Tag Archives: Behavioral-based Questions

How to answer, “Tell us about a time when you were successful at work.”

“Tell us about a time when you were successful at work” is a behavioral-based question you might face in an interview. This is a common question which can be challenging if you’re not prepared for it.

successfull

Most people who I ask about their successes at work have difficulty coming up with one on the spot.

Some believe that as children we’ve been conditioned not to promote ourselves. We have been told talking about a success is bragging, and we should not brag.

Nothing can be further from the truth if we’re asked by an interested party — interviewers in this case — who are trying to determine our value.

We should be able to talk not only about one time we’ve been successful at work. We should be able to recall many times we’ve been successful.

How to answer this behavioral-based question

A vague answer is not going to impress interviewers. In fact, it might eliminate you from consideration. Remember, how you have succeeded in the past is of great interest to interviewers, so interviewers want a specific answer.

The purpose of behavioral interview questions is for interviewers to understand how you have responded to certain situations in the past to gain insight into how you would act in similar situations in the new job.

Keep the following thoughts in mind:

1. Show enthusiasm  

When you describe this situation, be enthusiastic about your success, but stick to the facts. Describe a specific time when you were presented with a challenge and overcame it. This scenario makes the best success stories.

But don’t embellish, and don’t take credit for anyone else’s work — in fact, share credit with co-workers, management, or others, as appropriate.

2. Understand their reason for the question  

Interviewers are looking for high achievers who show motivation and don’t shy away from hurdles in their way. They want to hear about your actions which led to a positive result.

They also want to know if you succeed by yourself or as part of a team, and how you succeed — demonstrating your intelligence, your leadership skills, your diplomatic skills, or some other skills you have.

Tell them about a relevant accomplishment demonstrating the skills required for this job. You can gain an understanding of what’s relevant by carefully reading the job description to determine their most pressing need.

3. Have your story ready

Be prepared to describe a true situation when you were successful at work. It’s best to write your example, as well as others, down in order to better tell it. We learn best by first writing what we must say. It becomes ingrained in our mind.

Think of an example of leadership or management success for a manager job, an example of creativity or problem-solving success for an individual contributor job, an example of closing a big sale for a sales job, whatever is appropriate and relevant to the job.

Sample answer

What is very important in answering this question is to go into the interview with a specific Situation in mind. This is the beginning of your story. The remaining parts of your story are: your Task in the situation, the Actions you took to solve the situation, and the Result.

Let’s look at a STAR story to answer: “Tell me about a time when you succeeded at work.”

Situation

I was managing one of the largest ABC stores in New England. Although we were leading in revenue; we also had been experiencing a two percent loss due to theft.

 Task

I was tasked with reducing theft to one percent.

Actions

My first action was to have my assistant manager do a full analysis of the items which were stolen most frequently. Not surprisingly, smaller items like pencils, staplers, and calculators were stolen off the shelves.

However, large amounts of other items of all types were being stolen by my own staff and not making it to the shelves. This was of most concern to me, as the majority of money lost was happening here.

For the theft committed by customers, I instructed my staff to smother the customer with kindness. In other words, attend to any customer who seemed to need help or who was lurking around.

For the theft from the dock, my assistant and I brought our un-loaders into my office one-by-one and asked each of them if they were skimming merchandise from the trucks. One out of five admitted to doing this, so I released him without pressing charges.

I instituted a policy that prevented any vehicles to park or drive to within 100 feet of the unloading dock. I also had cameras installed facing the point of delivery. Previously there were no cameras.

Result

Both the external and internal theft was reduced significantly. The policies, extra personnel, and cameras I implemented were successful in reducing theft to .75% and have been doing the trick ever since.

Bonus – Learned

I learned that while most employees can be trusted, unfortunately a small few can’t. I also learned that theft can be reduced at a minimum cost, e.g., I didn’t have to install more expensive cameras to cover every square inch of the store. After all, the store wasn’t a casino.


The Bottom Line

Expect behavioral questions to be asked by most interviewers. Have examples of how you have handled difficult situations, structured as STARs so you clearly present both the situation and the positive result.

This article originally appeared in Job-Hunt.org.

If you enjoyed this article, check out others about tough behavioral-based questions:

Photo: Flickr, Marc Accetta

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How to answer, “Tell me about a time when you had to motivate someone.”

And a sample story.

You might have had to motivate someone to do their work, whether it was a coworker or subordinate. They might have been the bottleneck that was holding up a major project. This is frustrating, especially if you like to finish projects before the deadline, nonetheless on time.

Motivation

Employers are also sensitive to this conundrum because projects finished late cost money

Further, someone who consistently fails to do their part of a project is a major problem who will most likely have to be let go; and this is a huge cost the employer must undertake. Estimates put the cost of a bad hire at 30 percent of the person’s first annual salary.

