The Quintessential Guide to Behavioral Interviewing
Title Page & Credits. Read Title Page now. Introduction: How This Book is Organized. Read the Introduction now. Chapter 1: The Premise Behind Behavioral Interviewing. What is a behavioral interview? Why do employers use them? Learn the reasons behind this increasingly popular interview technique. Read Chapter 1 now. Chapter 2: Skills Employers Target in Behavioral Interviews. Review the skills that employers commonly seek when they conduct behavioral interviews and find out how to identify the skills that will be targeted for a specific job. Read Chapter 2 now. Chapter 3: Guidelines for Preparing for Behavioral Interviews. The common folklore is that behavioral interviews are very difficult to prepare for, and there’s some truth to that, but some simple guidelines can help you get ready. Read Chapter 3 now. Chapter 4: Strategies for Formulating Behavioral Interview Response Stories. Career experts offer an alphabet soup of acronym-based formulas for behavioral interview responses. See the formulas and examples of each. Read Chapter 4 now. Chapter 5: Sample Behavioral Interview Questions and Responses View a huge collection of sample behavioral interview questions with sample excellent responses to each. Read Chapter 5 now. Chapter 6: Quick Refresher on Guidelines for All Types of Interviews. Once you’ve nailed behavioral interviewing, you still need to remember all the other strategies for successful interviewing. See a quick checklist here. Read Chapter 6 now.
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The Quintessential Guide to Behavioral Interviewing
Katharine Hansen, Ph.D.
Quintessential Careers Press
a division of Quintessential Careers
DeLand, FL 32720
Copyright © 2008 by Quintessential Careers
All rights reserved. No part of this book shall be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission from the publisher. No liability is assumed with respect to the use of the information contained in this book.
Produced in the United States of America
Publisher: Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D.
Creative Director: Katharine Hansen, Ph.D.
Quintessential Careers Press: The Quintessential Guide to Behavioral Interviewing Introduction
You may not be familiar with the concept of behavioral interviewing, but odds are high that you’ll undergo several interviews in your career that are behavior-based. Every job-seeker needs to know how to navigate the tricky world of behavioral interviewing. The six chapters of this book will prepare you.
Chapter 1 sets the scene by defining and explaining the rationale for behavioral interview.
The middle three chapters, Chapters 2, 3, and 4, take you step-by-step through the guidelines and frameworks you need for preparing responses to behavior-based questions. You’ll see the skills that employers commonly seek when they conduct behavioral interviews and find out how to identify the skills that will be targeted for a specific job. You’ll learn some parameters for your responses and see how to structure your answers to these tough questions.
Chapter 5 is the meat of the book – a hefty collection of sample behavioral interview questions with sample excellent responses to each.
It never hurts to be reminded of strategies that apply to any kind of interview, including behavioral, so Chapter 6 provides a refresher checklist.
Chapter 1: The Premise Behind Behavioral Interviewing – Page 2
Although behavioral interviewing is still sometimes considered to be an unfamiliar and relatively new mode of job interviewing, employers such as AT&T and Accenture (the former Andersen Consulting) have been using behavioral interviewing for at least 20 years, and because increasing numbers of employers are using behavior-based methods to screen job candidates, understanding how to excel in this interview environment is becoming a crucial job-hunting skill. Even interviews that are not entirely behavior-based usually feature at least some behavioral questions.
The premise behind behavioral interviewing is that the most accurate predictor of future performance is past performance in similar situations. Behavioral interviewing, in fact, is said to be 55 percent predictive of future on-the-job behavior, while traditional interviewing is only 10 percent predictive. In their book Results-Oriented Interviewing: Principles, Practices, and Procedures, Schmidt and Conaway assert that behavioral interviewing is up to seven times more accurate than traditional interviewing in predicting future behavior.
Behavioral-based interviewing is touted as providing a more objective set of facts to make employment decisions than other interviewing methods. Traditional interview questions ask you general questions such as “Why should we hire you?” The process of behavioral interviewing is much more probing and works very differently.
In a traditional job-interview, you can usually get away with telling the interviewer what he or she wants to hear, even if you are fudging a bit on the truth. And even if you are asked situational questions that start out “How would you handle XYZ situation?” you have minimal accountability. How does the interviewer know, after all, if you would really react in a given situation the way you say you would? In a behavioral interview, however, it’s much more difficult to give responses that are untrue to your character. When you start to tell a behavioral story, the behavioral interviewer typically will pick it apart to try to get at the specific behavior(s). The interviewer will probe further for more depth or detail such as “What were you thinking at that point?” or “Tell me more about your meeting with that person,” or “Lead me through your decision process.” If you’ve told a story that’s anything but totally honest, your response will not hold up through the barrage of probing questions.
Chapter 1: The Premise Behind Behavioral Interviewing – Page 3
The behavioral job interview is based on the theory that past performance is the best indicator of future behavior, and uses questions that probe specific past behaviors, such as: “tell me about a time where you confronted an unexpected problem,” “tell me about an experience when you failed to achieve a goal,” and “give me a specific example of a time when you managed several projects at once.” Job-seekers need to prepare for these interviews by recalling scenarios that fit the various types of behavioral interviewing questions. Expect interviewers to have several follow-up questions and probe for details that explore all aspects of a given situation or experience. Employers use the behavioral interview technique to evaluate a candidate’s experiences and behaviors so they can determine the applicant’s potential for success.
The employer analyzes what makes individuals successful in its organization and identifies job-related experiences, behaviors, knowledge, skills and abilities that are desirable in a particular position. Once the employer has identified the skills and behaviors needed for the position, the employer then structures very pointed questions to elicit detailed responses aimed at determining if the candidate possesses the desired characteristics. For example, an employer looking to hire sales representatives sought candidates with “ego drive,” which is reflected in a person’s desire to be highly successful and his or her need to be a significant person according to his or her own goals. A sample question designed to identify ego drive was, “Describe a past event that gave you a great sense of personal accomplishment.” The interviewer would look for responses that indicate the candidate’s drive, need for recognition, and need for success.
