In order to have the most meaningful exchanges of information, you must be skilled in behavioral-based interviewing techniques. Just as important, we must be sure that you are skilled in answering behavioral questions, using the STAR model. STAR stands for:
“S”ituation or “T”ask leading to an action.
• A situation in which a candidate was involved that resulted in an outcome (positive or negative).
• A description of the tasks involved in the situation.
“A”ctions or behaviors demonstrated, specifics and ‘how.’ This is where behavioral traits are uncovered.
• Descriptions of specific actions taken and not taken.
• References to ‘I’, not ‘we.’
“R”esult, or the specific, tangible conclusion.
• The outcome that followed from the actions taken.
• Stated in specific, measurable terms.
1. Employers predetermine the skills necessary for the job and then ask focused questions to assess whether or not the candidate possesses those skills. Make it a point to read company literature carefully (websites) and listen closely during the company’s information session to determine which skills an employer is seeking.
2. In the interview, your responses need to be specific and detailed. Frame them with the
STAR process: situation/task, action, result.
3. Always listen carefully to each question, ask for clarification if necessary and make sure you answer the question completely.
4. Prepare to give examples of situations in which you have demonstrated the behaviors you
have determined to be important to the employer. Do not ramble.
5. Use your resume as a guide when answering questions. Use examples from past internships, classes, activities, work experience, team participation, etc. to further illustrate your achievements.
6. Identify six to eight examples from your past experience in which you demonstrated top behaviors and skills that employers typically seek. Think in terms that will showcase your top selling points.
7. Half of your examples should be positive, such as accomplishments or obtaining goals.
8. The other half should be situations that started out negatively but ended either positively or in which you were able to minimize the negative outcome.
9. Vary your examples. Don’t take them all from one area of your past experience. Use fairly recent examples – experiences from the last one to two years.
10. If you worked in a team setting, describe not only the team’s situation/actions/results, but also your specific role in that team effort.
Behavioral-Based Interview Prep Questions
The majority of our clients seek employees who:
• Display enthusiasm for the company, its mission and its people.
• Believe that they can do the job and have well-matched skills.
• Are coachable and strive to make an immediate contribution.
Clients also factor in chemistry, personality match, experience, relocation, salary expectations, good references, etc., which may make you wonder, ‘What more could anyone want?’ The ‘what’ consists of 13 predictive skills and behaviors that employers evaluate through behavioral-based interviewing techniques in order to make solid hiring decisions. The 13 skills and behaviors and sample behavioral-based questions for each follow.
Focus and dedication to the industry
Does the candidate’s resume reflect enough experience, knowledge and growth in a chosen field?
• Tell me about a time when someone questioned your credibility in the industry. What was your reaction?
• Describe a time when you had a conversation with a senior person in the industry and you realized you had more knowledge and insight than they had. How did you deal with it?
• Think about when you first started working in this industry. What did you do to shorten the learning curve?
• Discuss a situation in your career when you were given additional responsibilities. How did you handle it?
• What are your three most important work-related values? Please provide an example of a situation in which you demonstrated each value at work.
• Describe a situation where your professional expertise made a significant difference.
• Give me an example of a situation where you had to display enthusiasm for the industry and the company.
• Give me an example of how you’ve continued to gain knowledge about the industry over the years.
• Tell me about a time in your career when you considered getting out of the industry altogether. What were you thinking at that point?
• Explain to me how you keep abreast of the current changes in the industry and give me an example of how this has given you an edge over your competitors.
Technical and professional knowledge
Does the candidate have an appropriate level of understanding of technical skills and professional knowledge and the ability to apply both?
(Questions about a candidate’s technical and professional knowledge will be specific to his/her industry and position.)
• During your career thus far, what has been the most challenging aspect of applying your knowledge?
• How have you kept your skills sharpened?
Does the candidate work effectively with others in the organization and outside the formal lines of authority (e.g., peers, other departments, senior management) to accomplish organizational goals and to identify and resolve problems? Does he or she consider the impact of his or her decisions on others?
• Describe a project in which others you were working with disagreed with your ideas. What did you do?
• Tell me about a time when you worked on a team when a known leader was not appointed. How did decisions get made?
