detailed questions about past specific experiences. Instead of asking "How would you deal with an irate customer?" the interviewer may say, "Tell me about the last incident in which you had to deal with an angry customer. What did you do? What was the outcome? Is the customer still a customer? Why not?”
It is pretty easy to figure out what the interviewer wants to hear with the first question and tempting to give them that hypothetical answer. As the probing continues, the interviewer -like a detective - continues to seek substantiated facts and patterns of behaviour. At this time, inconsistencies will generally arise if a candidate is continually fabricating.
Like any interview, stick to the facts as best as you can recall. If you are unable to recall a specific incident, a skilled interviewer will ask for similar types of situations until a memory is recalled. If you hesitate or tiptoe around questions, the interviewer will delve deeper to get at the truth.
Behavioural interviews are designed around the generally agreed premise that the best indicator of future performance is past performance. The basic traits that interviewers most often search for are: assertiveness, clarification, commitment to tasks, communication, dealing with ambiguity, decision making, interaction, leadership, management skills, organization, prioritizing, problem solving, and team building. Questions are developed around these traits to determine a candidate’s capabilities in each of these areas (or other areas relevant to the position). The interviewer, in asking these open-ended questions, wants to hear a detailed account of what happened – not just a general overview. By providing a thorough account, including a background of events leading up to the situation, your reaction and role in it, and the outcome and lessons learned from it, the interviewer will be able to better predict how you may react in the future to a similar situation.
Like everything else, a behavioural interview is something you can prepare for. Even if you never encounter a behavioural interview, you will be surprised at how thinking about your experiences in these terms will improve your ability to present yourself and your qualifications in any situation. Candidates should prepare for a behavioural interview by thinking of instances that correlate with each of the above traits – a situation in which you showed leadership, how you functioned within a team, or how you architected and implemented a new system. Thinking of a negative example may be even more useful, as interviewers will often ask about the times when things did not go as planned. If your interviewer takes this approach, make sure that you include the lessons you learned and how these will impact your future behaviour in your answer. "If it happened again, I would make sure to…"
Behavioural interviews are not nerve wracking if you’re prepared. Just remember to stay calm and to be honest.