Therefore, you should expect to be asked this question during an interview: “Tell us about a time when you had to motivate someone.”  This is a common behavioral-based question.

Four thoughts to keep in mind when answering this question

Although this is a tough question to answer, there are four thoughts to keep in mind that will help you answer this question:

  1. Interviewers want to see how you’re going to respond to difficult questions.
  2. Understand why the interviewers are asking the question.
  3. Have your (short) story ready.

For details about how to successfully answer behavioral interview questions, read—Tell Me About a Time When You Failed and Smart Strategies to Answer Behavioral Interview Questions.

How to answer a behavioral-based question

The last thought–have your story ready–is what I’ll address in this article.

A vague answer is not going to impress interviewers. In fact, it might eliminate you from consideration. Remember, this is a problem employers struggle with, so interviewers want a specific answer.

What’s important in answering this question is to go into the interview with a specific situation in mind. This is the beginning of your story. The remaining parts of your story are: your task in the situation, the actions you took to solve the situation, and the result.

The acronym is STAR. Keep in mind to guide you through your answer. Let’s look at a STAR story to answer: “Tell me about a time when you had to motivate someone.”

Situation

Our company was going to participate in an annual trade show at the Javits Center in New York City. The date was approaching in two months.

Task

As the manager of marketing, it was my responsibility to coordinate the trade show. There were several details I had to handle, including making hotel arrangements for sales and the VP, coordinating transportation for our booth, writing content for social media and the website, and additional duties.

It was up to the sales manager to notify our partners, OEMs, and VARs that we were attending.

Actions

Three months before the show, I sent an email to the manager of the sales department asking him to begin the process of sending out the emails. I received no reply at that time.

A week later I called to remind him that the emails had to be sent out in order to give our partners enough time to schedule the event into their calendars. He said he would get on it immediately.

A week after that I ran into him in the lunch room, where I asked him how the emails were going. Sheepishly he told me he hadn’t gotten to sending them. This was making me nervous, and I think he realized it.

Later that day, I went to his office and told him that other trade shows were happening around that time and we had to get confirmation from our partners that they were going to attend ours. I hoped he would understand the gravity of the situation.

By Friday of that week, the emails still hadn’t been sent out, so I decided that he needed some motivation. It’s not like me to go over people’s heads when I can handle the situation myself.

On Monday I crafted an email to VP of sales and marketing telling her that all the task for the trade show were handled, save for the emails that our sales manager had to send out. Then I asked the sales manager to come to my office to review it. I told him that the email was going to be sent out by the end of the day.

Result

This was all the motivation he needed. By the end of the day, he sent out the emails to our OEMs, VARs, and partners. There were a handful of our partners who said they couldn’t make it because they weren’t given enough notice, but most of them were looking forward to it.

The sales manager came to me a week later to apologize for not sending out the emails in a timely manner and appreciated me not going to my VP about the matter. I told him I could help him with his time management skills, and he thanked me for the offer.

Bonus

What I Learned

I learned that I should have been more persuasive earlier in the process. I acted too slowly. I also learned that I can motivate my colleagues without having to get upper management involved.

Read One very important component of your behavioral-based interview answer.

The bottom line

Anticipate that you will be asked behavioral questions in interviews. As usual, the best defense is a good offense—have examples of how you have handled this situation, structured as STARs (plus Learning) so you can clearly present both the situation and the positive result from your action, demonstrating your ability to successfully motivate others to support your employer’s goals.

This article originally appeared on www.job-hunt.org.

Photo: Flickr, Jesper Sehested

 

One very important component of your behavioral-based interview answer

Interviewers want proof of what you’ve accomplished or failed to accomplishment. You can achieve can prove your assertions by delivering a well crafted stories. You’ve probably heard of the STAR formula. You’ll use this formula to guide yourself through telling your story.

Learnlock

The four-letter acronym stands for.

S: situation faced at work.

T: your task in the situation.

A: actions you took to solve the situation.

R: the final result/s.

However, there is one component of your story that will bring your story round circle. Can you guess what it is?

The letter to remember is“L” which stands for what you learned from the situation. This letter is an important component in your story because, as mentioned above, it wraps up your answer.

The scenario

In an interview you’re asked the common behavioral-based question, “What has been you toughest challenge thus far in your career?” Here is an abbreviated answer you might give.

S: The university needed consistent branding across departments.

T: My task was to oversee the process; a process that took a year to complete.

A: The actions I took were to:

  1. assign a task force to help make this process happen;
  2. decide on consistent colors and fonts for signage, the university website, and peripheral materials;
  3. ensure all of this met the board of directors expectations.

R: It was a long process, but the president of the school and the board of directors were extremely impressed. All was completed on time and under budget.

Ending your story with what you learned

As said earlier, your story isn’t complete. The interviewer wants to know what you learned from the experience. This is a time which will require self-reflection, not a trite answer because you’re happy with your success story.