Questions (often not even framed as a question) typically start out: “Tell about a time…” or “Describe a situation…” Many employers use a rating system to evaluate selected criteria during the interview. As a candidate, you should be equipped to answer the questions thoroughly. Chapter 2 tells you more about the skills and behaviors employers seek in these interviews and how to identify the specific skills an employer may be targeting in a given job.
The specific preparation required for behavioral interviews will help you with any kind of interview. As career expert Andrea Dine note, “the real beauty of learning how to respond behaviorally is that even if the question is not a behavior-based question, it can still be answered with a real-life example. This approach helps give the candidates credibility and allows them to separate themselves from everyone else, leaving an imprint of them on the interviewer’s mind.”
How do you know whether an interview you have scheduled will be behavior-based or not? Sometimes the employer will tell you when setting up the appointment. If not, there is nothing wrong with asking what type of interview to expect.
Chapter 2: Skills Employers Target in Behavioral Interviews – Page 4
Obviously, you can prepare better for this type of interview if you know which skills that the employer has predetermined to be necessary for the job you seek. Using the guidelines in the next two chapters, you’ll want to compose stories/examples that demonstrate the skills, abilities, values, and knowledge that employers seek in the type of job and industry you’re targeting. So, how do you find out what skills, abilities, values, and knowledge are being sought? Your best indicator will be the ads and job postings for the type of position you seek, which likely will list the skills and behaviors the employer will be looking for in candidates who interview for those positions. These steps will help you narrow down the skills:
- Identify a dozen or so help-wanted ads or Internet job postings that typify the kind of job you seek.
- List keywords that describe the skills and characteristics required for these jobs. See the end of this chapter for a list of skills and characteristics that employers typically seek.
- Now, highlight all the skills and characteristics keywords the ads or job postings have in common and make a list of these frequently appearing skills/characteristics.
- For each skill/characteristic listed, compose an example/story (see more about the importance of storytelling in behavioral interviews in Chapters 3 and 4) that illustrates how you have successfully demonstrated that skill or characteristic in your career “ or even in your personal life.
Now you’ll be prepared for behavioral interviews for positions within your industry. As you are invited on interviews for specific positions, go through the process again with each individual ad/job posting to ensure that you have examples/stories ready for each skills and behavior listed.
If the ad does not specify detailed skills and behaviors, or if you’ve landed an interview without responding to an ad (perhaps through networking), ask if the employer can provide you with a written job description before the interview.
Researching the company and talking to people who work there will also give you clues to zero in on the kinds of behaviors the company wants.
Chapter 2: Skills Employers Target in Behavioral Interviews – Page 5
For example, some of the characteristics that Accenture looks for include:
- Critical thinking
- Being a self-starter
- Willingness to learn
- Willingness to travel
Some other typical behaviors that employers might be trying to get at in a behavior-based interview include:
Chapter 2: Skills Employers Target in Behavioral Interviews – Page 6
- Indicators of success/good performance/quality
- Practical Learning
- Presentation Skills
- Problem-solving and troubleshooting
- Process improvement
- Process Operation
- Quantitative skills
- Rapport Building
- Research, strategy, and planning
- Risk Taking
- Safety Awareness
- Sales Ability/Persuasiveness
- Strategic Analysis
- Team player who can also work independently
- Team player/team-builder
Chapter 2: Skills Employers Target in Behavioral Interviews – Page 7
- Technical/Professional Proficiency
- Time management/ability to perform under deadline pressure
- Willingness to learn/ability to learn quickly
- Willingness to travel, relocate
- Work ethic/professionalism
- Work Standards
In this preliminary stage, you are developing stories/examples of skills and behaviors relevant to the types of position you seek. In subsequent chapters, you’ll see how to structure these stories for specific behavioral-interview questions.
The integration of stories with employment interviewing has been a well-known and highly touted technique for some time. Career author Frank Traditi, who titles his article on the subject, Using Career Success Stories in Interviews and Networking, recommends success stories about overcoming significant challenges.
In focus-group research that I conducted for my PhD dissertation, participants were asked to evaluate a set of story-based interview responses compared with responses that did not contain stories. Of participants preferring the storied responses, comments included:
- The story responses presented more information.
- The story responses incorporated the job-seeker’s personal style into handling business.
- The job-seeker who gave the story responses communicated/sold herself in a very positive light.
- The storytelling respondent was the more memorable candidate since “I would have had more time to get to know her through her answers and the time I spent with her.”
- The story responses were quite the opposite of those without stories in that the storytelling job-seeker expressed herself in a “colorful” manner. She incorporated into her stories terms that employers like to hear during an interview “ reliable, trustworthy, loyal, team player, creative.
- The storytelling responses allowed the interviewer to see how the job-seeker took on a task and handled it.
- The non-story responses, although concise, did not impress upon the interviewer how the job-seeker could benefit the organization, nor did they provide a sense of his personal style and ways of handling the day-to-day situations that may arise.
Chapter 2: Skills Employers Target in Behavioral Interviews – Page 8
The one caution these participants had about the storied responses was to make them as concise as possible and not too wordy. Participants wanted details “ but not too many. “Although one does not want to go overboard when talking about [oneself],” one participant said, “it is important to incorporate the needs of the employer with the qualities of person being interviewed.”
Typically, career experts advise candidates to respond to behavioral-interview questions with stories. “Your examples are best told through a story format,” writes Carole Martin in Boost Your Interview I.Q. “The more interesting and relevant the story is, the more the interviewer will want to hear further examples.”
