How to approach behavioural questions in an interview

Panel interview practice

Great, you’ve got an interview. Here’s information to help you with a very common job interview approach in New Zealand - behavioural interviewing. This approach aims to discover how you, the candidate, will act in a specific workplace situation by asking you questions about experiences that highlight how you have responded to experiences in the past.

Behavioural questioning is based on the belief that how you responded to situations in the past will predict how you will respond in the future. As well as work experiences, you can draw from study, sport, church, volunteering and general life etc. It is the demonstration of your skills and understanding of situations that matters most.

Preparing For a Behavioural Interview

While doing your CV, you should have already highlighted the competencies and skills asked for in the job description.
Here are some of the most common competencies employers look for:

  • Problem solving
  • Decision making
  • Knowledge/Skills
  • Leadership
  • Teamwork
  • Initiative
  • Communication
  • Conflict resolution

Think of examples (stories and situations) that demonstrate these competencies that you have identified. Like many new graduates, you may not have much experience in the paid work‐force when you begin your job search. However, your tertiary group projects provide excellent opportunities to demonstrate skills that employers are seeking, as do part time and voluntary work experiences, or other experiences where you are dealing with people, organising things etc.

Examples of Behavioural Questions

Problem SolvingGive instances in which you anticipated problems and were able to influence a new direction
Have you ever been caught unaware by a problem or obstacle that you had not foreseen?
What happened?
Decision Making Discuss an important decision you have made regarding a task or project at work.
What factors influenced your decision? 
How have you gone about making important decisions?
Leadership Describe your leadership style and give an example of a situation when you successfully led a group.
Have you ever had difficulty getting others to accept your ideas? What was your approach?
Did it work?
Team Work Have you ever participated in a group project? What was your role? How did you contribute? 
When working on a team project have you ever had an experience where there was strong disagreement among team members? What did you do?
Initiative Give me examples of projects/tasks you started on your own.
Give an example of a time when you went above and beyond the call of duty.
CommunicationDescribe a situation where you were able to strengthen a relationship by communicating effectively. What made your communication effective?
Tell us about a time when you had to present complex information. How did you ensure that the other person understood?
Conflict resolution Describe a situation where you had a conflict with another individual, and how you dealt with it. What was the outcome? How do you feel about it? 
Have you ever had to settle conflict between two people on the job? What was the situation and what did you do?

Employer doing an interview

Strategy for Answering Behavioural Questions

The STAR technique is a simple strategy that helps you answer behavioural questions appropriately.
Start by telling the interviewers about a particular situation that relates to the question, not a general one. Briefly tell them about the situation, what you did specifically, and the positive result or outcome. Your answer should contain these the following steps:

  • ST: The Situation you were in or Task you did
  • A: Action that you took
  • RResult of that action

Below is an example using the STAR technique:

Tell me about a time when you had to deal with a difficult person?

Situation / Task:

I was working at the checkout at the Yaya Appliance Store serving a customer who started to complain. The customer was irate about a product they had bought that was faulty and they said they would never shop here again. I took responsibility for ensuing resolution and customer satisfaction.


I apologised to the customer for the faulty product and empathised about how annoying this must have been for them. I said that I would take them straight to the service desk to go to the front of the queue and called my supervisor to take over my checkout. I helped the customer explain the situation at the service desk and checked in later that the customer issue was resolved


The customer was satisfied and left with a replacement product and so it was a good outcome for the customer and the appliance store’s reputation.

By practising behavioural interview questions using the STAR technique you’ll become much more confident in an actual interview situation.

Need help to practise answering Behavioural Questions?

Practice by -

  • Using the Interview360 tool on My Career Lab
  • Answering questions with family and friends - but it is good to have someone professional having a listen as well
    Career counselling in Elab
  • Booking in for a interview practice workshop at the Employability Lab. Appointments can be booked on Elab Online.
  • Booking in for a practice interview with an AUT Employability and Careers Specialist either in person at the AUT Employability Lab at WA202 or online. These appointments are also booked through Elab Online.
  • We are always happy to help.