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The Behavioral Interview

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Many interviews have a behavioral component, using a style of questioning that asks you to provide examples of your past experiences as an indication of your soft skills such as teamwork and leadership, as well as your ability to make an impact, handle adversity, and achieve results. 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 behavioral questions and structure your answers so that you are telling a complete story and answering the question.

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?

Important Tips

If possible, develop a bank of several stories since you may go through 2 or more rounds of interviews at a particular firm. The stories that you tell should:

  1. Be clear and concise
  2. Consider the listener and avoid unnecessary and potentially incomprehensible jargon or acronyms
  3. Precisely describe steps that you took
  4. Be structured logically and thoughtfully
  5. Demonstrate the impact and results of your action
  6. Reflect positively on you and demonstrate "soft skills" such as your abilities to lead, work on a team, take initiative, manage a project, and make an impact.