“Evidence shows that behavioral description questions require respondents to tell stories and that storytelling is now critical to applicants’ success in employment interviews,” write scholars Ralston, Kirkwood, and Burant, whose research in Business Communication Quarterly (2003) of other academic studies of storytelling in behavioral interviewing suggests that stories told in interviews garner attention, serve as a way to make the applicant memorable, and describe past behavior in an appealing way.
Not Just Stories, but Stories Well Told With storytelling well established as a way of responding to behavior-based questions, the scholarly study by Ralston, Kirkwood, and Burant focuses on how to measure and improve the quality of stories told in the interview. The authors present a set of criteria for an effective story to be used in a job interview:
- Internal consistency: Is the story cohesive? Does it avoid confusion and disjunction? Is the narrative consistent with the skills, abilities, and values the job-seeker wants to portray?
- Consistency with facts the listener knows to be true: Does the story conform to what the interviewer is likely to have experienced or knows about the environment the job-seeker is describing? Is it familiar and believable?
- Relevance to question asked and claim being made: In essence, does the story answer the question being asked? Does it provide appropriate evidence to support the skill, ability, knowledge, or characteristic the job-seeker is claiming?
- Univocality: Is the story unambiguous? Does it lead to just a single conclusion or interpretation?
- Detail that supports the claim being made: Is the story revealing? Does it, in the words of Ralston, Kirkwood, and Burant, “provide telling details of plot, characterization, and action that enable listeners to see for themselves what the point is?”
- Reflection of the job-seeker’s values, beliefs, sense of self/others, or emotional outlook: Does the job-seeker tell the story with sufficient passion so that it conveys a real sense of the applicant and how he or she might fit in with the employer’s organization?
Chapter 2: Skills Employers Target in Behavioral Interviews – Page 9
Keeping in mind that a successful example/story must be true and told in context, consider these ideas for story-framing so your collection of stories comes from various perspectives (the first four come from Annette Simmons’ 2006 book, The Story Factor: Inspiration, Influence, and Persuasion through Storytelling, Cambridge. MA, Basic Books, while the next five come from Quintessential Careers contributor Joe Turner):
- A time in your life when this skill/characteristic was tested.
- A person/event in your life that taught you the importance of this skill/characteristic.
- A time when you failed to live up to this skill/characteristic and decided never to let it happen again.
- A movie/story/book/event that exemplifies this skill/characteristic for you.
- A turning point in your development of this skill/characteristic.
- A crisis in your life or job and how you responded or recovered from it.
- A time where you functioned as part of a team and what your contribution was.
- A time in your career or job where you had to overcome stress.
- A time in your job where you provided successful leadership or a sense of direction.
- A failure that occurred in your job and how did you overcome it.
- A story about tasks and job functions related to this skill/characteristic.
- A timeline of how you developed and sharpened this skill/characteristic.
- An example from your personal life (as opposed to career) of deploying this skill/characteristic.
- Patterns that have emerged in your development of this skill/characteristic.
- Results you’ve achieved through using this skill/characteristic.
- Lessons you’ve learned while developing and using this skill/characteristic.
- Ways you’ve applied this skill/characteristic in diverse situations.
- A strength or vulnerability from your past that led to developing this skill/characteristic (this one comes from Stephen Denning’s 2005 book, The Leader’s Guide to Storytelling, San Francisco, Jossey-Bass) .
Chapter 2: Skills Employers Target in Behavioral Interviews – Page 10
Following are examples of stories that use some of these frameworks:
I have learned that my role is to do work that makes a difference in people’s lives. For the first 20 years, I worked in television news, believing in the people’s right to know. For the past six years, I’ve been in education, helping teachers and their students. My ultimate goal is to be head of a department. (Recognizes a characteristic that has become a career pattern).
I realized I had solid problem-solving skills during my freshmen year after I went to the soup kitchen in Parkersburg to serve food to the less fortunate. I felt that I needed to do something more, so I had an idea that when everybody moved out of the dorms at the end of a semester, instead of throwing nonperishable food away, students could put it in a box, and I would take it to the local food bank so it could feed the poor. I ended up gathering about six carloads of canned and dry food that would have been thrown away. (Describes a skill honed in personal life rather than career).
My leadership skills were called into question by my first evaluation as a district manager. I was rated much lower than I had ever been rated. I realized that, after having been promoted into a new position, I needed to learn a lot more. Determined to never again get a low rating, I learned as much as I possibly could, and this quest for knowledge became the driving force behind my attaining the high rating I achieved for this year. (Describes failure to live up to skill/characteristic and determination never to let it happen again).
I solve problems every day in my job, but one recent example I had that truly tested my problem-solving skills involved a woman who called me to question why we refunded part of her premium to her. She’s a new policy-holder who was quoted $2,900 for an annual premium and paid that amount, but in the computer, her annual premium was about $2,500, so we refunded her the difference. My first hunch was she received a discount for paying in full, but when I calculated the discount percent, it was not adding up. After about two or three iterations of trying various combinations of discounts, I still was unable to figure out why the quote and actual premium were different and figured I was not looking for the right root cause. I decided to manually price her policy from the ground up, and during the process I happened to notice her birthday on her application was written ambiguously and could have been interpreted as 1925 or 1928. I calculated quotes for both ages and realized the reason for the difference. I honored the lower rate since the payment transactions were fully completed. (Describes a time when skill was tested).
