Posted by: Admin | December 21, 2009

Tell Me About A Time…

I have always considered myself to be a good interviewer.  This is not a designation that I’ve bestowed upon myself. In the past, I have actually had prospective employers tell me… “you interview really well”.  But there’s one thing I’ve noticed as I’ve been job hunting over the last 6 months.  Interviewing well, is just simply not enough to get a job. 

Although I’ve interviewed with a variety of companies throughout my life, and I’ve experienced a full range of interview styles & techniques, until my most recent series of interviews, I had never experienced the Behavioral Interview.  And… oh wow, it’s a doozy! 

If you are not familiar with this style of interviewing (which is becoming more prevalent) I’ll give you an overview:


Behavioral Interviews or the STAR Approach to Interviewing

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 a behavioral interview, an employer has decided what skills are needed in the person they hire and will ask questions to find out if the candidate has those skills. Instead of asking how you would behave, they will ask how you did behave. The interviewer will want to know how you handled a situation, instead of what you might do in the future.


Now that sounds basic enough.  And, if roles were reversed and I was the one conducting the interview, I can undoubtedly see the benefits of this style of questioning.  And, let’s be honest we all know that far too many people BS their way through an interview and the behavioral style, where you need to share specific examples of past performance, really puts a candidate on the spot to truly demonstrate a selected skill set.  However, for someone who’s been unemployed for 6 months, and who’s brain is admittedly mushy, these can be tough questions.  Tough in that, they require a quick, detailed answer that illustrates all the behaviors that the company is looking for.  And, this style of interview is, by far, the most challenging style to deliver well phrased, coherent and relevant answers. 

It’s not that I don’t have answers to give them, it is after all my own experiences they are looking for.  The challenge is that you need to come up with the most suitable example, in a short time frame, while 2 interviewers are staring at you from across the table anxiously awaiting a “wow” response from you! 


Let me give you an example of some of the questions I heard….  

  • Give me an example of a time when you persevered to accomplish something that otherwise seemed impossible (uhm…. how about being unemployed??)
  • Tell me about a time when you had to still deliver against a goal in the midst of major changes and/or budget cuts (uhm… how about being unemployed??)
  • Tell me about a time when you had to make a decision between planning & acting (I struggle with this every single day since I found myself unemployed!)
  • Describe a time when you had to make a decision but you truly didn’t know what to do (uhm.. I don’t know… about it??)

Of course, I didn’t use the answers I noted above but, unemployment does indeed answer some of those questions!

I knew this company used this style of interviewing and I did my homework while I was prepping.  And, I’d like to share some of that info with you, in case you find yourself across the table from an behavioral interviewer. 

The following chart shows the best technique to use to answer each interview question.

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?


You should also be prepared for a variety of probing follow up questions. 

  • What were you thinking at the time?
  • Describe the process you used to come to that conclusion.
  • Looking back on that situation, is there anything you would have done differently?
  • Tell me some key takeaways that you got out of that experience.
  • How might you use those key learnings  if you were faced with a similar situation in the future? 

All-in-all, I can tell you that prepping some key experiences from my career helped me to be more comfortable with each question.  I noted situations that illustrated; leadership, teamwork, delivering results, dealing with challenges, decision making, critical thinking and creativity.

I think I did well in the interviews but I suppose only time will tell!  Fingers crossed that I get a follow-up call from them this week!!

And…. Good Luck to you on your next interview!



  1. Good luck to you! I hope something does come out of that. I have been on interviews just like that and my mind goes blank. I am a terrible interviewer, but have gotten jobs out of interviews that I had thought hadn’t gone very well. I haven’t had any interviews at all since I was let go back in September 2009, only with a recruiter that told me that a city was interested in me and then after she met up with me, suddenly they had found someone else! Yeah, they were so gun-ho on meeting me, right. I am keeping my fingers crossed for you!!! What a Christmas present that would be.

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