• Describe a recent situation that best illustrates your style in taking charge and leading others to accomplish a task. What was the situation? How did you motivate your team members? Who was the hardest to get on your side? How did you do it?
• Tell me about the last meeting you conducted. What was its purpose? What obstacles did you encounter? What were your objectives? Did you meet them? If yes, how? If not, why not?
• What is the biggest contribution you have made to the profitability of a business? What problems did you encounter? What was your contribution? Did it work? Why or why not? What was the result?
• Tell me about a recent situation in which it was important for you to bring about extra effort on the part of your subordinates. What did you do to motivate them? How did they respond?
• Tell me about a particular person who has become successful as a result of your actions. Who was the person? What role did you play in their development? What is this person doing today?
• Tell me about a recent time when you had to rely on the cooperation of your peers to get a job done. What was the task? How did you go about gaining their cooperation? What difficulties did you run into? How did you handle the difficulties? How did it turn out?
• Describe a situation in which you had to arrive at a compromise or help others to compromise. What was your role? What steps did you take? What was the result?
• What was the most competitive situation you and another team member have been faced with and how did you handle it?
Is the candidate able to relate and compare data from different sources, identify issues, secure relevant information and determine relationships?
• Describe for me a situation when you had to determine the most pertinent content for a training program.
• Tell me about a time when you made a poor decision. How did you arrive at the decision? What did you learn from it? Tell me how you implemented what you learned and what the results were.
• Tell me about a time when you had to make a decision that involved a major problem. What steps did you take in making the decision? What problem(s) did it solve?
• Describe a time when you helped overcome an obstacle. What was it? How did you overcome it? What was the end result?
• Give me an example of a time when you had to decide between two possible solutions. Describe your decision-making process.
• Describe the most prominent mistake you have made during your career. What did you do? What were the results? What did you learn from it?
• What was the most difficult ethical business decision you have had to make? What did you do? What were the results?
• Tell me about the most perplexing problem you have faced over the last two years. How did the problem arise? How did you go about analyzing the situation? What alternatives did you consider? What solution did you decide to try? How did you implement the solution? What was the result?
• Tell me about the last time that you made a decision when the procedures or instructions you were given were unclear, ambiguous or contradictory. How did you decide what to do? What alternatives did you consider? How did the decision work out?
• Tell me about the toughest decision you have had to make in the past six months. What made this decision so tough? What factors did you consider when deciding? How did you reach your decision? How did it turn out? How would you handle this type of decision differently in the future?
Does the candidate maintain effectiveness in varying environments, tasks and responsibilities, and with various types of people?
• Tell me about a situation when you had to work with other departments to solve a common problem.
• Tell me about a time when you were in a situation when the rules kept changing.
• Tell me about a client that initially rebuffed your calling efforts and what you did to turn that into a positive result.
• Walk me through the last time you didn’t have the resources in front of you to complete a project. What did you do to be successful?
• Tell me about a time when you failed but did not let it stop you. Walk me through what you did to turn it around.
• Tell me about a project that suddenly developed unexpected roadblocks. How did you see it through?
• Tell me about a problem that you’ve solved in a unique or unusual way. What was the outcome?
• Give me an example of when someone brought you a new idea that was odd or unusual. What did you do?
• Tell me about a situation in which you have had to adjust to changes over which you had no control. How did you handle it?
• What has been your most uncomfortable professional moment, and how did you move on from it?
Has the candidate set high goals or performance standards for him or herself, subordinates, others and the organization? Is he or she dissatisfied with average performance?
• Tell me how you set goals and measure performance in your current role.
• How have you differed from your manager in evaluating your performance? How did you handle the situation?
• Describe for me an example of a time when you were persistent in achieving an objective. What was the objective? What specific efforts did you employ to achieve the objective? What was the result?
• Describe a situation in which you had rules dictated to you by management that was ‘out of touch’ with what was really happening. How did you handle it?
• Tell me about a time when your work standard differed from that of your boss or your peers. How did you resolve the discrepancy?
• Tell me about the most difficult project you ever worked on.
• Tell me about the most long-term, extra-hour effort you have undertaken in the last year. What was the project or assignment? What extra effort did you put in? Were you successful? Why or why not?
