They're the questions that interviewers love -- but they can pose a challenge for even well prepared job candidates: Tell me how you dealt with conflict with a co-worker. How did you react to your last major mistake in the workplace? Explain how you overcame a major challenge? The formal name for these queries is 'behavioural interview questions' and if you want a fighting chance of getting the job, you're going to have to get skilled at answering them.
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How behavioural questioning works
Behavioural questions are based on the premise that the best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour. So interviewers use these questions to gain useful insights – into how a candidate works as part of a team, deals with conflict, solves problems, handles setbacks and manages others – with the aim of finding someone who will exhibit the sorts of behaviours, competencies and motivations to be a good fit for the role they’re seeking to fill.
One of the main advantages of behavioural interview questions is that they tend to be quite specific and demand that the candidate refer to past circumstances and experiences, so in that way they help avoid pat, pre-rehearsed responses.
There aren’t right answers but there are wrong ones
The conflict resolution skills required of a police officer are very different from those of a school teacher or arbitrator. That being the case, there’s no one ‘correct’ answer to a behavioural interview question, only more or less appropriate ones for a given role.
A mistake candidates sometimes make is to try and dodge a behavioural interview question by saying something like, “I’m an easygoing person who’s never really had a conflict with a colleague” or “I do my job so well I’ve never had anything go seriously wrong”. Here’s a tip: if you claim you’ve never had an argument with a workmate, never encountered issues trying to work as part of a team, never had anything go wrong or never run into difficulties with a manager or employee, you run the risk of appearing either delusional or less than honest.
Counter-intuitive as it may seem in a job interview context, behavioural interview questions aren’t about presenting an idealised version of yourself, but demonstrating you have self-awareness and the ability to learn from your experiences in addition to taking positive actions and achieving positive outcomes.
Get into CAR
Behavioural interview questions can be answered concisely and effectively by employing what is known as the ‘CAR’ method. With CAR, you:
- Describe the relevant Context
- List the Actions you took
- Share the (hopefully impressive) Results of your actions
So, for example, when asked about a conflict with a colleague you might respond:
- "A former colleague of mine became openly hostile towards me when I was promoted instead of them."
- "I approached them in a non-confrontational way to suggest having a friendly chat, and during our meeting I suggested working together on an action plan to help take their career to the next level."
- "They agreed, apologised for their behaviour, and the dynamic between us subsequently changed. Within six months a senior position came up in another department and the person was promoted largely on the basis of the positive reference I was happy to provide for them. We’re now working together harmoniously on a joint project."
By using this structured approach to answering the question, you’ve highlighted your ability to recognise a situation and do something positive about it, in a precise and efficient way.
This article originally appeared on The Hudson Blog