Chapter 2: Skills Employers Target in Behavioral Interviews – Page 11
As an undergrad, I took a course on argument and advocacy and learned a very important concept called Tooling Modeling, which is a logical way of thinking with three parts: claim, grounds, and warrant. The claim is your point; the grounds consists of your proof, evidence, or backing; and your warrant is your logical leap that connects the two. The theory is naturally a little more complicated than that, but this way of thinking has been my bible for rational thought and was the single most valuable lesson I learned in college. I use this way of thinking when I am presented with problems that require decisions. I structure a rational, logical argument for each likely outcome. I can therefore see where weaknesses exist, either in the grounds or the warrant. I conduct a bump-and-compare between arguments to see which are the strongest, and I go with the most durable argument. I also take a practical approach to decision making in that I try to find out best outcome for the least price or cost. (Describes a turning point/event event that taught the importance of skill/characteristic).
I have always had a fascination for how machines work, and whenever my family and I went on holiday, I would always try and get the window-seat on the plane, if only to watch the flaps and air-brakes in action during takeoff and landing. As I continued my education, I felt a compulsion to use my degree in a people-oriented profession. So, while I love machines, I’d like to contribute my engineering skills in a company that affects peoples lives positively. I just like helping people. (Identifies a strength from the past that led to developing this skill/characteristic)
More examples of stories that illustrate skills and characteristics:
TEAM LEADERSHIP I found myself applying to my university because my cross-country coach told me not to. He advised me to take the free-ride cross-country scholarship to another school. I reasoned that academics and cross-country would be too much for me to handle there. So I applied to my current university because I felt I could compete comfortably while also excelling in my academics. My high-school coach was not too thrilled. He said, “You are making the biggest mistake of your life.” He went on to tell me that the other college had a better cross-country department, and I would be running with a nationally ranked team. I challenged my coach and told him that with leadership and devotion, any team can be nationally ranked. Of course he laughed at my statement and restated that I was making a mistake.
Chapter 2: Skills Employers Target in Behavioral Interviews – Page 12
Once I enrolled at my chosen school, I saw that my coach had been correct about the facilities and the character of the people on the team. The team members were not motivated, not athletic, and needless to say, lost every race they entered. Three other freshman that had walked onto the team joined me in deciding to change the team members’ attitudes. However, animosity was abundant between the upperclassman and the freshman. While we won races, the upperclassmen felt inferior, causing internal conflict in the team. Regardless, I was determined to persuade the team to mesh well to create unity. Consequently, the upperclassmen quit the team. Still, after winning our state title, we advanced to the national level, where we were expected to compete against the college my coach had wanted me to attend. We won the meet against that school, beating them out of a third-place medal. The moral of this story is that when I was challenged to do the impossible, my devotion, character, team leadership, and tenacity persevered, while also helping the team.
I grew up in a poor, broken home, yet decided that golf was my great passion in life. I creatively used my meager resources to buy golf clubs and later a junior membership for $180 at a local club. Every day for two years, I walked through the woods to the golf course where I would play, practice, and compete throughout high school. I eventually got a job at the club so I could buy myself a few necessities. I wanted to play in college but was nowhere near the player I needed to be to play or even get on the team. So over the summer before college, I worked on my golf game to the point where I won almost every tournament I entered. I spent every hour I had during the day to make myself a better all-around player. I eventually walked on my freshman year and was exempted from qualifying because I played so well in my first outing. Through the years my decision to play golf has influenced every part of my life 100 percent. I didn’t give up on a dream, and although I am not competing with Tiger, I realized all of the good decisions I made were based on the fact that I loved the game, but better yet, didn’t give up on a goal.
Chapter 2: Skills Employers Target in Behavioral Interviews – Page 13
My stepfather was a role model and a strong influence in my life. He taught me about character; he taught me the tough lessons in life that some people learn too late or not at all. In one instance, he taught me the value of standing up for yourself. When the kids in his family (the “stepfamily”) failed to accept me, he advised me that I would have to take the initiative to learn how to handle situations in which people passively exclude me “ that I would have to do something that could get their attention. I soon learned to gather a couple of people and start up a card game or another fun activity to direct the focus on the activity instead of clashing personalities. I later realized that through this process, I had learned creative techniques to influence group dynamics. In another situation, he taught me the value of hard work. After volunteering to do yard work one day, I got tired of the project after mowing the lawn. Hot, sweaty, and tired, I started to leave before the project was done, and he told me I couldn’t leave. After several hours of pulling weeds, watering, weed-whacking, fertilizing, trimming, and prepping flower beds while my father supervised from his comfortable lawn chair in the shade, I had learned that completing only a portion of a project is not acceptable when completion is expected; that there usually is a lot more work that goes on in the background of a finished product; that there will always be someone in that comfortable lawn chair watching others work “ and that I wanted to be a supervisor in life.
When I was a receptionist at a photography company, a man came in claiming to be the father of a student who was there to pick up the student’s pictures. I asked him for identification, and he said that he had forgotten it. Normally, if the student is present with the parent and verifies that it is the correct parent, then we give the pictures to them. That wasn’t the case here. There was no student. I refused to give him the pictures, and he became angry and left. Later that day, a different man came in to pick up those same pictures. This man had photo identification with him, and I told him about what had occurred earlier that day. He told me that his child was being stalked, and that the family had a restraining order against that man. I took the stalker’s image from our security cameras and posted a picture behind the counter that indicated that he was not to have any contact with the pictures of that student. My decision-making skills helped prevent a dangerous situation because he has continued repeatedly to come into the store posing to other employees as the parent of that student.
