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Types of Interview Questions – Behavioral Questions

Posted by James M on November 14, 2008

Behavioral questions are by far the most prevalent type of interview question you will encounter as a new college graduate.  A “Behavioral Question” is the generic term given to questions that ask you to talk about yourself—your experience in school and at previous companies, your leadership ability, and your strengths and weaknesses.  Behavioral questions include some of the most famous interview questions around.  You have probably heard about many of them, or already faced them if you have interviewed for an internship or entry-level position.  Some representative examples include:

  • Can you tell me about your greatest strength?
  • Can you tell me about a time where you had to lead a team?
  • Can you tell me about a time where you were faced with an ethical dilemma and how you dealt with it?

Because these questions are so common I will address specific behavioral questions in individual posts, but for now we’ll talk in general about the method used to answer these questions.

Fortunately for us there is a very effective method used to respond to this type of question called the STAR framework.  This method takes on the talking points of telling a structured story to discuss a situation you faced, how you handled it, and what the outcome was.  STAR stands for Situation, Target, Action, Result.  Let’s talk about each of these elements in more depth.

Situation – What is the situation you faced?  The situation is very closely tied to the specifics of the Target discussed below.  If working in a team or as an individual on a school project the situation would be the very basic elements of the class that assigned the project and information about your group members.  If you are discussing an internship it would be information about the company and your position within that company.  The situation could even be a weakness or strength you discuss if faced with a question regarding one of these attributes.  A strength or weakness discussion would usually be focused in a situational context like that stated for the school assignment or internship project.

Target – What were you tasked to do?  If this were your school project the Target would be the required outcome of the group assignment.  The same goes if you are discussing an internship and a project assigned in a paid position.  If discussing a strength this would be a situation where you utilized a strength effectively.  If discussing a weakness this would be the target outcome for improving this weakness and what benefits you believe improving that weakness would have in a professional setting.

Action – This is the meat of your response where you talk about the discreet steps that you and/or your group took to accomplish your Target outcome.  Again, if you are discussing a group assignment you would discuss facts such as how the team delegated the tasks.  What task you were assigned.  How you went about accomplishing this task both as an individual and within the framework of the team.   Any difficulties you encountered and how they were resolved.  What you learned from the project.  These same talking points would be applicable if you were discussing an internship project.  If you were discussing a strength you would also use similar points to discuss a situation where your strength was utilized.  If you were discussing a weakness you would talk about the steps you went through to address your weakness and improve upon it.

Result – This is a discussion of the outcome, either successful or not, of your Target.  It is also where you would address anything you might do differently if assigned a similar project again.  If discussing a group assignment you would talk about the end product you and/or your groupmates produced.  What did you and your team think of the final product?  What did the class think about the result?  What did your professor think?  If you had some other customer such as a small business or non-profit, what did they think of the product?  Would you do anything differently if you had to do the assignment again?  If you are discussing an internship project you would talk about what your coworkers and manager thought of the end result.  You would want to put extra focus on any cost or time savings or any other measure of efficiency that might have resulted.  Talking points about a strength would be very similar to those of the school project with a focus on how your specific strength contributed to the desired outcome.  A discussion about a weakness would end with some words about how your steps to improve your weakness have resulted in improved performance and what additional steps you might take to further improve this weakness.

Stay tuned for specific posts addressing common types of behavioral questions.

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