Answering Behavioural Based Interviews Questions

Posted by | May 26, 2016 | Job interviews

Answering Behavioural Based Interviews Questions blog header
You have a big interview looming. You’re nervous. You’ve heard that the questions are tough.

No doubt you have prepared all the answers to the cliché questions focusing on your strengths and weaknesses….What you may not be as prepared for are the dreaded behavioural questions that are increasingly common in job interviews. These questions are tough! They are all based on your past behaviours (these are questions that usually begin with “Tell us about a time when….”) and it’s hard to adequately answer them without some level of planning and strategy.

I remember in my first job interview trying to answer several behavioural questions without any planning at all. Needless to say it didn’t go well! So I’ve done a bit of research and have put together my pick of the top five behavioural questions you may be asked in job interviews, along with some explanations behind these questions and some techniques as to how you can ace the answers!

You might have heard of the classic STAR formula (Situation, Task, Action, Result). Read more about the STAR technique here.

Sometimes this is even shortened to the SAR method (because remembering three things in a stressful position is far easier than four!).

An answer should take 2-3 minutes and give enough background (but not in too much detail) to briefly describe the problem or situation, then talk about your action and initiative to solve or address it, and end with a description of the positive resolution.

So here’s our pick of the top five behavioural questions asked along with some examples to answer these. Hopefully they help you in your job interview preparation for your next do good job.


#1 Tell us about a time when you handled a conflict at work?

Why do interviewers ask this question? Most jobs require you to get along with different types of people and disagreements between co-workers are bound to arise. The interviewer wants to get a sense of how you will respond to conflict. They want to hire a good team player. What follows is an example of the SAR formula in practice.


S (Situation) – A specific tome when you faced conflict
I was managing a team that was organising our charity’s annual conference – bringing together lots of different representatives from around the country. We had some very clear deadlines and one team member was not meeting his deadlines and wasn’t responsive to my prompts.  I had to address this with him and he became aggressive.

A (Action) – How you dealt with this conflict
I made sure to remain calm and listen to his points. When I acknowledged his difficulties and the team member took notice that I was not attacking him, he calmed down. We then sat down and worked out a plan so that he could better reach his deadlines. It had become clear that he was overwhelmed with some of these tasks he had been assigned and felt stressed.

R (Result) – The result from your actions
The team member, having a clearer plan for his workload and removal of some tasks, was able to meet his deadlines. Our team was then able to progress to collectively meet our deadline. We were ready for the conference and it went really smoothly.


#2 Give an example of a goal you set and how you reached it

An employer wants to know whether you are someone who is happy to coast along at work… or whether you are someone who is consistently setting goals in order to improve your performance.


S (Situation) – The need for a goal

My last role involved project managing a fit out of a new work space to accommodate three different health services. With a tight deadline of 30 days before move in, and some special medical rooms and equipment required, I had to deal with multiple contractors from different companies. It was going to be a struggle to complete the job in time.

A (Action) – how you went about reaching this goal
I set out a comprehensive plan for the fit out and identified that I could divide the contractors into three main teams and distinct phases. I held short meetings with each team once a week and I was able to create an efficient and effective work timetable to ensure downtime was kept to a minimum.

R (Result) – the result of your goal
As a result the job was completed on time and staff were able to beginning moving in a few days earlier than anticipated. The combining of these three groups into one space also created significant cost reductions of 30% for the three services. The space also works really well for everyone and enables collaboration that wasn’t previously possible.


#3 Tell me about a time when you had to solve a problem with very little guidance or direction.

Many jobs require motivated self-starters, particularly in New Zealand charities where staffing is usually small (in some case you might be the only staff member!). Employers are not looking for someone that they have to hand hold. Many questions will focus on your own personal responsibility and how you handled issues that arose while you were working alone.


S (Situation) – A time when you had a problem
I was working as the sole fundraiser for a small charitable organisation. Fundraising revenue was declining as people were not renewing their annual gifts. I was tasked with finding a solution to this problem.

