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Mastering the Behavioural Based Interview

Q :We have come across an increasing number of candidates who fail to perform in the behavioural based interview. Can you give us some tips for success?

A: Watching candidates who fail at behavioural based interviews (BBI) is a management activity that can definitely tire us out. The BBI is a preferred selection interview based on the notion that past behaviour is a good predictor of future success.

The interviewer asks a number of experience-based questions designed to test the candidate’s capability to perform the required capabilities of the work. They are looking for evidence of transferrable skills and demonstrated competency. They are listening for the STAR response. STAR refers to the description of the situation or task, the action taken and the result of that action.

Gail Boone, CHRP
Interviewees often have difficulty with the BBI. If they have not prepared by studying the job ad, asking for the job description or spent time combing through their work experience, it is difficult to remember appropriate examples during the interview. Interviewers have to evaluate the candidate based on the strength and comprehensiveness of the answers provided.

HR professionals and managers can help employees by coaching them to prepare and to avoid some of the more common mistakes made by interviewees. It’s of course critical for a manager to refrain from coaching an employee for a competition he or she is hosting unless all internal candidates receive the same information.

Here are some tips for preparing for interviews.

Prepare, prepare, prepare. The job advertisement and job description can provide insight to the competencies likely to be tested during the interview. Employees should review them thoroughly and make a list of the behaviours, skills and abilities identified. Use the list to think about previous experience where they demonstrated this behaviour or skill. What was the situation? What was required? What action did the employee take? What was the result? What feedback did the employee receive? How does the employee know they did a good job?

Answer the question and provide an example. Many interviewees will complete a BBI never providing a single example. Rather they simply name the example and neglect to provide the details. Often they talk around the competency neglecting to speak to the how. Develop the answer speaking to the what and the how. Remember STAR.

Avoid answering questions using “we.” Often when the interviewee has been a member of a task team, the tendency is to answer using the pronoun “we.” Interviewees need to speak to their role in the team. What was the task assigned or the product to be delivered? What outcome was to be produced? How was that specific task or activity accomplished? How did that work benefit the team overall? Remind the employee that “we” is not being interviewed. “He” is.

Speak to the full depth and breadth of the current role when providing examples. It is common for interviewees to understate their current role or experience because of their familiarity with it. They think that the skill they execute in the job is just part of what they do every-day. It’s nothing special to them so they don’t think to use it as an example. Sometimes they also hold back because it feels like bragging.

Avoid forcing the interviewers to be mind readers. Answering with an, “Oh yes, I do that all the time” then neglecting to provide the example leaves the interviewer to guess. Interviewers want the specifics. They are looking for the how and the what.

Provide an example from outside the workplace rather than saying they’ve never had to use the skill or competency before. In some cases it is possible that an interviewee simply does not have the

be overcome by demonstrating the competency in another area of life. Skills and competencies can often be demonstrated through volunteer, post secondary or unpaid work. Use the full range of experience to answer the question.

Practice answering behavioural based questions and listen for the competency being tested. Unprepared interviewees cannot come up with the examples. They often miss the question’s context due to unfamiliarity with the BBI process, the job and the competencies required by the hiring organization. Practice the STAR technique.

Speak to the level of the position. It’s important to match the level of competency and skill offered in the answer with that required of the job. Some interviewees over or under speak the competency.

Treat all the interviewers as if they were strangers. Interviewees need to behave as though they are unknown. Employees often think their previous experience or relationship with the interviewer will speak for itself. Remind them to provide the full example and not to assume the interviewer will fill in the blanks.

Provide a negative example and the learning rather than not answer a question. When a negative example is offered, it can be powerful if the employee is able to speak to the learning the situation provided.

Keep an experience journal. Many examples of BBIs can be found on the internet and in “How to” books. Employees should be encouraged to research them and to journal experiences against the competencies asked through the questions. If this becomes practice throughout an employee’s work life, the work of preparing for a BBI is minimized. Encourage employees to keep their experience fresh and top of mind.

In conclusion, mastering the behavioural-based interview takes preparation, insight and practice. HR professionals and managers can play a crucial role in establishing the general parameters for a successful interview. Preparing employees helps minimize interview anxiety and increases everyone’s satisfaction with the interview process. It also serves to help an organization retain its talent.

