Tag Archives: Tough Interview 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 persuaded your boss.”

And a sample answer.

Rarely will anyone say behavioral-based questions are easy to answer. They require a job candidate to recall a time when they performed a skill successfully, or unsuccessfully, and then tell a story about performing the particular skill.

Persuasion

The story must be specific and succinct, which are two challenges some job candidates struggle with. To this point, many people I’ve interviewed try to deliver a general, long-winded answer that doesn’t hit the mark. This is not what interviewers are looking for.

The four thoughts candidates need to take into consideration are:

  1. Interviewers want to see how you’re going to respond to this difficult question.
  2. They want to see self-awareness/honesty.
  3. Understand why they’re asking the question.
  4. Have your story (short) ready.

I go into detail in a previous article on these considerations in a previous post.

Let’s look at a behavioral-based question whose purpose it is to determine a candidate’s ability persuade her boss: “Tell us about a time when you convinced your boss to adopt an idea that he disagreed with.”

Using the S.T.A.R formula you begin your story.

Situation

Our company was using Microsoft Excel to keep track of our customers’ orders and appointments, but the process proved to be inefficient. It was becoming laborious to enter customer information, and the sales department complained that accessing it was too difficult.

Task

As the sales operations manager, it was my responsibility to find a solution for this antiquated process.

Actions

I knew we needed a better process, so I approached my boss to explain that we needed a true CRM software. His reply was that we didn’t have the money, nor the need for CRM software. I wasn’t going to argue with him. I needed to prove my point.

First I called our main competitors to see what they were using to organize their customer transactions and appointments. At least nine out of ten were using CRM software. And most were willing to tell me the brand they were using.

Salesforce was being used by the five of our competitors. Hubspot was was second with two, and Zoho and Agile were the others.

I knew my boss wouldn’t go with Salesforce just because it  was the leader of the pack. He would want to know why it would be the best fit for our sales and marketing department.

I conducted thorough research on the four products, including one called Kintone, which was in the top ten for security. The others didn’t list that information. I knew we needed a product that would store customer data, track customer interaction, track leads, and most importantly be user friendly for the sales team.

After two weeks of researching products and talking with salespeople, I narrowed the list to three software, based on reputation; overall customer interaction; ease of use; and, of course, price.

I asked my boss if I could have half an hour of his time to discuss my CRM proposal. He reluctantly agreed. When he entered the conference room, he was surprised to see a PowerPoint presentation I created shining on the screen.

At the conclusion of m presentation, he paused for what seem like hours and finally asked me which software I would suggest. I said Salesforce, but he liked Zoho better.

Result

We implemented Zoho CRM, which over two years improved efficiency by 50%. I know this because I tracked the hours the staff had used with Excel and later used with Zoho.

Bonus: lesson learned

I learned that the way to persuade my boss was to show him what I proposed, rather than get into a heated debate. This is how I have and will continue persuading my bosses to agree with my suggestions.

This article originally appeared on Job-Hunt.org.

Photo: Flickr, Henrik Therkildsen

 

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.