Career Corner: Behavioural-based interviews

No doubt you have heard horror stories about those dreaded behavioural based interviews that are conducted by some employers. Perhaps you've even avoided applying to a particular company strictly because you've heard that they use this line of questioning. Well with proper preparation, like most things, you can rest a little easier before your big interview.

First of all, let's clarify exactly what a BBI really is. Simply defined a BBI is an interview based on discovering how the interviewee acted in a specific situation. The logic is that how you have managed or handled a situation in the past, will dictate how you manage or handle a similar situation in the present or future. In other words, past performance dictates future performance. This can be said for many things in life. If you are organized at home or in your schoolwork it is likely that you will be organized in the workplace. Or, conversely, if you can't quite manage to get your act together at home or at school, well, I think you know where I'm headed here, it may indeed be that you won't get it together at work either. Now I have heard it argued by students before that there is no correlation between how they approach their work at home or school with their approach to work on the job providing the job is rewarding and challenging. Well, that really remains to be seen.

To further explain, let's compare traditional interviews with BBIs. In a traditional interview setting, an employer will ask a series of questions like “What are your strengths and weaknesses?” or “What major challenges or problems did you face in your last job? How did you handle them?”

In a BBI, an employer has decided what skills are needed in the person they plan on hiring and will ask questions to find out if the candidate has those skills. Instead of asking how you would behave in a situation, they will ask you how you did behave. The interviewer will want to know how you specifically handled a situation, instead of what you might do.

Questions in a BBI will be more pointed, more probing and more specific than traditional questions. For example: “Give an example of an occasion when you used logic to solve a problem” or “Have you had to convince a team to work on a project they weren't thrilled about? How did you do it?” Follow-up questions will also be detailed. You may be asked what you did, what you said, how you reacted or how you felt.

So, how do you prepare for a BBI? You won't know what type of interview will take place until you are sitting in the interview room, so be prepared with answers to traditional questions regardless. And since you won't know exactly what situations you may be asked about in a BBI, you can prepare by refreshing your memory and recalling some special situations or occasions where you have dealt with projects or people. You may be able to use these situations to frame your response to the employer. Prepare stories that will illustrate times when you have successfully solved problems, or performed well. The stories will be useful to help you respond in a meaningful way in a BBI. Make sure to include in your answer: a specific situation, the tasks that needed to be done, the action you took and the results.

Always review your resume and covering letter and the job advertisement, or job description if you have it, prior to the interview. This should help you get a sense of what skills and behavioural characteristics the employer is seeking.

Keep in mind there are no right or wrong answers. The interviewer is simply trying to understand how you behaved in a given situation and if there is a fit between you and the position they are trying to fill. So, listen carefully, be clear, concise and give detailed answers when you respond. And, above all be honest as it is equally important for both you and employer that you are the right fit for the job. Your success on the job may depend on it.

Need assistance? Why not drop by the Career Services office in Room D1063. Career Services are available to assist you on an individual basis. Visit the office to arrange an appointment with the consultant responsible for your program or call 519-452-4294. For job listings visit