The Best Way to Respond to Behavioral Interview Questions

An interview is your opportunity to showcase many of your skills and how they would transfer into the role or industry that you are applying to. In order to better understand the skills that you will bring to the table, you need to analyze situations when you learned or accomplished something.

Employers will often ask “behavioral” questions, or those that get at how you behaved in certain situations in the past. Examples of common behavioral questions are:

Tell me about a time when you didn’t see eye to eye with a supervisor.
Describe a time when you went above and beyond in your work.
Share an ethical dilemma that you’ve faced and how you handled it.

The reason employers ask this type of questions is because the best predictor of your future behavior is your past behavior. Think about which you’d rather hear: a general statement about how a job candidate would likely handle a situation, or a specific story demonstrating how they’ve dealt with something similar in the past. My guess is that you’d probably prefer the more specific demonstration of skills! That’s where the STAR method comes into play.

Use the STAR method to both identify skills and concisely structure stories for a behavioral interview:

SITUATION: DESCRIBE THE BACKGROUND TO SET THE STORY UP.
TASK: DESCRIBE YOUR TASK AT HAND.
ACTION: EXPLAIN THE ACTIONS YOU TOOK.
RESULT: COMMUNICATE THE RESULTS OF YOUR EFFORTS.

For example:

Q. Describe a time when you had to see a project through from start to finish.

A. In my previous role, our team decided it was time to update to a mobile-friendly website with an updated look and less content. We had a tight budget and timeline of $10,000 and 6 months to make a transition happen. (Situation) I was responsible for leading the website transition, by hiring a design team, planning and editing the content, and working with the design team to build the site to our branding specifications. (Task) I worked diligently to get three RFPs from designers and form a committee to help plan what content needed to be included on the new site. I then spent two months editing all text content to hand over, along with brand guidelines, to the selected design team. I met bi-weekly with the design team for three months to review their progress and provide feedback. (Action) At the conclusion of five months, we had a new mobile-friendly website up and running with streamlined, edited content and design. Best of all, we came in under budget at $7,000. (Result)

Most people forget to include the “R” in STAR. What was the outcome of all your hard work? It’s great if you can provide quantitative results as in the example above, but in some cases, qualitative results would be just as impactful.

Keep your answers to 1.5-2 minutes per story, hitting the highlights with the STAR method. If you find yourself rambling, or ending much earlier than that, go back to the STAR method and make sure you’ve concisely but specifically hit on each point.