A (Action) – the self-directed actions you took to solve this
I reached out to a number of our donors to find out why they were not renewing donations. This revealed that they felt our communications had become to generic and they had lost some of their connection to our stories and work. I began to change the way we were communicating with all donors to include much more personalised and targeted messages and encouraged them to participate in more two-way dialogue which I was in charge of managing. I also organised a number of  events which connected our donors to our work.

R (Result) – the results and how you solved this problem.
These small changes lead to a 200% increase in regular donors and we attracted a number of larger donations by building better relationships. Year on year our donations continued to increase.


#4 What process have you used to establish priorities? Be specific.

This question is about your ability to self-organise and be on top of things throughout a working day.


S (Situation) – A time when you need to establish priorities
In my previous job I has various tasks issued to me by a number different managers – often they didn’t have a good understanding of my current workload so were surprised when things took me longer than they anticipated.

A (Action) – the specific action you took
I adopted a Kanban system that ensured I stayed on top of all my tasks. This helped me to prioritise the two things I was current working on, and what I would tackle next.

R (Result) – the result of this action
Despite a very heavy workload this system ensured that I remained on top of things. It also enable me to have a more transparency with my various managers – they could  see my current priorities and where their tasks sat in my list.


#5 Tell me about a time when your supervisor was not satisfied with the quality of your work. What actions did you take?

You might want to share a specific situation that occurred with a former boss, but don’t go into detail about the disagreement and remember not to speak negatively about any supervisors, co-workers or former jobs. Focus instead on what you did to help this person to see your point of view.


S (Situation) – background to the reason for not being satisfied
I was required to make a presentation on our team’s performance for the board of the charity (my supervisors) was working for. This was my first board level presentation as it was at the beginning of my career.

A (Action) – what actions you took
I gave a presentation that I felt was up to standard. However I failed to anticipate some of the questions the board asked me. The board wasn’t happy that I couldn’t answer some of these.  I was unprepared for anything other than what I wanted to report.

R (Result) – how you turned this around
Now I brainstorm all the what-ifs in advance with my team and often share important documents with one board member who gives quality feedback. Over time I have become comfortable presenting at a board level and my own knowledge has increased greatly.

So, there are some tips. Hopefully this helps you prepare for your next do good job interview.

For further information and help with preparation, I also highly recommend checking out the following links:


Like this post? You might also like Eight Tips for Acing a Behavioural Based Job Interview and How Body Language Can Change your Career


By Aynsley Wood (Intern at Do Good Jobs) + Julia Capon



One Response to “Answering Behavioural Based Interviews Questions”

  1. Comment made by Brooke on Feb 7th 2021 at 9:12 am:

    A few thoughts on behaviour based testing;

    A behavioural based cognitive test of a potential employee may sound a great way to determine someone’s character. Unfortunately it’s a very poor way to determine an individuals circumstances, which if you understand behaviour, can often be the determinant behind that behaviour. An example would be to attempt to assess an individual’s ambition or drive based on how long they have been in a role, or whether he or she has or has not spoken up about a potential issue. A behavioural only assessment for such an individual might lead to a diagnosis of a lack of ambition. What that prognosis completely fails to recognise is the individual’s ’circumstance’. If you happen to be the sole income earner for your family, the only person paying the mortgage, perhaps a new migrant, supporting a family member with a disability etc, and in the lower socioeconomic bracket, chances are your far less likely to be that person pushing for change at work or gambling on a new role. Unlike privileged people, for someone in this situation when things go wrong, there is NO safety net. When you judge solely on behaviour, you risk completely overlooking an individual’s circumstance. Someone who has financial security can say or do as they please at work and risk new jobs without fear as there will always be someone there to rescue them if things go badly. Behavioural questioning which doesn’t acknowledge circumstance therefore merely reinforces privilege.

    Another example of this is periodic grief. There are times when all of us react in a certain way that may be more attached to our mental health ‘at that moment’ than consistent with our behaviour over time. Circumstance is fluid. What once was a determinant in behaviour may not always be. If we judge past responses we fail to recognise the present. An individual’s emotional maturity is not a constant, it’s developed over time.

    When entities talk of being ‘equal opportunity employers’, especially those in the not for profit sector, it would be a shame if the tools being used to hire people were in part discriminatory in nature

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.