Podcast Episode #21 How to prepare for behavioural or competency-based interviews

In this episode, Leah discusses her favourite topic ‘How to prepare for behavioural interviews’.  This topic is close to her heart as she remembers her first behavioural interview after completing university which was a complete train wreck.  She now aims to ensure that others don’t endure the same dreadful experience.

In this interview, Leah discusses the following:

  • What is a behavioural interview
  • What is the purpose of a behavioural interview
  • How to best prepare for a behavioural interview
  • What is the ‘STAR’ or ‘STARLA’ method
  • Where candidates typically go wrong during behavioural interviews
  • How Relaunch Me can help you prepare for your next behavioural interview

At Relaunch Me, we coach clients preparing for behavioural interviews across all industries including government, emergency services (firefighter, paramedic, police, customs/border force), graduate/clerkships, legal, accounting, HR, information technology, design, community services, nursing, teaching, engineering, property & construction and many more.

For further information on how we can assist you prepare for your next behavioural interview – click here.


Leah Lambart 0:02
Welcome to the Relaunch Your Career Podcast. I’m your host Leah Lambert, career and interview coach and founder of Relaunch Me, where we help you find the work that you were meant to do.

Today I’m doing a solo episode, which I haven’t done for quite a long time. and the topic is behavioural interviews and how to prepare best for them. But before we get into that, I just wanted to say a big thank you to our regular listeners. We have listeners all over Australia, which is fantastic. And we’ve got lots of listeners who are listening in regularly from all over the world from Dublin, the Hague, France, the Philippines, Nevada, Brazil, Ontario and even Nairobi. So hello, wherever you are and I hope that you are feeling safe during what is a very strange time. I know in Melbourne where we’re in our second lockdown, everyone is wearing masks and it’s quite a strange feeling going out at the moment. So, I hope wherever you are that you are keeping well, and keeping yourself busy listening to podcasts.

Despite being in lockdown, I guess one of the things that I’m finding is that a lot of people are still interviewing, which gives me a little bit more optimism about the job market here in Australia. We’ve got lots of people booking in for behavioural interview coaching. So that’s great, and also people who are getting jobs which is even better. So today I wanted to do an episode focusing on my favourite topic, which is how to prepare for behavioural interviews. I’m going to talk about what is a behavioural interview, what is the purpose of a behavioural interview, how to prepare best for them and where people go wrong in behavioural interviews. And finally, how we can help you if you do need help preparing for your next interview.

So first of all, for those who don’t know me, I’ve got a background working in recruitment. So I worked for nine years in recruitment, firstly in a recruitment agency for six years and then in-house for a law firm, where I recruited legal staff but also people from marketing finance, hospitality, because we had a kitchen there. We had events teams, IT, training and more. So I’ve worked with people in recruitment for a long time. And I also worked for a number of years helping clients select and implement a recruitment technology. So I understand how the resume applicant tracking systems work very well.

So firstly, I want to talk about what is a behavioural interview and what does that mean when you get invited to a behavioural interview. So typically, a behavioural interview will include some questions that are what I call general questions. And they’re questions such as, ‘tell us about yourself?’, ‘What are your strengths?’, ‘Do you have a weakness?’, ‘Why have you applied for this job?’, ‘What can you bring to this job in terms of skills and attributes?’ etc. So, they’re pretty standard questions that are asked across most job levels and across most industries. So they’re what I call general questions. Then we’ve got behavioural questions. And behavioural questions are linked to the key competencies, or if you’re not familiar with that word, the key skills that are required to do that particular job. So most large companies, that have human resources departments will have developed some sort of competency framework or capability framework. So this is very common in government, universities and very large corporates, but it’s also starting to become more common in medium sized organisations. So, in those particular organisations, each role has a particular set of competencies or selection criteria that must be satisfied in order for that person to be recruited to that position. So behavioural interview questions are designed to ensure that the candidate provides evidence based examples that show that they have demonstrated a particular competency successfully in the past.

So, to give you an example, if I was inviting someone to an interview, a behavioural interview for a sales position or sales position, the key competencies might include teamwork, collaboration (same thing). It might include influencing skills. It might include negotiation skills, relationship building skills, conflict resolution skills. So the interview panel is likely to ask specific behavioural interview questions that will be linked to those key competencies.

