SMF's Guide to Behavioural Questioning

STAR Method


Behavioral Interviewing

Behavioural Interviewing is a new style of interviewing that more and more organizations are using in their hiring process. The basic premise behind behavioural interviewing is this: the most accurate predictor of future performance is past performance in a similar situation. It focuses on experiences, behaviors, knowledge, skills and abilities that are job related. Traditional interviewing questions ask you general questions such as "Tell me about yourself." 

The process of behaviouralinterviewing is much more probing and works very differently. Employers predetermine which skills are necessary for the job for which they are looking and then ask very pointed questions to determine if the candidate possesses those skills. For example, if successful leadership is necessary for a position, you may be asked to talk about an experience in which you were a leader as well as what you think makes a good leader. To assess which skills the employer seeks, review employer literature, speak with alumni, family and friends who work for the employers, and listen carefully during the organization's information session.

During a behavioural interview, always listen carefully to the question, ask for clarification if necessary, and make sure you answer the question completely. Your interview preparation should include identifying examples of situations from your experiences on your resume where you have demonstrated the behaviors a given company seeks. During the interview, your responses need to be specific and detailed. Tell them about a particular situation that relates to the question, not a general one. Briefly tell them about the situation, what you did specifically, and the positive result or outcome. Your answer should contain these four steps (Situation, Task, Action, Result or "STAR") for optimum success. 

STAR Method

Situation: give an example of a situation you were involved in that resulted in a positive outcome

Task: describe the tasks involved in that situation

Action: talk about the various actions involved in the situation’s task

Results: what results directly followed because of your actions

Before the interview process, identify two or three of your top selling points and determine how you will convey these points (with demonstrated STAR stories) during the interview.

It is helpful to frame your answer as a story that you can tell. Typically, the interviewer will pick apart the story to try to get at the specific behavior(s) they seek. They refer to this as "digging a well."

 The interviewer will sometimes ask you open ended questions to allow you to choose which examples you wish to use. When a part of your story relates to a skill or experience the interviewer wishes to explore further, he/she will then ask you very specific follow-up questions regarding your behavior. These can include "What were you thinking at that point?" or "Tell me more about your meeting with that person." or "Lead me through your decision process."

Whenever you can, quantify your results. Numbers illustrate your level of authority and responsibility.

Be prepared to provide examples of when results didn't turn out as you planned. What did you do then? What did you learn? Your resume will serve as a good guide when answering these questions. Refresh your memory regarding your achievements in the past couple of years. Demonstration of the desired behaviors may be proven in many ways. Use examples from past internships, classes, activities, team involvements, community service and work experience.

Example of a STAR Answer

Situation: During my internship last summer, I was responsible for managing various events.

Task: I noticed that attendance at these events had dropped by 30% over the past 3 years and wanted to do something to improve these numbers.

Action: I designed a new promotional packet to go out to the local community businesses. I also included a rating sheet to collect feedback on our events and organized internal round table discussions to raise awareness of the issue with our employees.

Result: We utilized some of the wonderful ideas we received from the community, made our internal systems more efficient and visible and raised attendance by 18% the first year.

Examples of a Behavioural Question

Behavioural questions can be difficult if you are not prepared. Always try to be conscious about what the interviewer is trying to find out about you by asking you a particular question. Here are some examples:

  1. Describe a situation in which you were able to use persuasion to successfully convince someone to see things your way. 
  2. Describe an instance when you had to think on your feet to extricate yourself from a difficult situation. 
  3. Give me a specific example of a time when you used good judgment and logic in solving a problem. 
  4. By providing examples, convince me that you can adapt to a wide variety of people, situations and environments. 
  5. Describe a time on any job that you held in which you were faced with problems or stresses that tested your coping skills. 
  6. Give me an example of a time in which you had to be relatively quick in coming to a decision. 
  7. Tell me about a time in which you had to use your written communications skills in order to get an important point across. 
  8. Give me a specific occasion in which you conformed to a policy with which you did not agree. 
  9. Give me an example of an important goal that you had set in the past and tell me about your success in reaching it. 
  10. Tell me about a time when you had to go above and beyond the call of duty in order to get a job done. 
  11. Give me an example of a time when you were able to successfully communicate with another person even when that individual may not have personally liked you (or vice versa). 