Chapter 2: Skills Employers Target in Behavioral Interviews – Page 14
As a Customer Service Rep for a video-rental company, I once had an irate customer who left three messages on my voicemail in about 10 minutes demanding a call back. I contacted the customer, who was now even angrier because I had been in a meeting when her call came in. I listened to the customer explain that she was upset because she had purchased a loyalty program membership from us, and then several days later, we were giving away the same memberships at no cost. I apologized to the customer and asked her how I could help. She stated that she wanted her money back and she would no longer be a member. I agreed to refund her money. I then bought her a thank you card and enclosed her refund and a free membership to our loyalty program. I also noticed that several times during the phone conversation, she had stopped to yell at her children, so I also enclosed two coupons for free kids’ rentals. I thanked her for her business, apologized for not meeting her expectations, and invited her to bring her children in for a free video rental. I also enclosed my business card and asked her to call me directly if she was ever disappointed in any way while visiting one of our locations. She telephoned me when she received the card and told me that was the nicest thing any person had ever done for her when she was upset with a business. I again thanked her for her business and told her that she was my bread and butter. If she wasn’t happy, then I couldn’t be either!
Chapter 3: Guidelines for Preparing for Behavioral Interviews – Page 15
Behavioral interviews are said to be difficult to prepare for because the variety of questions that could be asked is immense “ and there is some truth to that “ but some simple guidelines can help you get up to speed. Career expert Doris Flaherty notes, “while it is true that you can never know for certain what questions you may be asked in an interview, that is no reason to not prepare! The more you have considered relevant examples of work-related skills and behaviors from your past experiences, the more likely you are to present yourself in a confident, professional manner, and the less likely you are to slip up and share something you wish you hadn’t!
“When explaining how to prepare for the behavioral interview,” Flaherty continues, “I tell people to consider some of the main competency areas that employers are likely to ask about and come up with specific examples of themselves demonstrating these in the past. Work, activities, volunteer experiences . . . it is all fair game in locating these real-life examples. I encourage them to recall both successes and failures, as they may be asked to share either.”
Following are some guidelines for developing examples/stories:
- Your response needs to be specific and detailed. Candidates who tell the interviewer about particular situations that relate to each question will be far more effective and successful than those who respond in general terms. For example, take the following question and response:
Question: “Describe a situation that required a number of things to be done at the same time. How did you handle it? What was the result?”
Response: “In my current job, I have to handle multiple responsibilities in developing new projects, maintaining existing ones, and maintaining good client relations. I allocate a certain amount of time for each area daily. That way clients can see very clearly that projects are progressing, and I have more satisfaction in accomplishing multiple tasks under pressure.” It’s not a bad response in that it has good details and targets the multi-tasking skill the employer wants to know about. But it does not relate to a specific incident, so the interviewee could compose a better response.
Chapter 3: Guidelines for Preparing for Behavioral Interviews – Page 16
- Think of your responses as stories. Your response should provide an example in story form of the behavior the interviewer is asking about. As you can probably guess from the nature of the questions asked, you must provide specific examples.
- Become a great storyteller in your interviews, but be careful not to ramble. Briefly describe the situation, what specific action you took to have an effect on the situation, and the positive result or outcome. Frame it in a multi-step process using one of several acronym-based formulas that experts have established structuring responses as examples/stories. These formulas are covered in greater detail later in this chapter, but the most basic of them are referred to as S-A-R, P-A-R, C-A-R, or S-T-A-R: 1. situation (or situation + task, challenge, problem), 2. action, 3. result/outcome.
- Your examples/stories should be relatively recent. Ideally, they will be from your current or most recent job. Employers what to know what you’ve done lately that could benefit their organization. If you are a college student, they will be from a job, internship, class project, extracurricular activity, sport, or other aspect of your life in college “ not from your high-school days. The interviewer may even specify a recent example “ say, from the last year.
- Compose stories that come from a variety of aspects of your life and career; don’t focus on just one job or activity, for example. If you are a college student, don’t limit your examples to, for instance, only those that come out of your experience as an officer in your fraternity. Use examples from jobs, volunteer work, sports, schoolwork, team participation, community service, hobbies, and other aspects of you life as well. In addition, you may use examples of special accomplishments, whether personal or professional, such as scoring the winning touchdown, being elected president of your Greek organization, winning a prize for your artwork, surfing a big wave, or raising money for charity. Established candidates can take most of their examples from their jobs but add occasional stories from other areas of their lives.
Chapter 3: Guidelines for Preparing for Behavioral Interviews – Page 17
- Be sure to make clear what your role was in the success or accomplishment you describe. You will often be asked about your experiences working as part of a team. Other times, you will use team projects as examples even when the question isn’t directly about teamwork. In both cases, you’ll be tempted to credit the team for the accomplishment. After all, if you were in the presence of the other team members, you wouldn’t want to hog all the credit for yourself. But your team members won’t be with you in the interview, so you need to toot your own horn and spotlight the contribution you made to the team’s success. For example, this story tells of a team accomplishment, but make’s the teller’s leadership role clear:
My company was struggling with scheduling employees, monitoring their time and attendance, as well as tying these elements into payroll. We needed a system, preferably online, that would make these tasks more efficient, save time, and reduce errors. When management decided to go with an outside vendor for the new system, they chose me to head up the project team. We were on a tight, two-month deadline, but I led the team to surpass not only the deadline, but the expected results. Under my guidance, we got the vendor’s system online so successfully that we reduced payroll discrepancies by 25 percent. Since we’ve operationalized it, the company has saved time in scheduling employees and resolving timesheet-related issues; in fact, these processes take half the time they used to. By customizing reports to track labor and benefits allocation, we also cut time spent on reports by a quarter. We did such a great job and made the functions so much more efficient that the vendor recognized us with its Certificate for Management’s Commitment for Successful Implementation and Design Contribution to Improve Efficiencies.
- Wherever possible, quantify your accomplishments and successes. Numbers and percentages always impress employers.
- Many behavioral questions try to get at how you responded to negative situations; you’ll need to have examples of negative experiences ready, but try to choose negative experiences that you made the best of or “ better yet, those that had positive outcomes.