Gail Boone is an Independent Facilitator and Consultant specializing in Strategic Human Resources and Organizational Development. She can be reached at (902) 497-8650 or via email at

Performance & the Foods You Eat: Make the Right Choice

Q: We’ve heard that certain foods can boost your productivity, energy and efficiency. Can you provide some suggestions?

A: What you eat has a powerful impact upon every aspect of your health. Food affects whether we are alert, focused, happy, sad, irritable, moody, calm or sleepy. Some nutrients enhance memory, energy, vitality, stamina, virility and immune system response as well as help prevent inflammation, sate cravings, balance hormones, enhance memory, etc.

Teri R. Gentes
Wellness and
Nutrition Consultant
In a workplace setting where demand for mental, creative, emotional and physical performance is high, food choices can play a powerful role. Most of us live very fast paced demanding lives which in turn play interference with healthy eating habits. Excess consumption of commercial conveniences and over-processed foods leaves the body starving for nourishment. In order to maximize your productivity, energy levels and efficiency, it’s important to understand some basics about nutrition to enable better choices.

Carbohydrates provide us with the energy we need along with nutrients essential for health including fibre. Select unrefined whole grains, fresh fruit and vegetables.

Proteins (amino acids) are the building blocks that augment cellular functions including tissue repair and rejuvenation. They are not your energy providers.

Essential Fatty Acids are essential to our well being affecting everything from brain power, mood management, cellular health and inflammation reduction.

Each of these ‘players’ is integral to the orchestration of your overall health.

Better Carbs:

Choose preservative-free whole grains, sprouted grain breads/ pastas, ancient grains/ cereals such as whole grain brown rice, quinoa, millet, buckwheat, amaranth or steel cut oats. These foods are rich in essential vitamins, minerals and trace minerals and provide some protein and healthy fats to your diet. Look for Stonemill bread loaves or Pita pitas in the bakery section of your grocers or Ezekiel and Food For Life products in the freezer section of the natural foods/organics area. A full spectrum of colourful vegetables and fruits ripened on the vine and in season are preferred.

Better Proteins:

Choose plant-based beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, sprouts, ancient whole grains, Tempeh, organic tofu, Shitake mushrooms, quinoa or buckwheat. Preferred animal proteins are deep cold water fish such as sardines, mackerel, cod and wild Pacific salmon. Use pasteurized and/or wild or organic chicken, eggs, bison, beef, venison, etc.

While you may believe you need animal products for your protein needs, the Heart and Stroke Foundation informs us that vegetarian diets can provide all the nutrients we need at any age.

Healthy Fats:

Choose raw nuts such as walnuts, almonds, seeds (hemp, flax, Chia), legumes such as tofu and dark leafy greens such as kale, collards, spinach and Swiss chard.

For the best results in the workplace be sure to stay well fueled.

Breakfast is your most important meal setting the pace for your entire day.

  • Begin your day by hydrating with purified water with fresh lemon juice

  • Enjoy a serving or two of fresh fruit.

  • Follow this with a quality carb, protein, healthy fats, rich choice such as the whole grain breads and cereals suggested above. Use natural nut or seed butters, non-dairy milks and natural sweeteners such as raw honey, maple syrup and fruit purees.

    These choices rev up your metabolism and provide a steady stream of energizing nutrients augmenting your mental, physical and emotional abilities.

    At lunch time, be sure to include another quality carb rich meal such as raw greens or veggie sticks along with a bean, pasta or grain salad. Try nut/ bean hummus with veggie crudités and Mary’s crackers. Wraps made with sprouted grain Ezekiel tortillas will keep you satiated and more adept than refined grain sandwiches. Dinner leftovers with extra veggies are also an option. Healthy carb rich lunches keep blood sugar levels in balance and enable better brain power.

    Meeting Munchies to enhance productivity:

    Pass on the doughnuts, bagels, muffins, caffeine stimulants, low fat yogurt, candy and junk foods. These are sure to impair your performance, trigger cravings, headaches, ADD, irritability, indigestion and aggressiveness. The sugar, chemicals, colorings, fragrances, flavors, fakes fats and sodium in such snacks act as neurotoxins affecting your hormonal balance and negatively impacting you at a cellular level.