• Tell me about a particularly boring or distasteful task you have faced in the last 12 months. What was the situation? What made the task so boring or distasteful? What did you do to ensure that the task was accomplished? How did it turn out?
• Give me a specific example of a time when you had to conform to a policy with which you did not agree.
• Describe a time when you had to implement upgraded work standards for the team. How did you go about it?
To what extent do activities and responsibilities available in the job overlap with activities and responsibilities that result in personal satisfaction?
• Tell me about a time when you were ranked #2 in the organization and wanted to be #1. What was the situation? What did you do? How did it turn out?
• Tell me about a time when you were passed over for a promotion that you thought you deserved. What was the situation? What did you do? How did it turn out?
• Tell me about a time when you were up against a competitor to win an account. What steps did you take to put yourself ahead?
• Tell me about a time when you achieved a major goal in your career. What was the goal? What specific steps did you take to achieve it? What was the result?
• Walk me through the last time you faced a major obstacle regarding a sale. What was the obstacle? What did you do to overcome the obstacle? What was the result?
• Tell me about a time in your business career when you could not organize your thoughts around how to approach an assignment. What did you do to overcome your ability to become motivated?
• Tell me about your most recent interview. With whom was it? What was the outcome?
• Tell me about the last time you had to motivate a team member or subordinate. What was your strategy?
• Think about a time when your motivation level was waning. What steps did you take to re-energize yourself?
• Give me an example of a time when your motivation was particularly high. What was the situation? How did you stay motivated?
Does the candidate make active attempts to influence events and achieve goals? Is he or she self-starting rather than passively accepting? Does he or she go beyond what is necessary?
• Walk me through the last time you had to deliver on a deadline. What did you do? What happened?
• Tell me how you plan your average workweek. What do you do? When do you start? When do you wrap up? What do you do to get ready for the next day?
Behavioral-Based Interviewing: Preparing Candidates ©2009, Management Recruiters International, Inc.
• Describe a project that required extra work and how you approached it.
• Give me an example of a time when you set a goal for yourself. How did you achieve it?
• Tell me about a time when you had to make decisions without prior approval.
• Tell me about a time when you were recognized for something outside your day-to-day job.
• Describe a project or idea (not necessarily your own) that was implemented primarily because of your efforts. What was your role? What was the outcome?
• Describe a situation in which you recognized a potential problem as an opportunity. How did others react?
• Tell me about a time when your initiative caused a change to occur. What did you learn from that?
• Describe a time when you have ‘stepped up to the plate’ when others have not.
Ability to learn
Does the candidate assimilate and apply new job-related information promptly?
• What techniques have you learned to make your job easier or more effective? How did you learn them?
• Tell me about a time when you had to quickly assimilate new information to solve a problem or perform well in your current role.
• Walk me through the last time you lost a sale you thought you had. What did you learn from it? How did you implement what you learned?
• Tell me about the last time you missed a quota. What action did you take?
• Tell me about a time when you failed to achieve a goal. What was the situation? How did you handle it? What was the result? How did that result impact your organization?
• Tell me about a time when you failed, then succeeded.
• Describe a time when you experienced a setback in your career. What effect did it have on you and your family? What did you do about the setback? What was the end result?
• Tell me about the last time that you received critical feedback. What critical feedback did you get? Is there a pattern to it? How did you handle the feedback? What were the results? (Probe to determine if there is a pattern to critical feedback.)
• Take a moment and visualize where you were working ten years ago. Describe a situation where you had to manage people or a project. What did you do? What were the results? How have you handled a similar situation in the recent past? How does your management style of today differ?
• Tell me about the most recent technical or analytical skill you have acquired. What led you to acquire this skill? How did you approach it? What would you do differently the next time? Tell me about your most recent application of this skill.
Planning and organizing
Does the candidate establish a course of action to accomplish specific goals? Do they plan proper assignments for personnel and allocate resources appropriately?
• Walk me through your thought process for your last project – from concept to completion. What did you do? Who else did you ask for help? What obstacles did you encounter? Were you able to deliver on time?
• Give me an example of a time when you had to prioritize because you were juggling too many tasks.
• Tell me about a time when your organizational skills proved to be a significant factor on a recent project.
• Give me an example of a time when your organizational strategy contributed to the success of the team or organization.