Competencies Which May be Questioned:

The word competency is widely used in business and personnel psychology and refers to the behaviors’ that are necessary to achieve the objectives of an organisation. A competency is also something you can measure and lists of competencies form a common language for describing how people perform in different situations. Every job can be described in terms of key competencies. This means that they can be used for all forms of assessment, including appraisals, training needs analysis and of course, selection. 

Individual competencies - your personal attributes: Flexibility, decisiveness, tenacity, independence, risk taking, personal integrity

Managerial competencies - taking charge of other people: Leadership, empowerment, strategic planning, corporate sensitivity, project management, management control

Analytical competencies - the elements of decision making: Innovation, analytical skills, numerical problem solving, problem solving, practical learning, detail consciousness

Interpersonal competencies - dealing with other people: Communication, impact, persuasiveness, personal awareness, teamwork, openness

Motivational competencies - the things that drive you: Resilience, energy, motivation, achievement orientation, initiative, quality focus

To prepare for this type of interview, first review the job description carefully and identify the skills and traits likely to be assessed. Next, identify the situations and experiences that you will refer to in the interview to demonstrate these skills and traits. Competency focused, well-structured answers are extremely powerful and will win you the interview. 

Competency: Customer Focus: 

Definition: Individuals who display this competency understand and believe in the importance of customer focus. They listen to and understand the needs of external and internal customers. They meet and exceed customer needs to ensure satisfaction.

Behavioural Indicators: 

Demonstrates the importance of customer service by giving customer needs top priority. Deals effectively with customers by displaying a professional, courteous and empathetic approach.

Influencing or Persuading Others

You may have strong verbal skills but can you influence another person to change their thinking or take some action – perhaps a colleague follows your advice or a client decides to buy a service or product. At management level have you the skills to persuade and involve rather than coerce and punish? Are you ethical in your dealings with people?

  • Tell me about a time when you were able to change someone’s viewpoint significantly. 
  • Tell me about a time when you were asked to do something that you disagreed with. 
  • See this pen I’m holding…sell it to me. 
  • Tell me about a person or event that has been influential in your personal development. 

Interpersonal and Team Skills

Employers need people who are socially competent. The desire to build and maintain relationships in and beyond the workplace is critical. Many workplaces function on the basis of project teams. These teams are task oriented and short lived. Those who are highly collaborative and co-operative are most likely to thrive in this type of environment. 

  • What experience have you had working on a team? 
  • What skills and personal qualities have you contributed to the teams you have been part of? 
  • Tell me about a time when you used tact and diplomacy. 
  • Tell me about the last time you had a disagreement with someone. 
  • Tell me about the most difficult person you have worked with. 
  • What have you disliked in your past jobs? 
  • What kinds of people do you enjoy working with? 
  • What kinds of people frustrate you? 
  • What qualities do you admire most in others? 

Communication Skills

Daniel Goleman writing on Emotional Intelligence suggests that the key to successful communications is being able to listen to all types of communication in an open way. Are you an active listener, do you really listen and do you hear what is actually said. Are you able to read the non-verbal messages that others communicate? Do you communicate in an engaging and convincing way?

  • Tell me about a time when you were successful in getting crucial information from another person. 
  • Tell me about a time when someone misunderstood what you were attempting to communicate to them. 
  • Tell me about a current event you have been following in the press. 
  • What do you think are the three most important things about communication? 
  • Tell me about a time when you worked with people from a culture unlike your own. What did you do to overcome any perceived barriers to communication? 

Personal Adaptability, Energy and Resilience

How quickly and how positively will you adapt to changes in work practices, work roles and work environments and the general flux of the modern workplace? How do you manage or avoid stress?

  • Tell me about a time when your work or an idea was criticised. 
  • Tell me about a time when you felt under pressure. 
  • Tell me about a time when you felt frustrated by your work. 
  • How would you respond if a project you had been working on was re-assigned to someone else or shelved? 
  • What do you do for enjoyment in your leisure time? 
  • What makes you laugh? 
  • Describe something creative that you’ve done. 
  • What has been your most satisfying/ disappointing experience? 

