The Traditional Interview

In this type of interview, the interviewer will run through the applicant’s resume to gather more information and will also tend to ask some open-ended but fairly standard questions. Answers to these questions can still be very revealing, and you will need to be prepared for them, as they are still frequently asked. Examples of these types of questions are:

  • Tell me a bit about what you did in your last job?
  • Why did you leave your last job?
  • What is your greatest weakness?
  • Why are you interested in this job?
  • Where do you want to be in five years?

Behavioural Event Interviewing

Many interviews now also contain Behavioural Event Interview (BEI) questions. This is a structured style of interviewing, designed to carefully gauge how well you match up to specific competencies needed to perform the job. The principle behind the technique is the belief that past behaviour is a good predictor of future behaviour.

During a Behavioural Event Interview, you will be asked a series of standardised questions about how you navigated through particular work situations in the past. In your answer, you will be expected to outline a specific situation from your past, and what you did and thought in that situation. The interviewer will use this information to assess your skill in one or more job competency areas – anything from Decision Making to Customer Service.

Behavioural Event Interview Questions

BEI questions usually begin with a phrase such as: “Give me an example of a time when you…” or “Can you describe a situation where you…”

Here are some examples of typical behavioural questions and the competencies they are assessing:

  • Describe a difficult and important work decision that you needed to make and how you made it. (assessing decision making)
  • Give me an example of a time when you tried to persuade another person to do something that they were not initially keen to do. (assessing influencing skills)
  • Tell me about a time when you needed to deal with the poor performance of a subordinate (assesses an aspect of leadership style and performance management)

Preparation for a Behavioural Event Interview

1. Understand the role for which you are being interviewed

The job description or advertisement will usually list the key personal requirements needed to perform the role. Make a note of one or two examples for each requirement that demonstrate your strong competence in this area – it may take some work to think back to applicable examples from your previous roles.

2. Create answers that give evidence of your competence

A good example will show that you competently dealt with a situation in a way that demonstrates you possess the skills needed for the job you are going for. The best examples are from your previous work experience, but if you don’t have those, a strong example from your personal life can sometimes be the next best thing (e.g. I am the captain at my football club and needed to influence my team).

3. Use the ‘STAR’ acronym – Situation, Task, Action and Result

There are several versions of this acronym, but they are all designed to give structure and focus to your answers. When asking about examples, the interviewer wants to learn about how you dealt with a specific situation, not your general approach. Using the STAR structure, you would break your answer into these four sections:

Situation:  The Organisation, Job Title and brief overview of the situation

Task:  Your specific role in the situation and what needed to be achieved

Action:  What did you do and think(70% of your answer – include some details)

Results:  What was the final outcome? (hopefully your example had a positive outcome)

This makes it easier for the interviewer to imagine the scenario, document your responses to specific events and gain an accurate impression of your likely future performance. Prepare at least one STAR response for each personal attribute you may be questioned on.

Below is a simplified example of a BEI question and answer:

Question:  Please give me an example of a complex decision you have made at work and how you made it.

It was 2007 and I was the general manager at the Aztec car plant.

I needed to decide whether to automate the manufacturing process at our plant.

With consultation and research, I developed 3 options. 1, low automation; 2, total automation; or 3, partial automation. My process was to first gather facts about each option. I asked Finance to estimate costs, looked at our strategic plans and checked projections about the car industry over the next 15 years. I then examined each option in detail, factoring: cost; cost-saving; revenue; quality; risk; brand & customer experience. The cost savings over time, without significant impact on quality or revenue pointed to partial automation, although risks were reputational damage resulting from the loss of staff and industrial relations problems.

I chose the partial automation option. This resulted in a reduction in profits of 20% in the first year, but the efficiencies led to improved profits of 15% on pre-automation levels the year after then an extra 10% the year after that. The decision not to commit to full automation was supported by what has happened in the car industry recently, as our strategy and risk plan predicted.

Remember, the interviewer will want to know what you did – so talk about “I” not “We” in your examples.

4. Practice your examples until they are vivid and concise

6 minutes is too long, 30 seconds is too short.  Aim for roughly 2-3 minutes per answer but be prepared to expand if asked follow-up questions, or be more concise if they are becoming bored. Be articulate but succinct when talking about your experiences. An interview is a bit like telling interesting but informative stories, so cut out irrelevant and boring details. You will get to the interview because your resume shows you have the right experience and skills, but the way you communicate and interact with the interviewer is often what will get you the job in front of the other applicants at the interview stage. This is why practicing your ‘story-telling’ is so important. Don’t just think about your examples – practice saying them to friends or family.

Below are some examples of the types of BEI questions you may be asked at interview. Be prepared for these types of questions, often mixed in with technical ones, and have a think about specific examples from your past that you could use.

  •  Think of a difficult customer you had to deal with, describe the situation and tell me how you handled it.
  • Tell me about an innovative solution you came up with to a work problem. Think of a specific example.
  • Describe a situation in your last job where you could structure your own work schedule. What did you do?
  • Tell me about a time when you’ve followed a company policy or procedure, when it might have been easier and more effective not to.
  • Describe a time when you had to be very assertive with someone senior to yourself.
  • What’s been your experience of dealing with poor performance of subordinates? Provide an example.
  • In your current position, what sort of decisions do you make without consulting your boss?
  • Can you think of any major obstacles you had to overcome in your last job? How did you deal with them?
  • You’ve told me a lot of your strengths for this job. But describe for me a time when you made a mistake that illustrates your need for improvement.

Body language & Image 

Candidates sometimes have great experience and technical skill, but miss out at interview because of poor body language or inappropriate dress.

Your body language often conveys more information than the content of what you say, but research shows that people pick up these non-verbal messages largely unconsciously, and often in just a few seconds.  It may not seem fair, but these visual impressions can have a big impact on whether the interviewer is left with a positive or a negative feeling about you.

Everything from the way you walk into the reception area to how you sit in your chair is being unconsciously and consciously appraised. That is why it is important to project yourself confidently, with a positive tone, but without being arrogant.


Confidence is projected when you walk tall with your head up and shoulders back.  Ideally your posture should portray a confident and friendly entrance into the reception and continue when you are greeted by the interviewer.

The handshake

This has a big impact on how confident and friendly you will appear. At all costs, avoid a limp, floppy handshake!  Make sure your handshake is firm and direct, without being vice-like.

Sit up straight

This will ensure good posture and also project interest and alertness. You may also lean forward at certain stages of the interview, when you are listening particularly intently, but don’t do this the whole time as it may appear overly keen or desperate to please. Also avoid sitting with your arms crossed or behind your head as this can easily be viewed as defensive or pompous.