Behavioural Interviews: Prepare to shine like a STAR
As a senior EA, it forms part of my role to have to conduct, or sit in on, interviews for other assistant and administration roles and as such last week I spent in day training on behavioural interview techniques, which actually turned out to be quite an eye opener. Having attended many interviews as the interviewee and conducted just as many as the interviewer, it was interesting to learn the proper techniques required when interviewing candidates. But I must say, after 8 hours of interview training, I surfaced feeling rather ‘brainwashed’ after having the importance of candidate equality drummed into me and any unconscious bias I may have once had, eliminated from me forever. Political correctness gone mad I say, but apparently what gets asked of one candidate, must be asked of all!
Although I had good prior knowledge of the types of questions required to be asked in interviews, it was interesting to learn the specific formula to apply when asking questions and selecting candidates. More than anything though, as I sat there learning as a future interviewer, I couldn’t help but think of all the gold nuggets that I could share with you all as interviewees that would help you better prepare for any potential and upcoming interviews that you might have, to ensure you each land the role you want. As much as it’s important for you to role the land you want however, it’s just as important for employing companies to get their selected candidate right, when going through the interview process. You often may feel like you’re being grilled during your interview time, but understandably, companies will want to get their selection right. For every candidate that is placed incorrectly in a role, and I mean where it’s just not working out, it costs the company 3.2 people’s salary, on average, just to keep them there, employed and continuing on! This is a really good reason not to ’embellish’ your resume too much, or outright lie about your skills and experience, especially in EA/PA roles. Yes, the role isn’t rocket science, but you can either do the role or you can’t, and if you think that you can fudge your way through the process just to get a high paying gig, you’re sadly mistaken. But there are certain tips that I can give you, especially on the back of this training, that will help you prepare better and if anything help squish those nerves so that you’re well prepared and know what to expect.
We’re all told from an early age, ‘never judge a book by it’s cover’ and this is something that is very much drummed into interviewers so that no subjectivity or discrimination comes into play. First impressions are a two way street, so just because you present well, doesn’t always mean that you’ll always be the right fit for the role. And similarly, just because you don’t present well or seem appealing to them, it doesn’t mean that you won’t have the skill set to fulfil the job role. But just because you think you’re not going to be judged by your cover in an interview, this is not a reason to let your presentation slide, or for you to front up all ‘au-natural’. You never know if you will be judged, so suit up, hide those tattoos and take out your facial piercings (if that’s your look). Funnily enough, I learnt that 60 per cent of people under the age of 30 have a tattoo, so it’s not as if it’s a rarity. But my advice is, don’t ever put the interviewer in position to judge you in the first place. Present as clean and as plain as you can, so that you will only ever get judged on your skills and abilities, and that’s it. That way all subjectivity is removed, regardless of whether you’ve got an interviewer that is playing by the rules or not.
The ‘we want/ they have’ scenario
When selecting candidates and there’s a great selection of ‘good candidates’ or perhaps their looking at the ‘best of a bad bunch’, interviewers are trained to apply the ‘we want/they have’ analysis. And lucky for you, as an applicant, this is the selection criteria that is listed in the job ad or position description, so it’s readily available to you. So my advice here is to ensure that you ALWAYS adapt your application to fit with the company’s selection criteria. So spell out the skills you have that fit with the criteria they’re looking for and detail it in your cover letter and on the first page of your CV, as we all know no one really gets past the first page when reviewing job applications. Should you be successful to interview stage and you find yourself up against another candidate at selection time, if you’re ticking the boxes of their ‘wants’, you’re going to have a leg up on the other candidate, always.
Reach for a STAR
Whatever questions come your way, you want to ensure that you’re applying the STAR method in your answers – Situation/Task/Action/Result. If you apply this in every question you’re asked behaviourally, you’re sure to ace your interview. To break the acronym down:
Situation/Task – The first step in your STAR is to identify the ‘Situation/Task’. Without fail, all behavioural questions will start with openers as I’ve listed below, so this is the time where you should identify and describe a specific task/situation where something of significance took place. These are so easy to prepare for and you should never be left racking your brains on the spot, frantically trying to think of something. Think back to the most challenging situations you’ve been put in and overcome, situations where you’ve solved a problem, implemented a process/procedure, led a project, dealt with a difficult person etc etc. This is your opportunity to tell your story and tell them how wonderful you were on that occasion!
