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Australian Bureau Of Statistics (ABS)

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What are employers looking for in responses to behavioural questions?

One of the mantras in the recruitment industry is “past performance is the best indicator of future success”.

The most effective way recruiters attempt to assess a graduate’s past performance is through the use of behavioural questions – typically questions which start with, “Tell us about a time when…”.

So what are employers looking for in response to such questions?

Below are two examples of interview questions used at the video interview stage from a recent recruitment exercise of data graduates undertaken by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

The selection panel members reviewing the video interviews of candidates were given an assessment guide to help them determine if a candidate’s response met expectations (i.e. the ‘baseline’).

A highly suitable response to either question:

  • gave a balanced discussion (i.e. did not spend too much time recounting the scenario)
  • provided examples of the value the candidate added (e.g. “I was able to utilise my organisational skills to ensure the team’s project remained on track”)
  • demonstrated an element of reflection and self-learning (e.g. “What I thought worked well was…”, “Next time I would do things differently by…”).

Communication question

Think about a project, task or activity where you've presented or explained complex information in a simplified way. Describe (a) how you prepared for the discussion and (b) what the outcome was. [3-minute response time]

Below baseline (not suitable):

  • Too much detailed information on the project/task/activity.
  • Unstructured response.
  • No outcomes discussed.
  • Too brief.
  • Example was not related to the question.
  • Did not answer the question.

Baseline (suitable):

  • Outlines project/task or activity.
  • Discussion focuses on process as well as communication insights.
  • Discussion on outcomes left to less than one minute.

Above baseline (highly suitable):

  • Clearly outlined the project/task/activity
  • + demonstrated good insights into what it means to simplify technical concepts
  • + balanced discussion on outcomes
  • + discusses learnings.

Team interaction question

Think about a time when you had to work with others on a project, task or activity (for example, at university, in the workplace, or volunteer work etc.). Please talk about (a) what your role was, (b) what qualities or skills you brought to the group/team, and (c) how you resolved any issues that arose. [3-minute response time]

Below baseline (not suitable):

  • Several I statements, thereby not demonstrating the value of teams or the purpose of the question. Chose an example where 'we had no issues' [weak example].
  • Conflict resolution (if discussed) focused on "I took charge and did it all myself", thereby not demonstrating team work or conflict resolution.
  • Discussion did not answer the question/was not related to the question.

Baseline (suitable):

  • Outlined project and scenario + discusses what skills they brought to the team + conflict/issues resolution, however has several 'I' statements.
  • Demonstrates basic insights to team dynamics/working as a team and/or issue/conflict resolution.

Above baseline (highly suitable):

  • Outlined the scenario or project + highlighted skills [backed up with supporting examples]
  • + good awareness of the value of team dynamics; diversity; experts/using skills of others
  • + good discussion on issues resolution + learnings