Regardless of how much you prepare for an interview, unexpected questions almost always arise. Beyond preparing for answers to the traditional questions like “Tell me about yourself” or “Where do you see yourself in five years?”, behavioral questions are much more complex and require the ability to think critically and communicate confidently.
Hiring managers rely on these questions to get a sense of your character, performance, emotional intelligence and ability to problem-solve effectively. As the interviewee, your goal is to share a well-rounded personal anecdote that clearly demonstrates these qualities.
Behavioral questions can be challenging, but are easy to recognize. They often begin with one of the following:
- Tell me about a time when…
- What do you do when…
- Have you ever…
- Give me an example of…
- Describe a…
While behavioral questions take many forms and there is no one size fits all answer, there is a simple acronym to recall when faced with them: STAR (situation, task, action, and result.)When memorized and properly applied, the STAR model is the key to interview success. You can use it to reflect on any relevant experience, whether that comes from volunteering, classwork, campus clubs, internships, or a part-time job. Here’s how to master it:
S - Situation
Depending on the question, share about a time you performed a job well or faced a challenge in school or work. Provide the details of where and when it happened, who was involved, and your role in the situation.
Example: Last year, my internship at XYZ company required me to take on an extra workload during the busiest period of the semester when an employee left days before the imminent deadline of a project. To complete the project sufficiently, I had to balance preparing for finals with an additional 10 hours of work per week.
T - Task
Describe your responsibilities and target goal. Not to be confused with the next step, focus your response on your objective in that role rather than how you handled it.
Example: I was asked to assume responsibility for the project, with only two weeks to learn about and complete it.
A - Action
Address the steps and actions you took to meet your goal. This should be the bulk of your answer to a behavioral question, so avoid being vague or too humble. Be specific and share as much information as possible on your contributions.
Example: I prepared by researching the project and learning where I would need to increase my level of responsibility. I then created a detailed strategy and action plan with daily goals for myself by prioritizing my tasks and setting deadlines as to when each one should be finished. Then, I shared my timeline with my supervisor and provided regular updates on the status and my accomplishments.
R - Result
Emphasize your accomplishments and explain how your actions directly resulted in success.
Example: By strictly adhering to my action plan and utilizing feedback from my supervisor, I ended up completing the project before the deadline while learning new responsibilities, which secured me a part-time position with the company and allotted me more time to focus on studying for exams.
R (BONUS) - Reflection
If there’s something you could have improved on in hindsight, share what you learned from the experience and how you would improve your performance when faced with a similar circumstance again.
Behavioral questions don’t have to be intimidating. With enough preparation and strategy in place, they’re the best opportunity you have to give the hiring manager an idea of how you can be an asset to their organization.
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