One of the most common methods employers use to evaluate candidates is behavior-based interviewing. This often begins with:
- “Tell me about a time when…”
- “Give me an example of…”
- “Have you ever had a situation when…”
Behavior-based questions are popular because they prompt for specific evidence into ways a candidate dealt with a challenging situation in the past – and how they might respond in an actual workplace scenario if hired. Consider a likely response to this behavior-based question: “Give me an example of a recent conflict with a coworker or boss that you were involved in.”
General questions, on the contrary, can be answered in a way that reflects favorably on the candidate. Compare the above to this more general interview question: “How well do you deal with conflict?”
As you can see, for a candidate looking to make the best possible impression, behavior-based interviewing can be challenging. But the following approach can help you prepare, answer with confidence, and impress your audience.
Anticipate Common Questions
The first step in preparing for any interview, especially a behavior-based interview, is familiarizing yourself with frequently asked questions. You’ll find many examples online, including a list of the top 100 here. Next you’ll want to study the job description and highlight all soft skills mentioned (e.g., strong communication skills and the ability to work in a team environment). It’s almost guaranteed that you’ll be asked questions directly related to those mentioned in the job description.
Prepare Scenarios Ahead of Time
Once you’ve developed a list of likely questions, brainstorm scenarios from your past that address questions being asked. These scenarios will become the foundation for crafting your response.
Tell a Compelling (and Honest) Story
Next, fine-tune your story. The STAR approach is a great way to organize a well thought-out response to any behavioral questions. STAR stands for Situation or Task, Action, and Result.
Situation or Task. Open your story with a description of the situation you were faced with or the task you needed to complete.
Action. From this, walk the interviewer through the action. This may involve physical steps you took or your thought process. It’s important to listen carefully to the question and ask yourself: (1) what are the skills and personality traits being evaluated; and, (2) does my example provide enough detail to help them make a clear assessment?
For example, consider the question: “Tell me about a time that you had to take the lead with your work group to get a task done.” This question focuses on your leadership style. So you could include an example that demonstrates your ability to:
- Motivate others
- Enlist the cooperation of others
- Delegate when appropriate
- Effectively communicate goals and expectations
When shaping your response, let your story unfold in a manner that provides specific evidence of your skills and capabilities.
Result. Finally, share the end result or lesson learned. For example: “The project was completed on time and within budget. But more importantly, team morale was greatly improved because I went above and beyond to solicit their input. In the end, everyone on the team felt a sense of ownership over the project.”
Sharing the lesson learned is especially important when asked questions designed to understand your approach to dealing with failure or conflict. For example: “The experience taught me a crucial lesson on the importance of teamwork and the need to address conflicts early on.”
In the End
While none of us have the ability to predict with 100 percent certainty what questions will be asked in an interview, we can plan and prepare in advance so that we arrive confident and ready to impress.
About the author
Dara Wilson-Grant is a Licensed Professional Counselor and the Associate Director of Postdoctoral Affairs at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is also the owner of Careers in Bloom. Dara’s focus is on career-related issues, including career change, professional growth, and workplace challenges. Her career management workshops have been presented at universities, government agencies, and research institutions.