The purpose of the behavioural interview is rather than the candidate providing hypothetical answers, that they’re providing evidence based examples which gives the panel reassurance that they have successfully demonstrated those competencies in the past and will be capable of performing in that position. So, if you’re invited to one of these interviews, the first thing is to really understand the position description and identify the key competencies. For some position descriptions, it will be very easy to tell what the key competencies are. So it may actually list key selection criteria or key competencies. Not everyone will always have the benefit of having a position description, however. So what’s really important is that when you read through the job advertisement, that you are able to identify what the key competencies are for that role. So for example, if they are asking for someone who has worked well in a team, or is able to influence stakeholders, then immediately you would know you need to have a specific example for teamwork, and also one for your influencing skills. So the first thing is understanding the competencies. And that way you can anticipate the likely behavioural interview questions that will come up.

The second thing is to really think about your previous experience and what particular achievements you would like to talk about. You can go through your resume, think about what what sort of achievements and other major events you would like to talk about. And then you can think about well, what competencies did you use in order to achieve those things, they can become some of your stories.

The next thing is to understand how you need to respond to behavioural interview questions. And that is what we call the STAR method. Now, I like to coach using a slightly different method called STARLA which I’ll explain to you in a minute. The STAR method or the STARLA method is the structure that you need to answer these particular questions. So the STAR acronym stands for S- what was the Situation? T – What was your task? A – what were your Actions, and R – what was the Result? And the ‘LA’ at the end that I like to use in STARLA, is L – what did you Learn? And A – how would you Apply that to the role that you’re interviewing for? It is a nice little way of tying it off at the end. So, STAR or STARLA is a method that you really need to know and you really need to understand.

So, another question that I get asked all the time is how do you identify what a behavioural question is and when you need to use the STAR method. So, a behavioural question will be a question where they are actually asking you for a very specific example or story. And as I said before, these will be linked to a particular competency. So usually a behavioural interview question will start with, ‘Tell us about a time when…’, ‘Give us an example of……’, ‘Describe a situation when……’. So, as soon as you hear the question start like that, you will know that you need to use the STAR method or the STARLA method, whichever you’re comfortable with.

Now, where people go wrong with these behavioural interviews, the first thing is perhaps spending too much time talking about the situation and not talking about the actions. So the situation and the task is really just giving some context to inform the interview panel of where you were when this particular situation or problem took place. The most important part is the actions and that is explaining how you do things. And this is what most of our clients find quite difficult. We often are very capable, we’ve performed really well in our roles, but we’re not used to talking about how we actually did it. And this is the key, the panel have not worked with you. They’ve never seen you perform. So they need the evidence and the proof that you would take the action and behave in the way that they would expect someone in this role and at this particular level. So I do find that the feedback I get from many clients who haven’t succeeded that interview, the feedback has been something along the lines of ‘here wasn’t enough depth in your response’ or ‘you didn’t explain how you actually did it’. So, this means there’s not enough emphasis in the actions and that’s where we usually work with our clients to really help them develop those actions and understand what the panel actually wants to hear.

The second place that people go wrong is talking about ‘we’ and not ‘I’. So your actions need to be strong ‘I statements’, the panel is not interested in what your team did. The panel is interested in what you did, even as part of that team. So those would be the typical mistakes that someone would make in a behavioural interview.

So in regards to how we help our clients, we work with our clients to help them develop really robust STAR or STARLA examples that clearly demonstrate that they have previously been successful, demonstrating the particular competencies required for that role. As I mentioned before, the panel are waiting to hear certain things and listening to how you may have behaved in the past. So it’s really understanding what the expected behaviours are at your level for that particular competency.

If you have any questions at all about behavioural interviews, please feel free to email me at leah@relaunchme.com.au

We also have a great freebie on our website, which is ‘100 behavioural interview questions that you need to know’. So obviously, you wouldn’t need to prepare for all of these for an interview, but it will give you a good understanding of the different ways that questions can be asked under each competency, so feel free to go to the website and download those questions before your next interview.

In addition, just to mention that we are still doing all our interview coaching via zoom. One of the benefits of this is you can actually record the session and refer back to it later, which I think is actually in some ways better than face to face coaching. So please reach out if you do have an interview, we can coach via zoom. We coach people in Australia and also internationally, so feel free to reach out before your next interview, and we can help you prepare in the best way possible.

In the meantime, stay safe everyone. If you’re enjoying the podcast, I’d love you to write a review on Apple podcasts or wherever you subscribe so that other people can find us. And please get in touch if there’s a certain topic that you would love us to discuss, or someone that you would like us to interview in a particular industry. Have a great day.

I hope you enjoyed this episode of relaunch your career. If you did, please subscribe, share with your friends, leave a review or connect with us on social media at @relaunchmecareerconsulting

If you have any questions about the episode or the work that we do, then contact us via the website www.relaunch me.com.au

Thanks for listening. Have a great day.