How to deal with behavioural questions when ambushed in an interview!

How to deal with behavioural questions when ambushed in an interview!

In an interview, you’ll be asked a range of questions. For example, you may be asked skills-based questions, while others will quiz you about your technical competency. The questions that tend to strike the most fear into candidates are behavioural interview questions.

Why Architects Get Asked Behavioural Interview Questions

The logic of asking behavioural questions is simply to test how you act in a range of circumstances,based upon previous behaviour. They can be difficult to answer because they naturally question your ability to handle different situations. These may include asking for examples of when you made a mistake or a wrong call in a previous position. By asking behavioural interview questions, the interviewer is trying to establish:

  • How you behaved in a real situation
  • (‘What did you do?’ rather than ‘What would you do?’)
  • What value your actions created
  • How you define and handle pressure at work

Testing Tactics Used by Interviewers

An interviewer is likely to use several tactics in an attempt to uncover the real you. This, of course, includes all questions asked, but also includes the way in which they are asked, as well as how the interviewer acts. Interviewers may seem cold, aggressive or unable to understand the answer you give, even disinterested in what you have to say. This is all part of their plan to discover the “real you”.

They may react negatively to your answers, or, perhaps, parts of your CV. Some interviewers play a role in an interview (like ‘good cop, bad cop’ in panel interviews). It is not the real them. They ask the questions they do and act the way they do to put you under pressure, to evaluate your self-control and natural response to difficult situations.

Every time an architect describes the interviews they have with employers to us, these are the most common interview tactics that are used in behavioural interviews for architecture jobs: 

  • Asking aggressive questions, often asked out of context or unexpectedly.
  • For example, asking, “Why were you sacked?” You are likely to have prepared for such a question, but it can still catch you off guard, especially if it is asked by a placid interviewer unexpectedly. Can you switch between subject matter easily?
  • Confrontational attitude, in verbal and nonverbal behaviour.
  • The interviewer may shrug their shoulders, shake their head, roll their eyes, and sigh at answers you provide. This sort of behaviour is trying to tempt you to react to the confrontation and assess your ability to remain calm in difficult situations.
  • Repetitive questioning, requesting the same information numerous times.
  • You begin to ask yourself if it is your fault that the interviewer doesn’t understand what you are saying. Testing your patience and ability to converse differently according to need.
  • Nonsense questions, “nothing to do with” the architect job advertised
  • For example, “Why do you think manhole covers are round?” Such questions are usually asked to discover how you think, and if you can think laterally as well as literally. (Before we forget, round manhole covers won’t fall through the manhole, whereas a square one could, if placed on its side diagonally. Also, a round manhole cover needs no exact positioning to fit back into the manhole.)
  • Telling you that you aren’t the right candidate
  • A tactic that can come directly after a behavioural question. This is designed to test your confidence, and if you can stay composed when faced with negativity.
  • Unexpected behaviour, such as getting up to make a coffee
  • Your interviewer might suddenly “switch modes” while you are talking, opening drawers, making a phone call, making a coffee and so on. Such tactics are designed to disturb your flow, and test your power of concentration.

Behavioural Interview Question Types

Whatever interview tactics an interviewer employs, behavioural questions are designed to allow you to provide evidence of your ability to do the job, fit in with your new colleagues, and be the asset the company needs to help achieve its goals. Here are five of the most common types of behavioural interview questions you might be asked during an interview.

1. Teamwork Interview Questions

This is the most common type of question you will be asked. Companies hire team players. This type of question gives you the opportunity to demonstrate that you work well in a team. You will usually be asked to give an example of a time that you worked in a team. For example:

  • “Tell me about a project you led that required input from others.”
  • “Describe a team project that failed.”

Such questions allow you to show that people enjoy working with you as well as your ability to work well with others.

2. Conflict Management Interview Questions

These questions are designed to discover how you handle conflict: difficult situations that may arise between you and a manager, colleague, supplier or customer, or, perhaps, between two employees in your team. Common conflict management questions include:

  • “Tell me how you dealt with a complaint from an unhappy customer.”
  • “Describe how you handled a difficult member of your team.”
  • “Tell me about a time that you disagreed with the approach your boss wanted to take on a project.”

All such questions ask you to describe your interpersonal skills – which are extremely important in ever-more diverse workplaces.

3. Problem-Solving Interview Questions

Architecture require good problem-solving skills. It’s the nature of the work. Questions in this category ask you to demonstrate your initiative, creativity and competence in analytical thinking. Typical questions include:

  • “Describe a time when you had to use a creative approach to overcome a difficult challenge.”
  • “Tell me about a time that you needed to be innovative to meet a customer’s demands.”
  • “Describe an improvement you made to a process that saved time and helped to contribute toward the bottom line.”

The answers you provide to these types of questions will help the interviewer to recognise that you are a candidate who is able to identify obstacles, and that you develop and implement solutions. They wish to know if you will make a proactive contribution or act only on instructions.

