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Behavioural interviews

Answering skills-based interview questions from your experience

Behavioural interviewing, also known as ‘competency-based interviewing’, is a common technique among internship and graduate recruiters.

Using the behavioural interviewing technique, employers ask questions testing the specific skills and competencies required for the role. They’ll expect examples of previous experience and achievement to demonstrate evidence of the skill in your answer. The idea behind this type of interview is that past behaviour is an indicator of future performance.

It is important to recognise a behavioural question at interview. They will often start with phrases like "Tell me about a time when...", "Describe a situation where...", and "Give an example of...", prompting you to talk about a specific situation in your answer.

Not all employers will indicate whether your interview is behavioural and some employers use a hybrid interview technique which combines behavioural questions with more general questions. Be prepared by practicing sample behavioural questions before your interview.  

Preparing for behavioural interviews

First, reread the job ad or job description and look at the selection criteria or skills/attributes required by the employer. Anticipate behavioural questions based on required competencies. Think about the experience you have and look for moments that stand out – there is often a good answer to a behavioural question in experiences that have challenged or tested you. Consider which experiences relate to each selection criterion or key skill. For instance, winning a debating competition may provide evidence of strong communication skills, while consistently exceeding your sales targets at your casual job is a good example of your ability to add value to an organisation.

Depending on the job you are applying for, you can usually use examples from a variety of activities such as work, studies, extracurricular activities, volunteering, sports, or travel. The best examples are recent, relevant and robust (or complex) experiences.

Answering behavioural questions

Answering a behavioural question is like telling a story. Choose an appropriate example from your experience and use the STAR formula to keep your story on track:

  • Situation – where, when, and context of your example, eg, “While working reception at company XYZ…”
  • Task – the task or problem to be solved, eg, "I was required to prepare the appointment schedule for our seven consultants."
  • Action - how you solved the problem, fulfilled the task or handled the situation. What did you do and how did you do it? eg, "In order to avoid duplicate bookings, I set up a system on Microsoft Outlook which...."
  • Result – the outcome achieved as result of your action/s? Quantify the result. eg, "The new scheduling process eliminated all duplicate bookings and improved client satisfaction. I also received positive feedback from the consultants and my manager."

Spend approximately 80% of your time talking about your actions, as this offers the most convincing evidence of your skills.  

Behavioural interview tips

  • Be prepared. Review our interview tips to ensure you make a strong first impression.
  • Clarify your role when talking about team activities. The interviewer wants to know how you contributed to the team, so talk in terms of “I” not “we” when describing your actions.
  • Be prepared for questions which examine negative situations such as conflicts, errors or problems. Most jobs will present the occasional challenge and the interviewer will be interested in your ability to handle these situations.
  • If your answer focuses on a challenging colleague, customer or manager, avoid making personal judgements and focus more on their behavior. For instance, “my team-mate was frequently late with submitting his contribution to the assignment” NOT “my team-mate was lazy.”)
  • Review common behavioural questions on our sample questions page