Behavioral interview questions are among the most common prompts you can expect when you’re applying for a job. If you’ve ever sat through an interview, you probably know what a behavioral question is, even if you’re not familiar with the term. It’s any question that begins with:
- Can you tell me about a time when…
- Give me an example of…
- Describe a situation when you…
Hiring managers ask behavioral interview questions, in the belief that past behavior is the best indicator of future performance. They want to assess your ability to make sound decisions under trying circumstances. Specifically, they want to hear about a situation from your past that you handled correctly, how you did it, and what you learned from the experience.
To ace an interview, you need to have a game plan for how to answer behavioral interview questions, regardless of the specific question. There are different strategies for doing this–you may have heard of the STAR or SOARA methods. Personally, I prefer the PART Strategy.
The acronym PART stands for Problem, Action, Result, and Takeaway. It’s easy to remember: Always do your PART.
- Identify the problem that came up at your old job.
- What action did you take to correct the problem?
- What was the result of your action? Positive results only, please.
- Upon reflection, what was your takeaway from the situation? How were you able to integrate this particular lesson into your skill set in a way that demonstrated personal growth?
With proper tools and preparation, an applicant can handle behavioral questions easily and without sounding like an arrogant jerk or a do-nothing drone. Instead, you will honestly be presenting the best version of yourself to a possible future employer.
No one enjoys the sound of bragging, so the point of a good story should not simply be how incredibly awesome and smart you are. It must demonstrate a thoughtful, curious nature and a lesson learned from an obstacle overcome through hard work and/or ingenuity.
The first part of your answer should establish the business setting, characters, and the problem itself. It doesn’t matter if you were a quick-witted waitress with an angry customer at the diner (“She always ordered the tuna sandwich and always complained about it.”), or an ad copywriter with a brainstorm that wowed the client (“He was unimpressed with our last three concepts and wanted a fresh take.”), the manager should understand where you were and what was at stake for you.
So what did you do? What valuable qualities did you demonstrate while achieving your goal? Like a math equation, it’s important to show your work.
This is no time to be shy! Speak confidently when discussing your skill set. If you don’t toot your own horn a little bit, how will you get anyone to pay attention?
You can never lose by stressing excellent communication skills. The ability to neutralize negativity, whether from a customer demanding a refund or a client with impossible expectations, is a valuable asset in any office. Got lemons? Start squeezing and make enough everybody.
Another approach is to highlight your work ethic, explaining that the key to solving the problem was increased or renewed effort on your part, or that of the team. While this isn’t as impressive as actual creative problem solving, it does show you aren’t afraid of hard work.
The outcome of your action should bring about a positive result. New customers, money saved, or winning Employee of the Month, for example.
Acknowledging teamwork or the timely support of a coworker shows the interviewer it’s not all about personal glory for you. A problem solved using sound methods is its own reward.
What did you learn? How did this situation prove instructional? How did tackling this problem make you a better employee?
Important lessons might include:
- Asking for help when it’s genuinely needed. (“I talked to a few folks who had been with the agency for several years and got some valuable input.”)
- Listening carefully to what a customer really wants. (“Despite all the details and suggestions, a simple, clear approach was needed.”)
- Think about a new and creative approach to a problem. (“So whenever Shirley came in for lunch, I made sure to take the order myself and instructed the cook to add a little extra mayonnaise and an extra pickle to her sandwich.”)
By keeping in mind this structure when responding to a behavioral question, you’ll be able to demonstrate that you’re a valuable PART of any business or team!