Tell Me About a Time When....

John Krautzel
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"Tell me about a time when" questions are usually the turning point in behavioral interviews. You either prove your worth with persuasive examples or show the holes in your professional experience. Employers like open-ended interview questions because they reveal how you think and work through challenges. Learn to evaluate what's important to each employer, so you can prepare strong examples and succeed in behavioral interviews.

Anticipate the Interview Topics

Luckily for job seekers, employers tend to draw from a limited playbook. You can anticipate many interview questions by researching employers on review sites and studying the job posting. Behavioral interviews frequently include these core topics:

-Leadership potential
-Organization/time management
-Client relations
-Professional values

What technical and soft skills are emphasized in the job description? Pay attention to details about the work environment, company culture and breakdown of responsibilities. If you're applying for a sales job, the interviewer might ask about a time when you turned a bad customer experience into a good one. Your answer should reflect the values of the company's mission statement.

List Your Accomplishments

Make a list of experiences that relate to the job requirements, choosing the most recent when possible. Think about how your skills, thought process and behavior shaped the scenario's outcome. If your work history is short, use examples from volunteering, team sports and school clubs or other forms of community involvement. Since every behavioral interview has a different combination of questions, you can recycle stories to fit new applications.

Imagine a situation where you were suddenly put in charge and had to rally your co-workers to finish a project without being able to consult with the boss. Some of your teammates weren't happy about answering to you, which challenged you as a communicator and a leader. One interviewer might ask you to describe working with someone whose personality clashed with yours. Another interviewer might tell you to describe how you prioritized to meet a goal. Consider how you can frame the same story to answer a range of questions.

Outline Your Answers

In behavioral interviews, it's crucial to give concise, structured answers that clearly demonstrate your role in the situation. Sticking to an organized format is the best way to avoid rambling and ensure you include the most compelling details. Each response should explain the problem, your response and the outcome.

First, provide enough context for the interviewer to understand what's at stake. What were your starting conditions and responsibilities at the outset? Follow up with a brief summary of the options you considered and your reasons for moving forward with a particular decision. Always wrap up your story with a clear conclusion that outlines the consequences of your actions.

Employers are most interested in how well you can serve their goals, so focus on results over self-promotion. Behavioral interviews shed light on your personality and ethical values, and good interviewers can spot signs that you're lying or taking more credit than you deserve. Give measurable proof whenever you can to stand out from other candidates and prove that you can handle challenges in a new environment.

Photo courtesy of Germanna CC at


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