When it comes to an interview, you always need to be on your best behaviour…
Behavioural interview questions (AKA competency questions) help employers find out how you’d react to different situations. And the key to success is to formulate your answers in a way that ensures your response is organised, accurate, and represents your personality accurately.
To help inspire you, here are five of our favourite behavioural questions courtesy of James Reed’s bestselling book, ‘Why You: 101 Interview Questions You’ll Never Fear Again’, and our advice on how to answer them:
Give me an example of something you’ve tried in your job that hasn’t worked. How did you learn from it?
On the surface, this question might come across as one that’s trying to identify your weaknesses or failures – but it’s not.
What the interviewer really wants to know is if you’re willing to experiment. Do you have the ability to come up with innovative and creative ideas, take risks, and learn from the results?
To show that your behaviour matches up, answer by making it clear that you’re always open to trying new things at work (after a little research) – even if you’re not sure what the outcome will be. Then, use a genuine example of when you’ve executed an idea and it hasn’t been a total success, and focus on the positives you drew from it.
Remember: seeing any previous failures as a learning experience is just as important as being confident enough to implement it in the first place.
Right answer: ‘In my last customer service role, some clients were put off by year-long contracts, so we came up with an idea to test month-by-month payment plans. Unfortunately, people didn’t tend to stick around long enough for it to be cost-effective for the business, meaning the experiment ended after six months. But as a direct result, we learned that it’s best to stick to long-term contracts, even if it meant there were fewer. Quality is better than quantity.’
Wrong answer: ‘I tried telling my boss where he could stick his job if I didn’t get a payrise – and you know, here we are…’
Tell me about a time when a client was especially unhappy, and what you did to resolve the situation?
An ability to deal with difficult situations professionally says a lot about your behaviour in the workplace – and this question is designed to test exactly that.
But as easy as it would be to explain the situation if you were simply allowed to vent your frustrations, this isn’t about trading elaborate war stories.
It’s about demonstrating your character, showing you can empathise and take responsibility for problems, and making it clear that you never shift the blame to someone else.
In other words, your example should represent you as the bigger person – who remained calm throughout and came up with a constructive solution.
Right answer: ‘When I was Assistant Manager at my local leisure centre, a woman came in demanding a refund for her daughter’s swimming lessons as she hadn’t made any progress. I apologised and said I could see why she was upset – and explained that all children have different learning styles. I then offered to change her to a different class, which turned out great, because after just a week she did so well that her mum came back in to sign up for more lessons.
Wrong answer: ‘I’m pretty laissez-faire when it comes to conflict. Basically, I usually just hide until they go away.’
Tell me about a time you’ve disagreed with a senior member of staff
This is closely translated as: can you deal with disagreements maturely, or are you going to bring playground drama to the workplace?
Since nobody’s going to admit that they’re always at the heart of office feuds, this is an interviewer’s subtle alternative. And this way, they get an example that backs up your claim.
To answer this question well, you need to convince your potential employer that you can deal with disagreements in a professional manner – without letting your emotions get the better of you.
Your example should involve you fighting your corner constructively, and always pushes for something that’s best for the business.
Because office politics have no place in an interview (and let’s be honest, no one is going to benefit from opening that can of worms).
Right answer: ‘I had a disagreement over sales strategy in my last job. Management wanted to switch from generating leads on the phone to door-to-door sales – and I didn’t agree this would be a beneficial tactic, and wouldn’t create a positive image for the business. By speaking up I was able to trial my approach, and it ended up working.’
Wrong answer: ‘Well I would tell you, but I don’t think I can. For legal reasons, mainly…’
Tell me about a time you’ve had to persuade someone to do something
Although you’ll need to adapt your answer in line with the skills needed for the job, interviewers will generally ask this to see if you can demonstrate good people skills.
They can also gauge a surprising amount of behavioural attributes from your example – from empathy, charm and rapport building, to confidence, flexibility and humility – which are vital in almost every job.
And, it’s not just about demonstrating an ability to be persuasive – you also need to show you actually understand how to do it. This means focusing on the key skills (empathy, consultation, tenacity) you used, as well as the act itself.
Otherwise, who’s to say it wasn’t just a one-off?
Right answer: ‘My last job involved managing a group of six designers, who wanted a flexible schedule that allowed them to work from home. I didn’t see this as a problem, and research proved it could improve productivity – but senior management weren’t keen on the idea. To help persuade them, I put together a presentation including several studies on the effectiveness of flexible work programmes and their positive impact on hiring and retention. My boss agreed, and my team were over the moon. Productivity even rose by 20% as a result.’
Wrong answer: ‘Whenever anyone said they didn’t want to sign up for a store card in my last job, I’d just do it anyway, and not tell them. Because, you know, YOLO.’
Tell me about a time you’ve worked to/missed a deadline
If you hear any variation of this question at an interview, be prepared to be tested on your time management skills, as well as your ability to cope under pressure.
And don’t be tempted to start making excuses for why you might’ve missed a deadline – the reasons aren’t as important as how you react to it. After all, the interviewer isn’t judging you for your failures, they’re assessing whether you’re able to deal with them.
The best answers will reference a time where things didn’t necessarily run smoothly – but standards still weren’t compromised.
After all, no employer wants to hire someone who’s likely to throw a tantrum when things don’t go their way. They want someone who shows the willingness and initiative to power through and make sensible compromises to fix the situation, no matter what happens.
Right answer: ‘In my previous job, I was responsible for representing the firm at trade shows. In my second year there, three events were scheduled within a month of each other. Although I like a challenge, I soon realised that preparing all three to a high standard was going to be impossible – I had to prioritise. So I agreed with my manager that I’d focus on the two most relevant events. Both of them went really well, and managed to bring several leads back to our sales department.’
Wrong answer: ‘I make my own deadlines.’
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