Most interviews are behavioral interviews, using questions that ask you to provide examples of your past accomplishments as an indication of your future success, such as “Tell me about a time when…” or “Give me an example of…” It is important to prepare and structure answers to assure you’re telling a complete story and answering the question — use this accomplishment stories worksheet to develop the stories you’ll use when answering these behavioral questions.
This page discusses (1) the STAR Framework, a clear way to structure your answers; (2) strength and weakness questions; (3) how to best express your interest in a position; (4) questions to ask the interviewer; and (5) how to handle questions about salary expectations.
The STAR Framework: Ace the Behavioral Interview
Situation, Task, Action, Result (STAR), a method to help you hit key points and present your examples in a structured manner. Think about it as storytelling; you must clearly explain your experiences to illustrate your background, skills, and personal characteristics.
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 relevant examples that will demonstrate the skills the employer is seeking. 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 and what were you trying to accomplish? What was your role and how did you help to solve the problem or accomplish the goal? 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 your actionable steps, discussing the task in a concise sequence. The keyword is concise; avoid 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.
Ready for more practice? Take a look at these additional General/Behavioral Interview Questions
Strengths and Weaknesses
“Tell me about the accomplishments you’re most proud of” or “Tell me about a time you failed.” In asking about strengths and weaknesses, employers assess your level of self-awareness and your honest assessment about where you can improve. It’s best to prepare two or three answers with examples since most interviewers are rarely satisfied with only one strength or weakness.
Strengths: The best responses about your strengths are specific about what you accomplished and how you did it. Highlight a proven skill and connect it to the position you are seeking using examples.
Weaknesses: Honestly assess yourself, you skills set and attributes, and determine where you can improve. Choose an attribute you are working on developing — such as your ability to build consensus within a team you’re leading or patience with the pace of long-term projects and the length of time it takes to see results — and explain how you are strengthening that area.
Avoid using a key job requirement as a weakness. For example, if the position requires 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. In most instances, it’s best to avoid cute answers, such as stating that your weakness is chocolate or that you can’t cook.
“Why us?” and “Why this job?”
The interviewer will ask why you want to work for that organization, so it’s essential to prepare a thoughtful 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 organization? What sets them apart and makes you want to contribute? Use your research to create your answer, and practice saying it out loud. When discussing the role you’re interviewing for, tie your skills to the needs of the position. Explain the research you’ve done and the process by which you’ve concluded that this position is a good fit. Your answer should focus on what you will bring 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. 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. Also avoid questions on salary, benefits, and schedule flexibility. Asking about these during an interview, before they’ve determined you as the best candidate, can be seen as presumptuous.
Prepare at least a few questions you can ask on topics that matter to you:
- 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.)?
Responding to Questions on Salary Expectations
Occasionally employers will bring up salary in an interview. If they have a limited hiring budget, they may want to determine if you would consider the salary before moving forward. If there’s a mismatch between your needs and expectations and what they’re able to pay, they may not want to waste your time or theirs.
If asked about salary expectations, you can respond by indicating that your salary requirements are negotiable and that as you learn more about 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, or you can give a broad range consistent with the going market rate based on your research. Qualify your answer by restating that as you learn more about the position, you’d be happy to discuss salary further.
In most cases, the time to negotiate is when you have an offer. Check out our resources on Job Offers & Salary Negotiation.