Your learning statement should be relevant to the STAR story and company’s needs. It should also be brief. Here is an example of how you might, bring the story round circle.

“What I learned from this experience are threefold. First, I can lead a large project with a large number of pieces.

“Second, I learned that I can be an effective leader of many departments. I know this is an important part of this role.

“Third, attention to detail is imperative, especially when thousands of banners, business cards, pen and other swag are being produced. I made this a top priority.”

Every area of this answer adds value to the candidate. It shows the ability to lead, attend to details, communicate between departments, organize and set priorities, among other skills. In other words, it gives you the opportunity to add more value to your story.


Using the STAR formula is a great way to show proof of what you assert, but to really hammer  your answer home, you should tell interviewers what you learned from the situation faced at work.

Photo: Flickr, Jenna

 

5 steps to answer, “Tell us about a time when you had to deal with pressure”

You’re in a group interview and it’s been going smoothly. You’ve answered the questions you prepared for. To your credit, you read the job description and identified the most important requirements for the job, Marketing Manager.

Mock Interview

The interview is going so well that you’re wondering when the hammer will fall. When will the killer question be asked? That question would be, “Tell us about a time when you had to deal with pressure.”

In the job description, one sentence read, “You will be working in a fun, fast-paced, pressure packed environments. If you like challenges, this is the job for you.”

Sure enough one of the interviewers asks the question you were dreading. “Jane, tell us about a time when you had to deal with pressure. How did you approach it, and what was the result?”

Great, a behavioral-based question. You never considered what you did at your last job as having to deal with pressure. Pressure wasn’t in your vocabulary. Coming to the interview, you ran a scenario over and over in your mind.

The interviewer is waiting for your answer. How are you going to respond? You decide that you’ll ask for some clarification first. “This is a great question but one I’m having trouble with,” you say. “Would you give me an example?”

“I’m referring to a time when you had to meet a deadline as a Marketing Manager. There will be deadlines to meet here,” one of the interviewer says calmly.

All of the sudden it occurs to you that you had many deadlines to meet, and that you met almost all of them, 95% at least. You will have no problem answering the question honestly. It’s just a matter of recalling the specifics of a story that comes to mind.

“Thank you Ms. Jones. This helps a lot.”

Remembering the S.T.A.R formula a career coach told you to use, you begin your story.

Situation

Three years ago I was hired by my previous organization to manage the marketing department. One major problem the company had was a lack of social media presence. I mentioned this in my interview with them.

Task

Shortly after I was hired, I was given the task of creating a more robust social media presence. The VP of the organization came into my office and gave me the exciting news; and as he was leaving, he told me I had a month to pull it off.

Actions

  • The first thing I did after hearing the news was evaluate the situation. We had a Facebook page that was barely getting hits. Some of our employees had LinkedIn accounts, and that was about it.
  • I approached one of my employees whose LinkedIn profile was strong and asked if she would be willing to create a LinkedIn company page. I was strong with LinkedIn, but knew very little about a company page. She was excited to take this on.
  • As I left her cubicle, she told me she would also take on the Facebook page. I joked with her about taking on Twitter. She told me it would be too much work, in addition to her other responsibilities. I agreed.
  • From looking at our competitors’ social media campaigns, I realized our strongest competitor had the top three I mentioned, as well as Instagram and Pinterest. I didn’t have the staff to implement these two platforms. I would need to hire a person to take these on.
  • My VP agreed to letting me hire a person to take on Instagram and Pinterest, but told me I had a budget of 20K. I was able to negotiate 5K more, plus an additional month on the deadline.
  • The person I hired was looking for part-time work, 25 hours a week, and knew Instagram and Pinterest very well, having taught it at a local community college. He agreed upon 22K for salary.
  • The last step was letting our clients and partners know about our new campaign. Once the campaign was a few weeks off the ground, I had one of the staff send out a mass mailing through ConstantContact, letting them know about our campaign.

Result

At first the reaction I was hoping for from our audience was sluggish, but after a month our visits to Facebook increased by 300%. LinkedIn visits increased by 50%, and Twitter gained 50% more followers. Instagram also did well with 4 visits a day. It was agreed that Pinterest would be dropped after a month since its inception.

Even with the extended due date I negotiated, my staff were able to complete the task by a month and a half. In addition, my VP decided that our new hire would be offered a full-time position monitoring all of the platforms.


There’s one more component of your story to make it complete: what you learned. This will close the loop.

Learn

What I took away from this experience is that when the pressure’s on, I react with decisiveness. I’m more than confident I will do the same for you.


This behavioral-based question is a common one asked in interviews. Be prepared to answer it and make sure you use the S.T.A.R formula. This is the best way to tell your story.

4 steps necessary to prepare for behavioral-based questions

During our career center orientation, I ask the participants if they’ve been asked behavioral-based questions. Then I say, “If you find this type of question difficult to answer, keep your hands up.” Almost all hands are still raised.