Chapter 4: Strategies for Formulating Behavioral Interview Response Stories – Page 18
Career experts have developed myriad formulas and clever acronyms for how to structure stories in the job search. These formulas have in common the idea of setting the scene for your story by describing the situation, problem, or challenge you faced, explaining what action you took to address the situation, solving the problem or meeting the challenge, and explaining the result of your actions. Results expressed quantitatively, in numbers and percents, for example, are especially effective. An optional inclusion is the learning you gained from this experience. Some of the common formulas and acronyms (with their originators in parentheses) follow:
- SAR: Situation, Action, Result
- CAR: Challenge, Action, Result
- CCAR: Context, Challenge, Action, Result (Kathryn Troutman)
- PAR: Problem, Action Result
- PARLA: Problem, Action, Result, Learning, Application (Donald Asher)
- SCARQ: Situation, Challenge, Action, Results-Quantified (Steve Gallison)
- SHARE: Situation, Hindrance, Action, Results, Evaluation (Fred Coon)
- SIA: Situation, Impact, Analysis
- SMART: Situation with Metrics (or Situation and More), Actions, Results, Tie-in (Susan Britton Whitcomb)
- SOAR: Situation, Obstacle, Action, Result
- STAR: Situation, Task, Action, Result
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Let’s first look at one of the most commonly cited and basic formulas, STAR:
STAR Interviewing Response Technique for Success in Behavioral Job Interviews
| Situation or
|Describe the situation that you were in or the task that you needed to accomplish. You must describe a specific event or situation, not a generalized description of what you have done in the past. Be sure to give enough detail for the interviewer to understand. This situation can be from a previous job, from a volunteer experience, or any relevant event.|
|Action you took||Describe the action you took and be sure to keep the focus on you. Even if you are discussing a group project or effort, describe what you did — not the efforts of the team. Don’t tell what you might do, tell what you did.|
|Results you achieved||What happened? How did the event end? What did you accomplish? What did you learn?|
Example STAR story
Situation: Our company had just won a major outsourcing contract, resulting in spinning off 2,600 employees into a subsidiary within the parent organization.
Task: The company needed to develop an entire set of HR processes for this new subsidiary.
Action: I identified and developed all the processes, and then I created a resource intranet site containing powerful text and visuals illustrating the final version of all processes. I used the intranet site as the basis of a comprehensive training program for the spin-off company’s HR team.
Result: The site became an ongoing reference tool to use long after the training. Having a documented process has been a valuable tool for the HR team. Corporate auditors can clearly see that we have defined and followed our processes.
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Here are examples of each of the other formulas:
CAR: Challenge, Action, Result
Challenge: In my last leadership role, we had a challenge with our receiving process. It would take five shipping-and-receiving associates about two days to process an average-sized shipment. I quickly recognized that with the holidays approaching, the size of our shipments would double, and our process had to change.
Action: First, I addressed the overall stockroom organization and completely overhauled it. I collaborated with my stockroom manager to organize and label all products in every row. I directed rows to be organized by type of product. We were then able to sort boxes of product as they came off the trucks according to which row they went into. We had stockroom associates in each row and a runner who could carry boxes of product to their designated row.
Result: Receiving time was cut from two to three days to less than six hours from the time the truck hit the dock.
CCAR: Context, Challenge, Action, Result
Context: After Hurricane Katrina, our company was down for weeks.
Challenge: My subordinates are commissioned employees who still needed to collect a paycheck. Our print shop was up and running; however, the post office was not equipped to handle bulk mail, which is how our newspaper is distributed on Wednesdays. On weekends, our paper is distributed to stores. At this time we were doing neither.
Action: I suggested to the publisher that we distribute the paper to stores on Wednesdays. We all collaborated to come up with selling points for advertisers; for example, offering special discount to roofers, carpenters, and lawn-maintenance businesses in our services-offered advertising section.
Result: Revenue started flowing again, and my team members got paid.
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PAR: Problem, Action Result
Problem: My marketing plan for the admissions office of my college included placing some advertising in national print media, but we didn’t have the financial resources to make that happen.
Action: I knew that one of our corporate partners wanted to promote its diversity initiatives. I proposed we develop a print advertising campaign co-branding the recruiting message.
Result: The final pieces delivered dual messages of recruitment for prospective students and recruitment/placement of potential diverse employees. Through this campaign, both messages were successfully received with increased admission interest and placement at the company. The project also launched more advertising initiatives at the school.
PARLA: Problem, Action, Result, Learning, Application
Problem: During my Peace Corps experience as a volunteer in Guatemala, absolutely nothing ever went right. From no water and electricity for three weeks to getting to the health center on time by foot, donkey ride, and a canoe “ to weighing a baby on a fish scale, hanging the scale from a thatched roof, and the roof coming down on me. Or putting on a conference in rural Guatemala and only one nurse shows up, and only briefly, too!
Action: I adjusted my attitude. I learned to adapt to conditions unlike anything I was accustomed to. I made up my mind to embrace the reality of life in Guatemala and the needs of those I served.
Result: Despite the frustrations, I began to make a difference in people’s lives. For example, along with my team, I helped to ensure that more native children received inoculations against disease. The next time I put on a conference, I had learned enough about communicating with the local population to assure better attendance.
Learning: I learned that expectations sometimes lead to disappointment and that I need to keep my expectations realistic. I bring that philosophy to all aspects of my life, especially blind dates, and live by the divine principle that everything happens for a reason, and 99 percent of the time, it is to learn a life lesson from it.
Application: Now, when I facilitate a meeting of professionals, and certain individuals show up and some do not, I don’t get upset as much because the energy of those who attend enhances my facilitation and helps me learn.
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SAR: Situation, Action, Result
Situation: Recently my firm was facing a huge turnover problem, especially in our technical staff because of lack of growth within the organization. No defined path was shared with the employees. To address the situation, I not only had a huge task of defining grades and identifying and compartmentalizing our employees’ growth needs but also a race against time.