The questions will commonly start with:
- Describe a situation when…..
- Tell me about a time when…..
- Can you share with us a time when you….
- Give me an example when…..
- What was the most memorable/recent/vivid/difficult time when you……
- Can you recall a time when……..
Action – Next is the ‘Action’ and this is where you should describe specifically how you did what you did, how you handled it and exactly what transpired. Remember all your answers should start with or encompass the words “I did”. If you’re using anything else (i.e I would, I should, I could etc) then you it indicates you didn’t actually do it.
Result – The ‘Result’ is the last step in the STAR and is to describe what your end result in the particular scenario was. How did it finally turn out, what feedback you got, what impact did it have etc. Obviously you want your results to be always positive, so if they’re not, then it’s probably best to park those scenarios and find another.
Things to avoid – If you want to ace your behavioural interview questions there are a few things to avoid when answering the behavioural questions:
- Vague statements – these are general statements, they might sound good but provide no specifics on what you actually did.
- Opinions – these are your personal beliefs, judgements or views. They tell how you feel about something but provide no information as to what you actually did – no behaviour.
- Theoretical or future-oriented statements – these are statements about what you “would do” or “would have done”, not actually what you have done.
Can Do/ Will Do/ Fit
Once you have your application amended to fit in with the company’s selection criteria and you’ve aced the interview questions that test your ability, the interviewer will want to test to see if you fit in culturally and with the rest of the team. As much as you need to prepare your behavioural examples to demonstrate you have the skills to perform the job, you also need to prepare answers to the questions that will demonstrate that you can fit into the team too. I’ve listed below some common questions that will be used to check your ‘fit’ level in the team, so I suggest having ready made answers to all these questions, so you don’t get caught off guard.
- What was your motivation in moving from company A to company B?
- What did you enjoy most about your last role?
- What have been the highlights of your career? What have you enjoyed the least?
- What’s your ideal day at work look like?
- What’s attracted you to this position?
- What are your expectations in this role?
- What have been the ‘joys’ and ‘headaches’ in your last role?
- What are the key aspects of your current role that you would like to take into this role?
- What kind of environment brings out the best in you?
- What will people be saying about you in 6 months time?
- What are your strengths in relation to this role?
- What areas of development have you taken on outside of work?
Dealing with the unconscious bias
There are certain traps that all interviewers are trained to avoid and unconscious bias is one of them. Everyone unfortunately has unconscious bias an unfortunately will inflicts their stereotyping on others (don’t we know it!), and as much as interviewers are trained not to let this come into their decision making, we all know as humans it often will anyway. So if a hiring manager is looking for a twenty five year-old woman to be their EA, and you’re in your fifties, then unfortunately you’re going to get disregarded as a serious contender. But my advice here is the same as having a ‘clean presentation’ – keep your resume clean and focused on your experience, skills and ability rather than have it draw attention to areas where you may be stereotyped or disadvantaged, for whatever reason. So if you’re older and competing against younger candidates, then remove your birth date, remove the dates/years off your work experience and mask it up so no-one can tell how old you really are (and of course don’t go listing more than 4 or 5 jobs at most). But perhaps it’s your nationality that isn’t going in your favour, where you live, your gender, or your family situation – none of this stuff should be on your resume, and for goodness sake lock up your social media so only your friends can see your photos/posts – that way no one can make any biased decisions at resume review stage. And if you are lucky enough to get an interview, then that’s your chance to wow them and have them discard any unconscious bias that they may have.
It really is very beneficial as job seeker to sit on the other side of the fence and understand the process and formulas used in interviewing – it’s like receiving the exam question before the actual exam, allowing you to prepare your answers and go in and nail it. There is nothing like being able to sit in a workshop and have training delivered to you, allowing you to participate in discussions, offer out opinions and have your questions personally answered. And as such I wanted to put out to my fellow Boss’ who are currently job seeking, if you would be keen to participate in dedicated EA/PA job seekers training, allowing you to get the best preparation you can when walking into the job application and interview process. Let me know in the comments if this is something you would be keen to participate in, and if so I can look at offering it as part of my Like a Boss classes next year. All my classes are small groups, allowing for dedicated and personalised time with each of you, so that you get the most out of each class. Fire away in the comments!