4. Biggest Failure/Accomplishment Interview Questions

These can be some of the most difficult questions to answer. No one likes admitting failure, and most people don’t like to brag about success. Common failure/success questions asked include: 

  • “What’s the biggest mistake you’ve ever made?”
  • “Describe a decision you regret making.”
  • “What is your biggest career success to date?”
  • “Tell me about a project you were involved in that exceeded expectations.”

Whichever the question asked, you must not avoid answering. Everyone has made mistakes. The point of the question is not to belittle you, but to find out what you learned, how you reacted, and how you would do things differently now. Similarly, a shared success story tells the interviewer a lot about you. It is your chance to show why you are the right person for the job.

5. Leadership Interview Questions

In the more autonomous workplace, leadership ability is a key attribute. Even if you are interviewing for an architect job without a management function, it’s likely that the hiring company will be interested in your ability to develop as a leader in the future. Questions that might be asked include:

  • “Tell me about a time when you needed to delegate tasks.”
  • “Have you coached or mentored junior staff?”
  • “Describe how you managed a team project.”

When answering leadership interview questions, remember that the interviewer is seeking evidence of initiative, communication skills, vision, decision-making, and the talent to coach and motivate others.

Behavioural Interview Tips

Now you know why interviewers ask behavioural questions, the types of questions they are likely to ask, and the tactics they may use to test you further during the interview. The key to taking these questions in your stride is preparation. With proper preparation, you will give concise and well-structured answers that answer the question asked, keep the interviewer interested, and maintain interview momentum.

You should prepare three or four strong examples for each category of question. This is likely to be less work than it sounds, as many of your stories will cover two or more categories. For example, a story could demonstrate leaderships skills, problem-solving capabilities, and aptitude for conflict management. 

Use STAR to Nail Behavioural Interviews

The STAR method is a technique used to structure your answers to behavioural questions, helping you to remain focused and provide complete and concise descriptions that an interviewer understands with ease. Make the interviewer’s job easier, and you make the decision to hire you easier. STAR is an acronym for:

  • Situation – describe the situation in which the story is based, to give it context
  • Task – describe your role in the situation
  • Action – describe the actions you took
  • Result – describe the outcome because of your action

STAR Interview Techniques in Action

Here’s how a candidate for an architecture job might tackle the question, “Tell me about a project you led that transformed financial performance.”


Begin by providing the context of the situation. Describe the background needed for the remainder

of the story to make sense, as you relate the problem you faced:

  • “My team is responsible for maintaining the profit and loss of projects within a division.
  • “However, reporting systems weren’t uniform when I started. Individuals and teams reported haphazardly, and this led to poor financial management.”


Now, describe the part you played in solving the problem:

  • “As new head of the team, my responsibility was to develop a real-time reporting system that was user friendly.
  • “I was also responsible for ensuring that people received coaching and ongoing support.”


With the situation and task described, you must walk the interviewer through what you did to solve the problem. Take this opportunity to describe the skills and competencies you employed to achieve your goals:

  • “I undertook a month-long review of the current reporting systems, talking to individuals and team leaders to understand all the issues involved. 
  • “I invited team leaders to provide suggestions and become involved in the project. I put in place weekly meetings, an intranet, and dedicated email accounts to keep every member of the team in the loop with what was happening and the progress we were making. This also gave people the opportunity to discuss their concerns and put forward their ideas.
  • “We ran both systems side-by-side, rolling out one team at a time over the course of three months, with team training and individual coaching.”


Finally, describe the results achieved. This is the time to show that your approach paid dividends:

  • “The project came in 15% under budget and was delivered two months early.
  • “With team leaders now able to view their financials in real time, the division was able to reduce its inventory and move to just-in-time procurement. With lower inventory, we reduced storage needed and improved cash flow, with a direct impact measured at a 12% improvement to the bottom line.
  • “I was rewarded with a 25% bonus and a promotion to the division’s leadership team.”

Five final tips to polish your behavioural interview performance

These five final tips will help you ace the behavioural questions interview using the STAR interview technique:

1. Short and Sweet

Be concise, and resist rambling through your answer. You must make the interviewer keen to hear you answer and maintain their interest. Stay on point and to the point, don’t meander.

2. Give Specific Answers

Don’t give a vague, generic answer. A specific example is memorable, though you must ensure that you provide enough detail and ensure that it provides a personal perspective. Though your answer must be concise, don’t leave out important details and use numbers to back up any points you make.

3. Relate Your Stories to The Job 

The interviewer wants a reason to hire you. Therefore, make sure that your stories relate to the job that has been advertised. This will help the interviewer to visualise you in the role you have applied for. Try and use phrases that were in the job advert so your language resonates.

4. Practice Makes Perfect

Having prepared your stories to answer the most difficult of behavioural interview questions, practice giving the answers. Go through each story diligently, until you know exactly what you are going to say before the interviewer has finished asking their question (but do make sure you listen to the whole question).

5. Your Strongest Stories

Make sure that you use your strongest stories. Don’t save the best until last, because you may not get a chance to tell it. Your best examples may be enough to answer questions that the interviewer hasn’t yet asked. If an interviewer says something like, “Well, that’s answered my next three questions, too,” you know that you are making a great impression.


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