Action: I knew the tasks would be time consuming, but I set a deadline for each piece. I aggressively collected information on the employee growth needs by sending questionnaires via emails and reaching out to the workforce. I compiled the data and determined short-term and long-term achievable goals. I developed a small-projects subset of the bigger project. I designed a system so that we could track each other’s project and meet every day. The most prominent finding was lack of challenge at work. I decided to implement a leadership program, effectively identifying the top 10 to 25 percent of workers suitable for the program based on the performance reviews, peer-reviews, and qualifications. I set an aggressive target of 15 days each for each zone to complete this part of the survey.
Result: I met the deadlines, and by the end of a second month, we were ready with the budget for the training program, targeted pilot training group, location, and a trainer selected. We rolled out our first training on effective leadership, and by the end of the quarter, data showed that employees were now engaged and challenged. As a result, turnover was cut in half.
And another sample S-A-R story:
Situation: Advertising revenue was falling off for my college newspaper, the Stetson Reporter, and large numbers of long-term advertisers were not renewing contracts.
Action: I designed a new promotional packet to go with the rate sheet and compared the benefits of Reporter circulation with other ad media in the area. I also set-up a special training session for the account executives with a School of Business Administration professor who discussed competitive selling strategies.
Result: We signed contracts with 15 former advertisers for daily ads and five for special supplements. We increased our new advertisers by 20 percent over the same period last year.
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SCARQ: Situation, Challenge, Action, Result, Quantified
Situation: I had recently changed stores and become the new store’s manager.
Challenge: The store had never had engaged in community involvement or support and therefore had a rather tarnished image at the corporate level because the company is very committed to giving back to the community. Action: I met with my staff and challenged to them to come up with a relatively high-profile idea that would help the community. Under my leadership, the staff and I decided to raise money to buy high-tech fire helmets that would allow fire fighters to see through the smoke.
Result: We met our fund-raising goal and earned a lot of positive press in the local community.
Quantified: The $10,000 we raised was more money than had ever been raised by any store in the chain.
SHARE: Situation, Hindrance, Action, Results, Evaluation Situation: A major bicycle corporation had been trying to collaborate with the state bicycling organization to create and establish a 25-unit bike path signage program.
Hindrance: Because no one really knew how to get the program off the ground, it had been stalled for three years with no action.
Action: I joined the committee overseeing the project and immediately brought a fresh perspective to the group. I researched signs I saw in another community and talked with manufacturers in the field. I ensured competitive pricing for the signs and suggested solutions for weather protection and anti-graffiti measures.
Results: The sign program was implemented just six months after I joined the committee.
Evaluation: I see these signs everywhere I go, and it gives me joy to see them. They bear testimony to my ability to execute a vision and get things done.
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SIA: Situation, Impact, Analysis
Situation: Before I started in my most recent position, the city was paying a block premium rate to keep insurance companies in the black. When I came on board, I sought and demanded a full eligibility audit on enrollment figures.
Impact: This sole action generated immediate cost savings in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. I received public recognition for this action by the mayor and before the city council. I also discovered that other standard cost-containment strategies were never incorporated into benefit plans, which always made the city the primary carrier. I introduced a policy that eliminated this practice, which also positively impacted the city’s benefit cost outlays.
Analysis: Having gotten these costs under control, I could focus on optimizing benefits packages for city employees.
SMART: Situation and More, Action, Results, Tie-in
Situation and More: When I worked as a data-entry examiner in health-insurance claims, I was measured on two metrics, production and quality. My production was excellent; I keyed as much as 180 percent above expectations. However, my quality, as measured by keystroke error was always dipping below the 98.5 percent level of acceptance, and I was not satisfied with that performance.
Action: I started to look for ways to work smarter. I learned to develop the habit of copying and pasting quickly. I developed macros and hot keys for repetitive keystrokes, and I trained myself to slow down when I started keying complicated information such as letter and number combinations.
Result: As a result of these improvements, my manager and I both observed a steady increase in my quality; I began to hit 100 percent every month.
Tie-in (which SMART originator Susan Britton Whitcomb describes as a theme or pattern that can link to key components the employer seeks, as well as communicate enthusiasm or job knowledge): This result set a pattern for my career in which I never had to settle for less than exceptional performance because I knew I could always find ways to improve.
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SOAR: Situation, Obstacle, Action, Result Situation: I once received a call from a patient who had a brain tumor for which he needed a very expensive and hard-to-get medication. In addition, he was having all sorts of insurance billing problems. He was literally driving from pharmacy to pharmacy looking to see which one had the medication in stock, but he had no luck.
Obstacle: I called a couple of pharmacies for him and was able to locate one; however, its satellite link went down, and the pharmacy refused to dispense the medication without successfully billing the patient’s insurance company electronically. Normally we have nurses on call 24/7 for emergencies like this; however, I knew a company nurse would have told the patient to pay the several thousand dollars at the initial pharmacy I had found and seek reimbursement. There is no contingency for patients who don’t have the money.
Action: After a very exhaustive search, I located a specialty drug supplier that agreed to have the medication delivered by private carrier overnight. I gave the patient my personal cell number and asked him to call me if he did not receive his medication within 24 hours.
Result: A day later, I received a call from the patient’s mother, thanking me for helping her son get the medication he needed for his brain tumor.
Another possible formula for telling stories in an interview is what scholars Sandra Morgan and Robert Dennehy describe as “the traditional framework of universal steps displayed in myths, hero stories, classic fairy tales, ethnic stories, and many of your own family stories.” The authors cite these “five sequential components” in a good story: (a) setting, (b) build-up (“trouble’s coming”), (c) crisis or climax, (d) learning, and (e) new behavior or awareness; in other words, “What did you learn?” and “How did you change?”