Self-management, Self-motivation and Self-knowledge

Do you always strive to achieve a standard of excellence, use initiative at the appropriate time, and show persistence in pursuing goals? Accurate self-assessment skills will allow you to be objective and critical in evaluating your strengths and weaknesses. How will your personality and temperament effect the existing team or work group? 

  • Tell me about a time when you acted over and above the expectations of your role. 
  • What have you done that shows initiative and willingness to work? 
  • Tell me something about yourself. 
  • How would you describe yourself? 
  • How do you think a close friend who knows you well would describe you? 
  • How do you think an enemy would describe you? 
  • How would you describe your management style? 
  • What are the two most significant accomplishments in your career so far? 
  • What are your three major accomplishments? 
  • What are your greatest strengths/weaknesses? 
  • What's your greatest weakness? 
  • Why do you want to work for us? 
  • What does "success" mean to you? 
  • What does "failure" mean to you? 
  • In the past year, what have you been dissatisfied about in your performance? 
  • What are the most important rewards you expect in your career? 
  • What do you expect to be earning in 5 years? 
  • Why did you choose the career for which you are preparing? 
  • Which is more important to you, the money or the type of job? 
  • What motivates you to put forth your greatest effort? 
  • How has your university experience prepared you for a career in this field? 
  • How do your skills relate to our needs? 
  • What are you passionate about? 
  • What are your interests outside work? 
  • Tell me about a major problem you have encountered and how you dealt with it? 
  • What have you learned from your mistakes? 
  • How do you cope with routine work? 

Administrative Skills

Generally checking that you have effective work habits, and the knowledge of workplace routines and some experience of common office administration systems.

  • Tell me how you organise your work and schedule your time. 
  • Tell me about computer software packages you are familiar with and your experience in using them. 
  • Tell me about your experience of managing a budget. 

Problem Solving and Decision Making

What’s your problem-solving style? Do you manage your activities to minimise or avoid them? How do you behave in a crisis?

  • Tell me about a difficult decision that you have made. 
  • Tell me about an unpopular decision you have made. 
  • What significant problems have you faced in the last year? 
  • How do you work under pressure? 
  • Tell me about a time when you had to make a quick decision. What were the circumstances and what did you do? 
  • What impact do you think … will have on our business? 
  • How would you motivate an employee who was performing poorly? 
  • Tell me about a situation where you achieved a satisfactory outcome to a problem that others thought couldn’t be solved. What did you do and what was the outcome? 
  • Tell me about a time when you had conflicting priorities and what you did to resolve them. 
  • What kind of problems do you handle best? 

Conflict Management and Ethics

How do you behave in a crisis? What does it take to shake your poise or self-confidence? What approach do you take to problem solving?

  • Tell me about a significant crisis you have faced. 
  • Tell me about a difficult customer or a customer complaint that you have dealt with. 
  • How do you resolve conflict in the groups or teams that you have membership of? 
  • How would you resolve a dispute? 
  • Have you ever anticipated a difficult situation before it arose? Describe the situation, the action you took and the outcome. 
  • What would you do if your colleagues were complaining to you about the organisation? 
  • Tell me about a time when you bent the rules. When is it okay to do so? 

Personal and Career Objectives

Employers are likely to invest money in your training and development and will want to ensure that your objectives don’t conflict with theirs.

  • What are your short and long-term goals? 
  • When and why did you establish these goals and how are you preparing yourself to achieve them? 
  • What do you see yourself doing 5 years from now? 
  • What do you really want to do in life? 
  • What are the most important things you are seeking in a career? 
  • Describe your ideal job. 
  • What salary are you looking for? 
  • What person do you admire most and why? 
  • Why do you want this position? 

Knowledge of the Organisation and Role

What are your motives in applying to this organisation: Were they well thought out? Do you know enough about this work area and this organisation to be clear about how your skills fit into it?

