Tag Archives: Behavioral-based Questions

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.

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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