The principle behind a behavioural interview is that the most accurate predictor of future performance is past performance in a similar situation.
The best prophet of the future is the past. - Lord Byron
We are familiar with conventional interviews conducted by employers with a view to assessing the attributes of job-seekers for checking and confirming their suitability for appointment. In such an interview, the candidates would be asked questions such as
Tell us something about you.
Can you confidently supervise fifteen skilled workers?
What is your weakness?
How can you help us?
Why do you want to join us?
Do you like a travelling job?
How will you finish a job before the deadline, if half your workers are on training elsewhere?
Through these questions, the interviewer is trying to judge how the candidate would behave in future, based on the replies that lay trust on his potential. A behavioural interview, on the other hand, tries to find out how he behaved earlier in specific situations. This will naturally give a better picture of his abilities and skills for facing the challenges in the prospective job. The employer, of course, knows what abilities and skills are necessary for the efficient discharge of the particular job.
Behavioural interviewing was developed in the 1970s by industrial psychologists. The principle involved is that the most accurate predictor of future performance is past performance in a similar situation. When an employer defines the values and patterns of behaviour for success of his organisation, and recruits employees who match the norms, he is in the right path to success. The behavioural interview attempts to confirm that the candidates are in unison with the company benchmarks. This style is cost-effective, since the retention level of employees selected through this method is found to be high. Losing fine talent to a competitor is a source of headache for many organisations.
It is often said that in a conventional interview, the decision whether a candidate is to be selected or not is usually decided within the first two minutes of the session. The rest of the time is spent to confirm the decision or even to rationalise it. In a behavioural interview, the employer is likely to become more analytical in his approach. The list of actual achievements narrated by the candidate is likely to influence the decision.
You should realise that in a behavioural interview, the employer is attempting to predict your future performance extrapolating your past performance. You are not promising your competencies through verbal statements, but narrating your past experiences and actions in specific employment-related situations. You would face a series of questions from the interviewer who is trying to elicit the relevant history of your past performance.
You need not get frightened by the force of the situation that demands excerpts from your job history. You should enjoy the opportunity to establish that you are a suitable candidate for the job, not through false promises but solid incidents involving your actions revealing your competencies.
Suppose in a traditional interview, you are asked how you would react if the client asked for a larger number of pieces of your product within a short time.
You may perhaps answer that you would arrange overtime work in the shop and meet the new demand. But in a behavioural interview, you will be asked a real-life example of how you met such a situation and solved the problem. Promises cannot help you in such an interview atmosphere. You should have an incident to illustrate how you could successfully overcome such a trying period with success. It is important that you should not try to imagine stories and relate them, since the probing questions that are likely to follow may expose the trickery. Honesty is the best policy in any interview.
Elements of preparation
As for any interview, you should study two aspects in depth:
Features of the company in which you are seeking a job
Features of the job you are expected to perform.
From these data, you can reasonably identify the competencies required for excelling in the job. You can then trace your experiences which demonstrated these desired competencies. The examples from your past jobs are vital in this kind of interview. Your answers should mention specific instances, and not dwell on generalities. Unless you prepare properly with this requirement in mind, you may not be able to perform well in the behavioural interview.
Incidentally, it may be noted that those who prepare well for a behavioural interview would normally perform well in a conventional interview as well. If you can relate politely your relevant success stories in a traditional interview, you are likely to be rated high by the employer.