  • Why did you apply for this position? 
  • How would you measure your success or failure in this job? 
  • What skills and personal qualities are essential for success in this role? 
  • How do you plan to keep up with developments in your field? 
  • What would you like to know about this organisation? 
  • What do you believe you can contribute to this organisation? 
  • What do you know about our industry? 
  • What do you know about our organisation? 
  • Why are you interested in working for our organisation 
  • Why should I hire you? 
  • In what kind of a work environment are you most comfortable? 
  • What two or three things are most important to you in a job? 
  • Which three of the competencies required for this position would you prioritise? 
  • Are you seeking employment in a company of a certain size? Why? 
  • What criteria are you using to evaluate the company for which you hope to work? 
  • Do you have a geographical preference? Why? 
  • Will you relocate? Does relocation bother you? 
  • Are you willing to travel? 
  • What do you know of the area and community in which our company is located? 
  • Can you work well to deadlines and under pressure? 
  • If you were offered this role, what would you expect to achieve in the first year? 
  • What hours would you like to work? 
  • How do you believe the performance of the NZ dollar impacts on our organisation? 
  • Tell me about a time when you have been managed in a good or bad way. 
  • What qualities should a successful manager possess? 
  • Describe the relationship that should exist between a supervisor and those reporting to him or her. 
  • What problems do you feel you will have fitting into the job? 
  • Do you know the location of our head office? 
  • What interests you about our product/services? How would you improve them? 

Work Experience

Do you take responsibility for your own learning and career development? Do you have an understanding of the type of environments in which you are most effective?

  • Tell me about the best job you’ve ever had. 
  • What did you enjoy most or least about your last job? 
  • What relevant work experiences have you had? 
  • What extra-curricular activities are you involved in? 
  • What kind of office equipment/technical equipment have you used? 
  • Have you ever been the leader of a team? What did you like and dislike about the role? 

Academic Experience

An opportunity to find out about you as a person and encourage you to discuss two subjects that you are the authority on, YOU and your studies. If continuing study for professional qualifications or certification is expected then the employer may check that you have effective work and study habits.

  • Tell me about your academic programme at university. 
  • How did you reach the decision to study at Victoria? 
  • Describe your most rewarding university experience. 
  • If you were hiring a graduate for this position, what qualities would you look for? 
  • What led you to choose your field or major study? 
  • What college subjects did you like best/least? Why? 
  • What changes would you make at your university? Why? 
  • Do you have plans for continued study? 
  • Do you think that your grades are an accurate reflection of your academic ability? 
  • What have you learned from participation in extra-curricular activities? 

Ability, Competence and Achievement

A chance to discover what inspires you and motivates you to achieve and whether you are a loner or a team person.

  • What two or three accomplishments have given you the most satisfaction? Why? 
  • Describe a time when you led or motivated others. 
  • What do you feel qualifies you for this position? 
  • Tell us about a time when you had more to do than you could complete in the time allocated: tell us what you did about it and what the outcome was. 

Stress Questions

These are designed to test your resilience in the work environment. Are you able to maintain appropriate behavior in the face of what may seem inappropriate behavior in others? Are you able to keep inappropriate emotions in check and take responsibility for your own performance?

  • How do you react to criticism? 
  • Can you accept criticism for poor work? 
  • Describe a time you failed. 
  • What causes you to lose your temper? 
  • Do you really feel that you have enough experience for this role? 
  • Aren’t you overqualified for this role? 
  • Why have you decided to change careers? 
  • Why have you changed jobs frequently? 
  • Have you ever been sacked (fired)? 
  • Why should I hire you? 
  • What if I told you that you'd work very hard, but recognition of your contributions would be nil? 
  • How long would you expect to remain with this organisation? 
  • What salary are you expecting? 
  • How long do you see yourself staying with us? 
  • Are there any questions you were expecting that we haven’t asked? 
  • Tell me about your diary commitments from Monday to Friday of this week? 
  • How would you describe your work style? 
  • How would you describe your personality type? 

Some ‘Interesting’ Interview Questions

Often asked by employers to add a bit of interest or inspiration to the interview process to see how you cope with the unexpected or a change in direction. Tend not to have a right or wrong answer.

  • What is the most difficult issue facing Australia today? 
  • It is the 15th Century. How do you convince the Pope that the Earth is round? 
  • If I gave you an elephant, where would you hide it? 
  • Why are soda cans tapered on the top and bottom? 
  • You are in a boat on a fresh water lake. In your hand is a rock. You throw the rock into the lake. How is the lake's water level affected? 
  • Describe your best friend and what he or she does for a living. 
  • In what ways are you similar or different from your best friend? 
  • If you had a weekend to spend doing anything you wanted, what would you do ?