An answer to a behavioral interview question involves a succinct, concrete story that has a beginning, middle and end. Like any good story, your answer should have a lot of action words that show how you resolved a particular situation. Although there are no right or wrong answers with these types of interview questions, you should prepare for behavioral interview questions just as you would any other aspect of the interview.
Why Behavioral Interview Questions Exist
Companies use behavioral interview questions to gauge how your past behavior at work could assist your employer in the future. Questions help interviewers determine skills such as leadership, time management, problem solving, preparation and communication. Prepare for behavioral interview questions by knowing how to tell a story.
STAR or SAR Method
One basic method teaches you how to answer a question with a story. Experts call this the SAR or STAR method. SAR stands for "situation, action, result," while STAR means "situation, task, action, result." Both acronyms show you how to construct a story that tells employers how you handled situations in the past in three or four small sections.
Construct the first part of your story to give interviewers the basic situation. Answer the who, what, where, when and how of the story. For instance, someone might tell you, "Describe how you handled a stressful time at the office." Start by outlining a specific circumstance: "My supervisor was out of the country on vacation when our biggest client tripled the order but maintained the same deadline." Give a few details as to what the order entailed and how much time your team had to complete the client's order.
The second part of the story relates what you had to do and the time frame behind it. "I had to mobilize the team within 30 minutes to develop a strategy to make 3,000 more place mats in just five days. Our normal production rate, over two shifts, is 25 place mats per hour. We had to increase our productivity immediately in order to make 1,000 more place mats beyond our usual capability."
The third aspect of the story explains how you took action. How did you handle things with the boss away? "I immediately called my supervisor's boss, who has dealt with this client before, to tell him about the situation. He authorized overtime for myself and my team, and then he brought in some extra help from other departments. I cleared my schedule for the rest of the evening and had food delivered, and we all brainstormed how to work more efficiently. In a few hours, we increased productivity by 30 percent."
Tell the interviewer about the end result of this stressful situation. What was the result of your extra hours and added efficiency? "My team finished the order one day ahead of the deadline, and the client was extremely pleased with the product. Because we came through in a pinch, the customer ordered another batch two weeks later, and we increased our revenue by 10 percent for that quarter."
This stressful situation had a happy ending. That's the point of constructing these stories. Employers want to hear how you successfully handled particular situations so they know what to expect from your behavior in the future. Make each success story personal, relatable and honest — something you actually encountered on the job.
Do your homework, and study several behavioral interview questions ahead of time. Practice the responses over and over until they sound natural. Consider one example from five major skills, and practice your story. If you get a question that you didn't prepare for ahead of time, your knowledge of other questions should help you craft a story off the top of your head.
Consider writing responses to common behavioral interview questions to commit situations to memory. Each section of the story should end up being three to five sentences long. During your first interview with a company, you may have two or three behavioral interview questions. These types of questions also occur during your second, or follow-up, interview with several people at the employer's office.
Your stories from previous experiences can serve as personal anecdotes that show you are the perfect match for a position. Behavioral interview questions give you the opportunity to show off your soft skills and wow your future supervisor. Take some time to get to know this aspect of your job search.
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