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Trainer's Tips: Responding to Behavioral Interview Questions

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I’ve been coaching students through the interview process over the past eight years. During that time, I’ve done a lot of research, spoken to many employers, and heard feedback from students who have been through interviews. 

Along the way, I’ve observed some trends.

Interview questions tend to fall into one of four categories. There are general interview questions, technical interview questions, curveball questions, and behavioral questions. 

Behavioral interview questions follow a pattern. The employer is asking you about your past behavior in specific scenarios to try to understand how you will act in the future. 

For example, if I ask you how you reacted when you saw a colleague do something unethical, and you tell me that you ignored it because it wasn’t your problem, that can tell me a lot about your character, and whether I should trust you with sensitive information. Understand that the employer is trying to gauge your values, your creative problem-solving skills, or another skill or value. 

The best way to answer this question holistically is through the STAR method. With this method, you provide a response that covers the following:

Situation/Task: Were you in a class, at work, in a club? What was the task expected of you or that you were attempting to accomplish?

Action: What steps did you take?

Result: What was the result of your action? What it resolved? What did you learn?

Let me give you an example. An interviewer asks the following question: “Tell me about a time you did not know how to fix a problem or answer a question from a client. What did you do?”

A response using the STAR method:

Once I was in a club that was having trouble finding a meeting time that worked for everyone. We tried talking about it at meeting and taking a vote, but since we were never in the same room at the same time, we couldn’t get a consensus (<Situation/Task). I decided to take some time to research the problem online, and I found a website called Doodle that allows people to select all of the times they are available, which would allow us to generate the data that we needed to make an informed decision about when the most people could be there, so we set that up (<Action). Using this tool resulted in a 200% increase in club attendance and participation. I learned that there are many tools out there to help with productivity and communication, and I also learned that using data instead of consensus to make decisions would result in a better result and would ensure people do not feel that their voices aren’t heard if they aren’t the loudest in the room (<Result). 

See what I did there? The STAR method allowed me to tell a whole story, in a succinct and brief way, while making sure that I covered all of the things that the interviewer wanted to hear from me. 

I encourage job seekers to prepare two or three of these stories for each of the following scenarios: showing initiative, showing creative problem solving, showing integrity, showing leadership, and maybe a few others. 

I also recommend practicing these stories aloud. You do not want them to last more than a minute or two.

If you are interested in practicing, I host free mock interviews for students and alumni, either in person; over Adobe Connect, Skype, or Google Hangouts; or over the phone.  Please email to set up your appointment. 

sarah alspaw

By Sarah Alspaw
Director of Career Development and Student Success