| August 21st, 2006

* interview preparations: behavioral interview questions

Even though basic interview questions are resume-based and revolve around education, previous work experiences, interests, etc., savvy interviewers like to test the candidates by asking behavioral questions. These questions are usually based on specific situations that will require the candidate give examples from his/her prior work experiences.  Because these questions are specified, the answers also need to be tailored and to the point. You will need to describe a particular event, project or situation; how did you deal with it and the outcome.  If the outcome was not what you had expected, it is better to mention that as well.  In another words you are actually telling the interviewer about what did you learn from it.

We will talk about a few sample questions here. Depending on the type of position and industry, the answers could be slightly different for each interview. However, the answering pattern should be the same.  If you are fresh out of college and interviewing for your first job, you may give examples from your class projects, voluntary work or internship experiences.

1. Tell me about a situation when you had to satisfy an unhappy customer.

By asking this question, the interviewer actually is trying to find out a few different skills from your answer – customer service, problem solving, attention to detail, honesty and integrity, etc. 

If you have experience working in a retail environment, you may have actual customer related experiences that you can talk about.  If you do not have any retail customer related experience, you need to relate the question to your work experiences. Everything we do is for a customer(s). When you had to work on a project in a class, your teacher was your client/customer who you did it for.  In an office environment, people who you are serving are your customers.  If you prepared reports for Sales Managers, they were your customers/clients. Therefore, you will need to think about a situation that you can relate and explain it.

2. Give me an example of a problem you faced on the job, and how did you solve it.

This is more of a general question.  A problem could be of any kind.  Just make sure you talk about a problem that actually brings out your good qualities that apply to the requirements of the job.  Not like there were not microwave ovens in the lunchroom and I requested for one.  Of course this was a problem and you solved it by requesting for an oven, which improved the productivity of the employees as they did not have to leave the premise to get hot lunch.  Now they could use that time to work at desk while eating.  However, you can give better examples like the problem you faced with the absence of a business intelligence tool for reporting. You proposed one and then helped the management selecting one that was suitable for the company.  Without a BI tool, different people were using different methods of reporting with limited capabilities of Excel, AS400, etc. (whichever applies to your company).  Or you could talk about the need of documentations for projects that you had requested and how later it helped you or others.  Be sure to give enough details.

3. Describe a time when you had to go above and beyond in order to accomplish a task.
You can mention a specific project that you had to complete in very short notice/time and had to put a lot of extra hours.  Mention if you needed to bring some work at home or worked on weekends.  Explain how did you handle the other projects/requests at the same time (how did you prioritize) while meeting the deadline for this major project.  If you earned a reward/recognition for completing the project, be sure to mention that.  For example, it felt really good when my manager recognized me in front of the senior management of the company for this project.

4. Describe a time when you failed to accomplish a task.
You may talk about a task that you actually failed to complete, however, be sure to talk about the positive side of it at the same time.  You must have learned something from that failure which you can tell the interviewer. You can say that you see this failure as a learning opportunity that helped you perform better the next time.

The questions above are just to help you get started.  Since these are very specific questions, it is hard to prepare for them ahead of time.  Before going to the interview, you may think and prepare a list of stories (from your experiences) that you could use as examples.  However, at times you may not have an answer and it is fine.  You do not always have to answer a question just because it has been asked.  It is better to say, I’m sorry but I can’t really think of any situation like this happening to me, rather than trying to lie or make something up.  Also, if there is another situation that was not exactly what has been asked but close, you may say, I’m sorry I can’t really think of any situation like this happening to me but I can perhaps relate it to a situation that was a little bit different and then explain the other case and try to relate.  At least you tried.  If the question is not clear enough, you may ask for clarifications politely and then try to answer. It is always easier to answer if you know what exactly s/he is looking for.  Many interviewers appreciate candidate’s interest and thoroughness.

While researching on behavioral questions, I learned about a method named STAR approach (Situation, Task, Action, Result) that many people and career placement companies recommend to follow while preparing for this type of questions.  You will learn more about this method at the following website:

You can also check out the websites below for more behavioral questions and guidelines on how to answer them.


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Adhunika blog is launched with a mission to share knowledge among women from every walk of life. Sometime it would be in the form of sharing experience to find a feasible solution of a problem; sometime it would be in the form of professional consultation, which Adhunika group will arrange for its bloggers. Nevertheless, the intent of this blog always remains the same - to help and empower women through a common web-based platform....read more



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