The best way to respond to a behavioral question

The behavioral question – what is it, exactly?

The term may not mean anything to you right now, but you should be aware that it’s the way that most recruiters will evaluate your competencies. Generally, recruitment experts recommend posing behavioral questions as a way to receive validated, qualified answers from a job candidate.

If, for example, a recruiter wants to find out how you would react in a hypothetical future situation, he can ask you a behavioral question that relates to your previous experiences. In a nutshell, they can determine your future aptitudes by leveraging your past work experiences.

Here’s an example: Tell me about a time you had a conflict with a co-worker, and how the situation ended up being resolved.

In this example, the recruiter will be evaluating your conflict management skills. Your answer will reveal several different aspects of your personality, including your analytical skills, team spirit and your listening abilities.
The question format will generally be the same for any skill a recruiter is evaluating, with some small variations. Within the framework of this article, I’m using “conflict management” as the example.

The advantages

If you tell a recruiter during an interview that you’re good at managing conflicts, but don’t provide any details, they may not be convinced.

It’s common knowledge among recruiters that people who lack a certain skill often strongly believe they possess that exact skill. In a candidate, this can demonstrate a lack of self-awareness or an inability to evaluate oneself honestly.

This is why providing a candidate with a concrete example of a situation can be effective at revealing their true level of competence.
As a job seeker, another plus that comes with answering these questions is that, as you tell a story, the recruiter’s brain will pick up more than just the details of the story: they can visualize the situation and effectively “see you in action”, a sensation that allows them to feel like they are really getting to know you.

A recruiter can also take your example to the next level and transform it into a scenario:

If you could do it again, what would you do differently? If your colleague refused to work with you, how would you approach the situation?

Candidates must be well-prepared for behavioral questions. It’s important to have several potential examples in mind and know how to explain them well. Each example needs to be explained clearly, briefly and highlight your strong points.

Don’t make the mistake of coming off as evasive in your answers:
When I want to resolve a conflict, I try first to establish good communication with the person, and to remain neutral. It’s important to listen before reacting.

When I hear this type of answer, I usually say:

You’ve given me a good example of how conflicts are managed. That’s a good thing. But now, I’ll ask again: Give me an example of when you managed a work-related conflict.

The STAR model

STAR is an acronym that serves as a reference tool that can help a candidate respond to recruiters’ questions.

S = Situation (describe the context of the situation)

My colleague wanted us to adopt a new way of working, but I disagreed with his proposal, because I felt that his approach wasn’t rigorous enough.

The biggest mistake candidates make is to describe a situation in too much detail, which isn’t a good idea.

For example, it’s not necessary for a recruiter to know what working method your colleague wanted to use, or specifically why you disagreed. Remember why you’re answering the question: to explain how you managed the conflict.

T = Task (describe what your responsibilities were)

This situation hit close to home because, as the project manager, it was my job to maintain a high standard of work in regards to our client.

The Task section should be summarized in one sentence. It’s just an additional detail.

A = Action (describe what you did to manage the conflict)

I proposed a meeting with my colleague so we could each explain our points of view. I asked for his view on things and he told me, then I responded with my perspective.

This is the most important of all the steps, because it will show the recruiter how you work in the real world. Take the time to describe your actions, but also include your reflections on the situation, and how you felt in the moment.

R = Result (what the result of the situation was)

My colleague and I finally reached a compromise. I was able to maintain a good relationship with him.

The last step of the STAR method allows the recruiter to appreciate the impact of your actions. Of course, it’s possible that a situation may not turn out perfectly, even if you acted correctly and your decisions were the right ones. The recruiter will understand that you’re not always responsible for the final result.

In my view, here are the percentages describing how much time you should spend on each aspect of the STAR:

S = 15%

T = 10%

A = 60%

R = 15%

Turn a recruiter’s questions into behavioral questions

If you’re well prepared, you will have a big advantage when faced with these types of questions. You should be able to highlight your strengths while capturing their interest.

You could even use this model to answer other questions as well:

You: To answer your question, I’d like to provide a concrete example – is that all right?

To conclude, I recommend that you watch this video where I describe specific techniques to help you highlight your strengths as a candidate. At the same time, you can browse my other YouTube videos, each of which touches on a different aspect of the job hunt.

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Mathieu Guénette

Mathieu Guénette is a self-employed Guidance Counsellor with over 20 years of experience, as well as an author and a lecturer. He has worked with a diverse clientele (teenagers, adults, managers, job hunters). In 2017, he has simultaneously obtained the Ordre des conseillers et conseillères d'orientation du Québec’s Professional Award and the Ordre des conseillers en ressources humaines agréés’ HR Book of the Year Award for his work Le candidat visceral. He provides services in Montreal, Lanaudière and remotely. His website is full of handy resources for you: Les chercheurs de sens.

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