• Describe how your organizational skills enabled you to reach a goal.
• Managers like you are always juggling multiple projects at the same time. Tell me about a typical situation in which you have had to prioritize your efforts and maintain control.
• Walk me through the last time a supervisor gave you a list of objectives to complete. What steps did you follow to meet those objectives successfully?
• Walk me through a time when you had competing demands on your time. How did you address those demands?
• Tell me about a recent time when your work was very hectic. What did you do to keep it under control? How many extra hours did you work? For how long?
Planning and organizing…
• Which of your past jobs has been most demanding in terms of having to handle a variety of tasks at once? What competing demands did you have to deal with? How did you decide what to do first? How did it turn out?
Does the candidate clearly express ideas in speaking and writing, via his or her grammar, organization and structure?
• Tell me about a time when your listening skills really paid off.
• Tell me about a time when communication was an obstacle to success. What did you do?
• When was the last time you coached or gave advice to a subordinate? Describe the situation. What was the issue? What did you advise? How did it turn out?
• Describe the last time you disagreed with one of your bosses or coworkers. What was the reason? How did you express your disagreement? What was the person’s reaction? What was the outcome?
• Tell me about the last time that someone criticized your work. What was the situation? What did they do or say? How did you respond? How well did they justify their criticism? How would you handle the situation next time?
• Recall a time when you were really angry or frustrated at work. What was the situation? What did you do about it? How did you resolve the situation? (The value in these questions is as much in how the candidate answers them as what he/she says.)
• Tell me about a time when you had to communicate a difficult message at work. What were the reactions of others?
• Give me an example of a time when you were able to successfully communicate with another person even when that individual may not have personally liked you (or vice versa). How did you handle the situation?
• Tell me about a time when you had to use your written communication skills in order to get an important point across.
• Describe a time when you had to smooth over a miscommunication.
Customer service orientation
Does the candidate make efforts to listen to and understand the customer (both internal and external), anticipate customer needs and give high priority to customer satisfaction?
• Tell me about the most difficult customer service experience you have handled, perhaps with an angry or irate customer. What did you do and what was the outcome?
• Describe a time in your career when you had to solve a two-sided customer service issue.
• Tell me about a time when your target audience was unhappy. What did you do to address their concerns?
• Think of a customer relationship that you have maintained for multiple years. Please tell me how you have approached maintaining that relationship.
• Your manufacturing facility shipped the wrong order to one of your important customers. Describe how you solved this problem both internally and externally.
• Tell me about a time when a customer was extremely satisfied due to your efforts. What was your approach to the situation?
• Describe an incident when your client/customer request was not in line with your employer’s goal. How did you handle that?
• Tell me about an incident with a customer where after you walked away you realized you could have handled it differently.
• When was the last time you had to deliver bad news to a customer and how did you do it?
• Give me an example of a time when your customer has been unjustly angry over the service they received. How did you deal with that? What was the outcome?
Behavioral-Based Interviewing: Preparing Candidates ©2009, Management Recruiters International, Inc.
Does the candidate act out of consideration for the feelings and needs of others?
• Tell me about a time when you and a peer were being considered for the same promotion. How did you handle that situation?
• Tell me about a time when you had to compete against a member of your own team. What steps did you take to come out ahead while still maintaining the relationship?
• Tell me of an instance when a colleague achieved the prize you were seeking.
• Describe for me a time when one of your reports or teammates was feeling a great deal of stress. How did you interact with that person?
• Tell me about a work situation in which the majority of people wanted to do something one way and you felt differently. What did you do to express your views?
• Do you conduct formal performance appraisals of your subordinates? Tell me about the last performance appraisal you conducted. Was the appraisal positive or negative? Did the subordinate agree or disagree with your assessment? How did you handle it? What were the results?
• Tell me about a time when you put a co-worker’s needs ahead of your own. What was their reaction?
• Describe a time when your sensitivity to a work situation was questioned by a colleague. How did you deal with it?
• Do you make hiring and firing decisions? Tell me about the last time you had to let a subordinate go. What was the situation? How did you handle the termination?
• Tell me about the last time a new person was added to your department. What was your role in onboarding that individual? What did you do to help him/her feel a part of the group?