‘Tell me about a time you …’: A guide to acing your next behavioral interview

Jeong Yun Choi/Staff

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So you applied for a position, made it past the resume screening and have been asked to complete a behavioral interview. What happens next? First, pat yourself on the back! Passing any part of an application process is an accomplishment, so don’t forget to congratulate yourself. Next, prepare yourself for the interview stage. Whether you’ve never completed a behavioral interview before or just want more tips, we’ve answered some frequently asked questions that you may have heading into your interview.

What is a behavioral interview?

A behavioral interview is one in which employers screen for soft skills by asking questions that expose your situational capabilities, such as critical thinking, stress management or creativity. These interviews dig deeper into a candidate’s past experiences and personal values. Technical interviews can be very black and white, but behavioral interviews cover the gray areas of your application. They typically flow like conversations and aim to reveal your interpersonal skills.

What are they going to ask me?

The classic start of a behavioral question is “Tell me about a time you … ,” which is then followed by a hypothetical scenario. These questions ask candidates to describe past experiences that highlight specific qualities the interviewer is looking for. For example, say you’re interviewing for an investment banking role. You might be asked, “Tell me about a time you failed or made a mistake. How did you handle the situation?” Another common question, which may sound incredibly simple and straightforward, is the “Tell me about yourself” question. This question isn’t asking for an entire life story, but a condensed summary of your education, relevant experiences and skills. For a great list of basic behavioral questions, practice with this list from LinkedIn.

How do I answer those questions?

A great answering format for beginners is the “STAR” method, which stands for situation, task, action and result. When answering a question, you should explain the situation you dealt with, the task you were responsible for, the action you took to achieve it and the result you produced. Be sure to use words like “I” or “me” when necessary so that your involvements are transparent. It’s OK, and definitely encouraged, to talk about experiences of collaboration and teamwork, but you don’t want to overshadow the work you contributed to a project or company by failing to mention what you specifically did. Also, be sure to quantify as much as possible! Saying “I raised $50,000″ is much more telling of your achievements than “I raised money.” 

Are there any etiquette tips I should be aware of?

As always, be polite. Arrive at your interview location 10-15 minutes early, and assume they can see you even in a waiting room. Bring copies of your resume for your interviewers in case they ask for it, and come prepared with questions about the position, company or even your interviewers’ career paths. Don’t forget to research the job prior to arriving to ask creative and thoughtful questions. Lastly, dress to impress to demonstrate your professionalism. In the Bay Area, it’s common for companies to have relaxed dress codes, but at the very least, err on the side of business casual. 

I’m so nervous! Is that normal?

Of course nervousness is normal! To help ease your nerves, make sure to practice answering questions beforehand. Sit down with a friend and answer all 30 of the LinkedIn questions until you feel comfortable with all of your stories. Practice saying your answers out loud in a mirror, and don’t forget to practice your body movements as well (including smiling)! All in all, confidence is key for behavioral interviews. You were chosen to interview with this group because they liked what they saw on your resume — now, you just have to give them the verbal format!

Congratulations on landing a behavioral interview! Whether you’re a beginner or seasoned pro, hopefully these tips will help you when approaching your next one.

Contact Brookey Villanueva at [email protected].