    Better choices: fresh fruit platters, veggies with hummus, salsa or guacamole with veggies, Mary’s or rice crackers or organic tortilla chips, trail mix, mixed nuts, dried fruit, 70% plus dark chocolate, chocolate covered almonds, power bars such as Larabars, Vega, Taste of Nature, Ruth’s Hemp and Kind (not granola bars).

    As you can see from the better choices, it’s not a matter of giving up portable sweetened snacks and chocolate. We merely have to pay attention to the types of snacks and chocolate which are the best for our metabolism and brain power.


    Choose foods with the least amount of processing - WHOLE FOODS. Be sure to eat a balanced breakfast and include quality carbs and fibre, easy to digest proteins and healthy fats with each meal. With great food choices you’re sure to feel better, look better and perform better.

    Teri R. Gentes is a Wellness and Nutrition Consultant and can be reached at Website:

    Organizational Culture and People

    Q: How can we create successful environments where people are constantly evolving toward the long-term vision while dealing with today’s delicate details?

    A: Most organizations respond to financial crises by cutting personnel related costs. Training budgets are slashed, benefit packages contracted and people are laid off, bought out or induced to retire early. This generally produces only short term benefits.

    Many leaders say that people are their greatest assets and then take actions that directly contradict this. A few facing exactly the same set of circumstances make choices that bear out their words.

    Bill Scott
    Innovation Partners
    After the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States, the airline industry was faced with a devastating decrease in demand for its services. Airlines all across the U.S. found that they had too much human capacity. They addressed this in vastly different ways.

    Jody Gittell and her colleagues found that airlines differed in both their responses to the crisis and the results that they subsequently achieved. They discovered that the recovery in airline stock value differed depending on the strategy they chose to employ relative to their people.

    Southwest and Alaskan Airlines chose not to issue layoffs, recovering more than 85% of their pre-September 11 stock value by September 10, 2005. Conversely, the two airlines that initiated the largest sets of layoffs (United and US Air) recovered less than 30% of their value over the same period.

    Southwest and Alaskan discovered that valuing one’s people required that senior leadership demonstrate their commitment to people as assets in the most difficult times. Corporate resiliency and long term results in the face of crisis are dependent upon the level of relational reserves the organization possesses. In turn, relational reserves are garnered by levels of social, emotional and moral support for their people, factors that are not generally supported by downsizing and layoffs.

    Southwest’s CEO Jim Parker felt that not laying people off breeds loyalty and builds a sense of trust. Parker and leaders like him truly value their employees. They think of employees as assets on the balance sheet rather than as expenses on the income statement. They consider wages, salaries, benefits, training and development as investments that help sustain their single greatest competitive advantage - their people.

    In difficult times, organizations often hold the trump card – a paying position. Typical labour markets can be described as employers’ markets, where the employer has the advantage because there is a greater supply of workers than there are available jobs.

    Today’s economy masks a stark reality for employers. The workforce is aging and the balance of power is shifting. Very soon skilled workers will be greatly outnumbered by the number of available jobs. Turnover and the resultant recruitment, orientation and training costs will become a major expense for organizations that do not develop practices that retain their talent.

    Employees will hold the balance of power. Employers who don’t realize this will have difficulty retaining key people and attracting new ones. Employers will be left to compete for skilled workers and potential employees will decide from multiple offers.

    This new reality provides employers with an opportunity to differentiate themselves from their competitors through their approach to working with people. Organizations that work hard to value their people now will reap many benefits. When workers are treated as capital and when they can truly realize their potential within jobs they co-create, they feel valued. Create an environment that stresses partnership with employees and a more participative decision making style. Leaders must support workers. This occurs when contributions count and when employees are valued.

    Find meaningful ways of engaging employees in the company’s work. Find ways to align organizational needs with those of your people.

    People need jobs and organizations need people. So when the power imbalance between the two shifts, human capital management practices must also shift.

    Bill Scott is a partner with Innovation Partners International. He can be reached at

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