Answering Behavioral Questions in a Job Interview
The key to winning responses is jumping into STAR mode
Tell me about a time when you were in a job interview and you had to answer a behavioral question.
Sound familiar? Interviewers love asking applicants behavioral questions these days, and with good reason. Behavioral questions give them a keen insight into how the candidate would handle specific situations that happen in their work environments.
So here’s how to handle behavioral questions with ease:
How to Spot a Behavioral Question
These questions usually start with phrases like “Tell me about a time…” or “What would you do if…” or “Give me an example of a time…” You can find a whole list of them here or simply Google “Behavioral Interview Questions.”
(MORE: 10 Job Interview Questions You Should Ask)
When you hear a behavioral question, you should immediately go into the job interview technique known as STAR mode to give an outstanding answer.
The STAR approach
STAR is an acronym that stands for Situation, Task, Action, and Result. It’s the format for answering a potentially complex behavioral question in an organized and complete manner.
Here’s a breakdown of each of the STAR steps:
Situation Reach back into your career and choose one situation that best shows how you think on your feet. Unless otherwise requested, you can take a situation that happened last week, last year, or even 10 years ago as long as it’s relevant to the question. Describe the situation in two to four sentences and that’s it.
“About seven years ago, I started a new job. As I met everyone on the first day, I received several warnings about meeting Bob. He was known as a very gruff person who was not happy about the workings of my new department.”
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Then, go to the Task step…
Task State the task you had to complete. This should be the easiest, shortest, and most to-the-point statement in your response.
For instance, back to the Bob example, you might say…
“I knew I needed to develop a positive relationship with Bob, find out what the problems were and figure out how to fix them.”
This takes you to your Action step…
Action Here, you describe which actions you took to meet the needs of the task. The Action part of your answer can get a little long, because you want to tout all your wonderful problem-solving skills and this is the section where you can shine your brightest. The best approach is to try to keep your explanation organized and to the point.
“We met in his work area and my co-workers were right; Bob was not happy. I let him vent for a good 20 minutes while I took notes on all his concerns. When he was done, I went over my notes with him and proposed a list of items to improve the situation. Bob was suddenly unarmed and didn’t have a reason to be angry anymore. He agreed that these items needed attention.”
(MORE: 10 Things to Do After the Job Interview)
And then you finish up with the Result step…
Result This is the happy ending to the story. Without getting into too much detail, efficiently summarize how things got better with your efforts. Like a big, bright bow on a present, stating the Result ties up the story with a positive, memorable message.
“Within two weeks, all of Bob’s concerns were addressed and resolved. Efficiency increased by 25 percent, job reworks were virtually eliminated and we even saw Bob smile from time to time.”
If you’re taking notes during the job interview, write ‘STAR’ in the top margin of your first page. It will remind you of this surefire technique, keep you on track in the middle of your answer and make you, well, a star candidate.