Behavioural Interviewing
Marg Rivard, Manager, Employee Relations, Union Gas Limited, a Spectra Energy Company and MBA students (l –r) Scott Rambeau, Richard Moniz, Ahed Alolabi, Jeremy Shell

Behavioural Interviewing: It’s all about being prepared

You have finally been called for an interview for your dream job. As you walk into the interview, you’re feeling a little nervous, but geared up to tackle whatever comes your way. Having carefully planned your answers to typical questions such as “What are your strengths and weaknesses?” you think that you’re as ready as you’ll ever be. The interview starts, and without warning, your interviewer asks a specific question, “Tell me about a time when you failed to meet a deadline.” You struggle to come up with a good response, and immediately you’re hit with “What were the repercussions?” You may not know it, but you have just experienced your first behavioural interview question.

The Odette School of Business Career and Placement Service, (OCAPS), recently offered a workshop to MBA job seekers in Behavioural Interviewing. “This session was initiated as a result of the feedback Union Gas provided to OCAPS based on the interviews conducted on-campus during the Fall 2009 new graduate recruitment campaign,” stated Kerry Gray, Manager of OCAPS.

With 28 years of interviewing/recruiting experience, Ms. Marg Rivard, Manager - Employee Relations, Union Gas Limited, a Spectra Energy Company, came to deliver one objective: to provide the job seeker with an understanding of the behavioural interviewing model and how to best prepare and succeed at these in the future.

Many job search candidates become uneasy and fearful upon hearing that they are going to be attending a "behavioural interview." Behavioural interviewing is an effective, structured interviewing style based upon the premise that past behaviour will predict future performance on the job. Behaviour-oriented interview questions are designed to focus on behaviours that are critical to the success of the job. Behavioural interview questions will be more pointed, more probing and more specific than traditional interview questions. Be careful stated Rivard, “When you start to tell a behavioural story, the interviewer may pick it apart to try to get at the specific behaviour(s). I will probe further for more depth or detail such as "What were you thinking at that point?" or "Tell me more about your meeting with that person," or "Lead me through your decision process." If you've told a story that's anything but totally honest, your response will not hold up through the barrage of probing questions.”

Rivard explained that your prospective employer has already identified the skills/competencies necessary for the position. The interview questions are then carefully designed to probe into your experiences and uncover the skills you demonstrated. The first step in preparing for the behavioural interview is to understand what the potential employer is looking for; you need to identify the exact competencies that are required for the job and then match them to examples of situations that you have encountered. Once you decide which example you’ll provide to illustrate the behaviour being asked about, Rivard offered a simple technique to follow to help verbalize your stories. “SARF”: Describe the Situation or task that you needed to accomplish; describe the Action you took; describe the Result; describe the Follow-up (lesson learned, rebuilding relationships, what happened, how did the event end, what did you accomplish).

In Rivard’s position for Union Gas it is her responsibility to “find the best person for the position, someone the company would be proud to hire.” The goal of the interviewer is to determine if your skills are the best match for the position. You will need to identify the exact competencies that are required for the job. Behaviour-oriented interview questions are designed to focus on behaviours, such as communication, leadership, team building, stress management, initiative, decision-making and problem-solving that are critical to the success of the job. This type of interview provides a more objective set of facts to help the employer make employment decisions. When answering behaviour type questions you should be detailed and specific with good examples, assertive and confident, “not a time to be shy.” Given the success of the session, Gray stated, “OCAPS will attempt to offer a behavioural interviewing session to undergraduate students.”