Future2

I’m not surprised when job seekers in my orientation admit that behavioral-based questions are difficult to answer, given the fact that this type of question is meant to get to the core of the applicant.

Surprisingly, not enough interviewers ask behavioral-based questions. Instead they fall back on traditional questions that lack creativity and can be answered with rehearsed replies. “What are your two greatest weaknesses?” or “Why should I hire you?” are two examples of predictable traditional questions that are easy to prepare for.

In addition, traditional questions  can be answered theoretically—in other words, the candidate hasn’t performed, or failed to perform, the desired competencies successfully. The candidate can essentially tell the interviewer whatever he/she wants to hear.

What is difficult about answering behavioral-based questions is that they demand the candidates to address specific times when they’ve performed certain skills and then tell stories about those times. To be successful, candidates need to do the following:

1. Understand the requirements of the job

In order to prepare for a behavioral interview, it requires acute knowledge of the position’s requirements. If you are able to identify eight or more competencies required for the position, you can predict, within reason, the types of questions that will be asked.

For example, if the job ad calls for someone who is organized, demonstrates excellent verbal and written communications, is a leader, etc., you can expect questions such as:

“Tell us about a time when your organization skills resulted in a smooth delivery of services.”

“Give me an example of when your verbal communications skills made it possible for you to solve a conflict between colleagues.”

“Tell me about a time when your leadership faltered and resulted in a conflict between a subordinate and you. What did you learn from your error?”

2. Write the stories for each question

Questions like these will require you to tell a compelling story for each of these skills. How you tell your stories is important. They will consist of a beginning, middle, and end. You should write your stories because you will remember what we’ve written better than by simply trying to remember them.

When you write the stories, use the S.T.A.R. formula. The beginning is the Situation and (your) Task, the middle consist the Actions taken to meet the situation, and the end is the positive, or negative, Result.

Following is an example of an answer for a behavioral-based question. The question is, “Tell me about a time when you collaborated on a successful project.”


Situation: As part of a three-member team, we were charged with writing a report necessary to continue operating an outside program funded by the Department of Labor.

Task: I was given the task writing a detailed report of our participants’ training experience and the jobs they secured with the assistance of a dedicated job placement specialist.

Actions: I started with noting how I recruited 80 participants for the training program, a number I’m happy to say exceeded previous expectations of 50 participants. This required outreach to junior colleges, vocational schools, and career centers.

Step two involved writing detailed descriptions of their training, which included Lean Six Sigma, Project Management, and Agile. Then explaining how this training would help the participants secure employment in their targeted careers.

Next, I interviewed each participant to determine their learning level and satisfaction with the program. All but one was extremely satisfied. The person who was not satisfied felt the training was too difficult but wanted to repeat the training.

As well, I tracked each participant over a period of four months to determine their job placement. Jobs were hard to come by, so at times I took it upon myself to approach various manufacturing companies in the area in order to place 40 of our participants.

Finally I took the lead on writing a five-page report on what the members of the team and I had accomplished in the course of  three months. Other members of the team were of great help in editing the report and making sure it was delivered on time to Boston.

The result: The result was that we delivered the report with time to spare and were able to keep funding for the project for three more years. In addition, the DoL told our director that our report was the best one they’ve received.


3. Rehearse your stories

The story above, as written, takes approximately two minutes to read. This is stretching it in terms of time, so you’ll want to rehearse your stories to the point where they’re more concise, yet maintain their value.

You can talk about them in front of a mirror or deliver them to a live audience, like your friend, neighbor, or family member. The latter is probably the best method to use, as you will not only speak them aloud; you’ll speak them aloud to someone who may make you a tad bit nervous.

Do not try to memorize every little detail of each story. You may fumble with your stories during an interview. Also, you will forget some of the smaller details, but don’t get down on yourself when this happens. Just make sure you hit the major points.

4. Be prepared for zingers

In the interview, you may face questions that take you off guard. Perhaps the stories for which you prepared and rehearsed only end with positive results.

Keep in mind that not all questions will call for a positive results; some interviewers will ask about a time when you failed. Obviously you don’t want to elaborate on these situations.

And don’t answer negative questions with stories that describe the downfall of your company. Therefore, it’s important to write brief stories that end with negative results. A popular question is: “Tell us about a mistake you made and how you rebounded from the mistake.

Interviewers who ask negative questions are smart. Would it make sense to you to learn only about the positive side of the candidates? No. Smart interviewers need to know the good, bad, and  ugly.


How many stories are necessary?

One wonderful thing about stories is that they often reveal more skills than the interviewer originally asked for. For example, the story I provided above reveals the following skills: coordination, outreach, interviewing, interpersonal, initiative, writing, and more.

Photo: Flickr, cthoma27