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Behavioral Interviews

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Most interviews are behavioral interviews, using a style of questioning that asks you to provide examples of your past accomplishments as an indication of your future success. These questions tend to begin with “Tell me about a time when…” or “Give me an example of...” It is important to prepare for commonly asked questions and structure your answers in a way to assure you’re telling a complete story and answering the question.

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The STAR Framework: Ace the Behavioral Interview

The STAR acronym stands for Situation, Task, Action, Result. Using the STAR process will help you hit key points and present your examples in a clear, structured manner. Practice is the key to effectively presenting examples in an interview. Think about it as a form of storytelling; as the storyteller, it’s your job to clearly explain your experiences in a way that paints a picture for your interviewers, clearly illustrating your background, skills, and personal characteristics.

  • Situation: What was the situation? Was there a problem that required resolution or an initiative that you were asked to lead? Set the stage and briefly provide background. Choose examples that will demonstrate the skills the employer is seeking. Ideally choose examples that are relevant and somewhat recent. You can draw from internships, leadership roles, extracurricular activities, or academics. Avoid personal examples unless they are directly related to the position.
  • Task: What tasks were you assigned? What were you trying to accomplish? What was your role and what strategies did you develop to solve the problem or accomplish the goal? Make sure to focus on your individual role, especially if you were working in a team. Though teamwork is valued, the interviewer is assessing your individual contributions.
  • Action: What steps did you take to accomplish that task? What was your plan of action? Focus on the actionable steps you took, discussing your task in a concise sequence. The key word is concise; avoid bombarding your interviewer with too much detail.
  • Results: What happened as a result? What were your outcomes? How did your efforts contribute to the organization? If possible, quantify your answers.

Tip: Review the list of Twenty Commonly Asked Questions (PDF) to start your interview preparation.

Ready for more practice? Take a look at these additional General/Behavioral Interview Questions (PDF)

"Tell Me About Yourself"

“Tell me about yourself” is a common question you may be asked at the start of an interview. In asking this question, interviewers are hoping to learn about your skills and assess your overall ability to communicate your experiences effectively.  This is your chance to highlight your strengths and relevant components of your background; in addition, because many interviewers ask follow-up questions based on your answer, is a way to direct the interview.

Your “interviewing story” is unique to you, but certain aspects are commonly included, such as an introduction to who you are (“A junior at Yale studying…”), your reasons for choosing your course of study (“I became fascinated by the intersection of business and society, and therefore have chosen courses and projects that have allowed me to…”), and motivations for pursing the job or internship you’re interviewing for (“I am drawn to the opportunity this position provides to ….”).  Go beyond your résumé, fill in the blanks and bring your story to life. You should then delve into one or two specific examples to show your relevant experience. As a general guideline keep your story under two minutes. If longer, you run the risk of losing your interviewers attention.

Strengths and Weaknesses

These questions may take forms including “Tell me about the accomplishments you’re most proud of” or “Tell me about a time you failed to accomplish something you set out to do.” Though the form may vary, the underlying question is the same. In asking about strengths and weaknesses, employers are assessing your level of self-awareness and ability to honestly assess areas where you can improve. It’s also a chance to see how well you maintain your composure when asked a challenging question. It’s best to prepare two or three strengths and weaknesses with corresponding examples that you can discuss in an interview since most interviewers are rarely satisfi ed with only one strength or weakness.

The best responses about your strengths are specific about what you accomplished and how you did it to paint a picture. When discussing your strengths, highlight a proven skill and connect it to the position you are seeking. Always have examples prepared to demonstrate your strengths.

Questions about weaknesses strike fear in the hearts of many interviewees, and for good reason. You’re being asked to lay your vulnerabilities out on the table. But with thoughtful preparation, addressing your weaknesses can be painless.

  • Honestly assess yourself, you skills set and personal attributes, and determine where you can improve. Choose a skill or attribute you are working on developing or improving -- such as your ability to build consensus within a team you’re leading; tendency to over think projects and get bogged down in details; or patience with the pace of long-term projects and the length of time it takes to see results -- and prepare a specific example of how you are working on strengthening or developing the skill or attribute that is not as strong. 
  • Avoid using a key job requirement as a weakness. For example, if the position requires you to use Excel, don’t say that learning technology is a weakness. Be careful to avoid responses that could be seen as cliché. For example, discussing your perfectionism as a weakness can be seen as disingenuous and trying too hard. In most instances, it’s best to avoid cute answers, such as stating that your weakness is chocolate or that you can’t cook. If you’re set on responding with a cute or quirky answer, be prepared to quickly follow-up with a serious response.

 

"Why us?" and "Why this job?"

At some point during the interview, the employer will ask why you want to work for them and what appeals to you about the position to which you are applying. It’s essential to prepare a thoughtful and thorough response. Be specific and avoid vacuous answers such as “I’m impressed by your reputation” and “I think I’d like the position and would be good at it.”

Why do you want to work for that company or organization versus every other similar company/organization out there? What sets them apart and makes you want to contribute to their work? Use your research to brainstorm your answer, and practice saying it out loud. When discussing the role you’re interviewing for, tie your skills and attributes to the needs of the position. Explain the research you’ve done on the industry and role, and the process by which you’ve concluded that this position is a good fit. Keep in mind that your answer should focus on what you will bring to them, not what they can do for you.

Questions for the Interviewer

Towards the end of the interview, it’s common for the interviewer to ask if you have questions for them. The worst answer you can give to this question is “no” or “you’ve answered all of my questions.” Not having questions for them signals disinterest. Employers are assessing your preparation, interest, and inquisitiveness. This is a chance to leave a final impression, finish strong, and establish yourself as a top candidate. Avoid questions you could find through basic research. If the answer can be found by looking at the organization's website, including general questions on their programs, products, or mission, then it’s too basic. Prepare at least a few questions you can ask on topics that matter to you. Use the prompts below to help you brainstorm questions:

  • How would this position interact with the larger team/other departments/divisions?
  • What do you like best about working at _______________? What keeps you excited about your work?
  • What are the opportunities for training and advancement?
  • Can you tell me about your performance review process? Who evaluates employee performance? How is success measured?
  • Is there a typical career path for people beginning in this role?
  • I know the company prides itself on ____________ and _______________, so what would you say is the most important aspect of your culture?
  • How do you see the person in this role making a positive impact on the _________ (projects, initiatives, services, programs, etc.) this position would be involved with?
  • To what extent are interns able to get exposure to ___________ (client meetings, team meetings, etc.)?

Avoid questions on salary, benefits such as vacation time, and schedule flexibility. Asking about these topics during an interview, before they’ve determined if you’re the best candidate for the position, can be seen as presumptuous; these should be saved until you get an offer.

Responding to Questions on Salary Expectations

Occasionally employers will bring up salary in an interview. They do this for a number of reasons. If they have a limited hiring budget, they may want to determine if you would consider the salary prior to moving forward with the process. If there’s a significant mismatch between your needs and expectations and what they’re able to pay, they may not want to waste your time or theirs. Conduct preliminary salary research prior to an interview so that you are prepared in case this comes up (e.g. see glassdoor.com or salary.com).

If asked about salary expectations, you can first respond by indicating that your salary requirements are negotiable, and that as you learn more about the specific responsibilities of the position you would be happy to discuss a fair salary. If pushed for a number, you can ask the interviewer if they have a salary in mind for the position, or you can give a broad range consistent with the going market rate uncovered through your research. Qualify your answer by restating that as you learn more about the specifics of the position, you’d be happy to discuss salary further.