A guide to behavioural interviews for postgrads

A guide to behavioural interviews for postgrads

You’ve spent years working hard to achieve advanced qualifications in your field. You’re bright, eager and unstoppable – and why wouldn’t you be? But employers are looking for more than just a strong transcript and endorsements from academics—they want to know who you really are. That’s where the ‘behavioural interview’ comes in.

Behaving yourself: the interview that really gets to know you

Behavioural interviews are designed to predict how you might respond in various workplace situations, and seek an insight into your strengths, flaws, self-awareness and your ‘work’ personality – that is, your professional self. Behavioural questions are also used to analyse how well you’ll fit into the dynamic of an established team.


There are several approaches to behavioural interviews, with the STAR and the CARE methods being particularly popular. Each places a particular emphasis on real-life examples.

The tricky part when you’re a postgrad is that you may not have extensive workplace experience to call upon, but that doesn’t mean you can’t answer effectively. Think about lessons you learned while managing group projects or networking with industry professionals and leverage these examples into great responses.

STAR stands for the following:

Example: Describe a particularly challenging situation.
‘I was once asked to be an acting supervisor because my regular manager was unwell. I was a trusted member of the team, and although I’d not been there as long as some others, I knew my job well. I earned a reputation for being reliable. Two people in my team decided to spite this decision by showing disrespect.’

Example: What was the task you were required or expected to perform?
‘I had supervisory responsibilities for six team members, including delegating tasks and ensuring their completion. Four team members showed no resentment in response, while the other two were prone to undermining me. My main concern was that this behaviour would be seen by our clients.’

Example: How did you respond?
‘At first I allowed them time to adjust. I was pleasant and asked for their input and advice. I hoped that the resentment would be temporary, but sadly, the behaviour continued and I had to escalate the situation to protect the reputation of our department.’

Example: How did your actions affect the outcome? What was the end result?
‘I brought the situation to the attention of a supervisor who had a good relationship with the two team members. I said I believed the behaviour wasn’t personal and that perhaps rejection was driving the disrespect. He agreed to have a quiet discussion, and this improved the situation. I didn’t have to intervene further.’

You may be asked to CARE instead

CARE stands for the following:

CONTEXT: You’ll be asked to describe the scenario around a particular incident. Be succinct and sharp, in contrast to the “situation” question.

ACTION and RESULT: The action and result sections will barely differ from the STAR method – as long as you’re revealing good judgement, integrity demonstrating that you’re results-driven, you’ll have no trouble answering this.

The description of your evidence will be similar to the way you could answer the “Result” section of a STAR interview. However, an “Evidence” question will also require some kind of measurable outcome, whether it’s a lasting and noticeable change in attitude in the previous scenario, or something more concrete like an award.

Your experience: the school of life

Post-grads may not have ample career-related experience, but we’ve all dealt with challenging teamwork dynamics in study groups. but we’ve all had challenges in the workplace, in the study group and even in a contentious class – have you been required to speak about a topic that you found intimidating or overly personal? Have you been required to deal with a difficult person? How did you deal with your discomfort? How did you manage these situations?

Think about the way you felt, acted and resolved the conflict. Even these non-professional experiences – your challenges, your attitude and your ability to find a solution – will show that you are thoughtful, mature, cooperative, and ultimately driven by great outcomes.

That’s not all, folks

Behavioural-based interviews can be tricky to navigate, but with preparation they can help reveal that there’s more to you than your smarts. You’re already advantaged by having expertise, but passion, self-awareness, social nous and a degree of confidence will show you CARE, that you’ll make a fantastic collaborator and be a STAR performer for your potential employer.

Thinking about where postgrad study can get you? Book a one-on-one consultation with one of our course advisors.

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