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Setting: One of my customers wanted to get involved with digital printing, and since I knew our company had the technology and the capabilities, I set up a meeting to discuss this new technology.</
Build-up: I pulled all the sales sheets from the intranet, gathered up samples, and prepared for my big opportunity. As I prepared, I made an initial call to the VP of Sales for that particular business unit and let him know I had set this meeting to discuss the digital products.
Crisis or climax: What I did not know was that the customer was eager to proceed with this technology. The morning of the meeting, the customer had called in its own clients to lay out the project and launch date. As I walked into the meeting and the questions started, I knew I needed some help.
Learning: I explained to the group that I wanted to get the correct answers to these technical questions and would they mind if I brought in the VP of that division. After a few minutes, I was able to track down the VP, and we succeeded in pulling together the resources and staff to immediately start working on this project.
The reps from the client company were very impressed with the fact that I admitted I did not have all the answers and that I wanted to make sure they received the right information. I learned that it’s best to be forthcoming and not try to fake my way through an important meeting or presentation. New behavior or awareness: We are now producing monthly programs for this client using the digital print technology, and revenue for 2005 was $100,000 and projected at $200,000 for 2006. I’ve subsequently made it a point to anticipate contingencies better than I did in that situation “ but also to know that I can bring in other resources when I have gaps in my knowledge.
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For Easy Retrieval from Your Brain’s Database, Give Your Stories a Title
To flush out key accomplishments from her clients, resume writer and job-search Coach Norine Dagliano encourages them to tell her specific stories, guiding them through the SOAR or STAR process. Among the questions she asks to trigger these stories are these:
- What was challenging about that job?
- How have things changed from the time you took the position (or joined the company) to the present?
Dagliano teaches clients how to create an “interview cheat sheet.” She asks them to draw a big “T” on a sheet of paper. On the left side of the “T,” clients write the word “Skill” and on the right side, the word “Story.” Dagliano then guides them through the job posting or job description they are targeting to pick out key skills mentioned. She also instructs them to go through their resume to pick out the key skills that they want to talk about in the interview. They then list all these skills on the left side of the “T.”
Dagliano next coaches clients them through the process of thinking through a story to illustrate how they used each skill they have listed “ again using the SOAR process. Once they have developed the details of their stories, Dagliano advises them to give their story a title (using as few words as possible) and write that title on the right side of the “T” on their cheat sheet.
“Once they have the stories worked out,” Dagliano says, “they will be ready to answer almost any interview question that comes their way. To prove it, I ask a few typical “ and some not so typical “ interview questions and coach them on how to use elements of the story in answering. I encourage them to take the cheat sheet to the interview with them and have it with the notepad where they take notes during the interview.”
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Dagliano notes that our brains have a remarkable ability to locate things in a pinch as long as we have “told” the brain where we have filed them. Dagliano says that if clients draw a blank on how to answer a question, by merely glancing down at their cheat sheet and seeing the story title, their brains will quickly retrieve the details of the story and the best answer.
So, how many of these stories do you need? Well, certainly at least many as the number of skills you’ve identified. A minimum is around six to eight examples from your past experience that demonstrated top behaviors and skills that employers typically seek (think in terms of examples that will exploit your top selling points). Twenty stories would be even better.
I advise that half your examples should be totally positive, such as accomplishments or meeting goals. The other half should be situations that started out negatively but either ended positively or you made the best of the outcome.
To cram for a behavioral interview right before you’re interviewed, in addition to reviewing your story collection, review your resume. Seeing your achievements in print will jog your memory.
In the interview, listen carefully to each question, and pull an example out of your bag of tricks that provides an appropriate description of how you demonstrated the desired behavior. With practice, you can learn to tailor a relatively small set of examples to respond to a number of different behavioral questions.
Once you’ve snagged the job, keep a record of achievements and accomplishments so you’ll be ready with more great examples the next time you go on a behavior interview.
Chapter 5: Sample Behavioral Questions and Responses – Page 29
Knowing what kinds of questions might be asked will help you prepare an effective selection of stories/examples. Given the immense variety of possible questions that can be asked in a behavioral interview, it’s impossible here to list every question you might encounter. But through this large collection of samples, you’ll get a good feel for what behavioral questions are like and see the effective ways that job candidates have responded to them.
Give me an example of a time when you set a goal for yourself and successfully pursued it.
I feel very strongly that an orientation program is critical to employee success and the success of an organization. My goal was to implement an effective program across the company. I recognize that some goals can take time, so I have implemented the program over several years. The first step was to design an orientation session with the regional vice president. The second step was designing and implementing orientation protocols for each employee group for supervisors’ use, which have been very positively received by department administrators. The third step was designing a six-week orientation program for administration staff and modeling this program company-wide. This program has earned very positive feedback and ensures that supervisors provide a detailed orientation and that opportunities to connect with key constituencies are provided early on. I refined the orientation sessions, and I combined supervisor and staff orientations “ which oriented employees to the company’s history, mission, values and services “ in 2004 for the most successful and well-attended session yet. The program has also fostered interdisciplinary, inter-departmental connections.
I had a long-term goal to become an excellent program manager. I applied myself in developmental positions and learned the ins and outs of the organization from the bottom up. I got to know the staff and managers well. I volunteered for projects and to enhance and streamline the existing workflow. In doing so, I had an opportunity to apply for a temporary management position and obtained it. Through four years in this acting position, I strived to continuously learn and improve processes and policies. I have brought forward many success stories that have been recognized by the corporation and have earned several awards for these achievements.
My first few years in banking had me on the fast track to branch management. I realized at some point along the way that my true passion was in offering financial advice not limited to checking accounts and loans. It was at that point that I made arrangements to go back to school full-time to pursue my goal, which I am just about to achieve.