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Tips for "On-the-Spot" Behavioral-Based Interview Questions

Tips for "On-the-Spot" Behavioral-Based Interview Questions

October 02, 2018
Submitted By Celia Stangarone

What is a competency-based approach to interviewing? Have you ever heard the term “STAR story?” Do you know how to use it to identify your strengths and align them with the requirements of a job description?

Interviewers will often ask behavioral questions to help them get a clearer picture of why you are the best fit for the job and company culture. While there are many lists of interviewing skills, it’s also important to focus on developing and articulating a compelling story to answer those questions. Through a STAR story, you can include details about the specific tasks and results you achieved during a single point in time to demonstrate your value and fit for the job you seek.

Related content: The 4 Most Important Interview Skills

The extremely effective STAR methodology

The STAR Interview Method is a proven way to answer behavioral interview questions. The keys to effectively employing this methodology for interviewing includes preparation, energy, enthusiasm, and strategy. Knowing and employing the STAR method is helpful for both candidates and HR professionals.

STAR:

  • Situation – Start by outlining the situation behind your story.
  • Task – This second part gives you the opportunity to expand your story with concrete details and scope, including any obstacles, conflicts, or difficulties you encountered.
  • Action – List the specific actions you took.
  • Result – Describe the exact results you achieved. Quantifiable results that use data are always more effective and memorable, so be certain to use numbers, dollars, percentages, productivity, and comparisons in your description. Feel free to share any accolades or praise you received as well.

The final stage is to bring the message home that you are the ideal candidate for the position by tying your accomplishments directly to the expressed needs of your future employer.

STAR sample

Situation

Beginning in 2011, the company experienced record growth in its E-Commerce channel, and as a result faced capacity and capability challenges at its distribution center as well as with their 3rd party processing partner. Because of current e-commerce volumes and growth expectations, there was a need to expand the operating platform to maintain and ultimately increase service levels, especially given the considerable margin benefits.

Task

Develop a financial model as part of the business case requesting $40MM to optimize the E-Commerce distribution network; quantifying 5-years of growth, capacity and labor requirements, and transportation cost of various operating scenarios.

Action

I developed a static model that was consistent in scope/scale for the following scenarios:

  • Hybrid (company acquires FFE & 3rd party provides labor, plus additional investment)
  • Owned & Operated (move to new location, fit with FFE, company provided labor)

Results

Comparing the results to the Status Quo, my model yielded projected savings of $4-$6MM annually - effective year three. With regards to working capital, there was a projected 20% improvement in inventory turnover and carrying values were reduced by $10MM - effective year two. Financially, the math met the requirements of the company in terms of ROI.

The vital part of this process is to be extremely comfortable giving your answers, not necessarily memorizing them like a script.

Insider interview tips

  • Dress the part. It is always better to be over-dressed than under-dressed. Research the culture of the company and dress a step or two above the norm (see RiseSmart's Expert Career Coach Advice – Dress For Success for more information).
  • Approach the interview like a discussion - it is not an interrogation. Adopt a consultant mentality.
  • Ask insightful questions about the position, organization, and its challenges and expectations. Remember: Interviewing is a two-way street.
  • Prepare your references. If you give a particular person as a reference for a position, be sure to not only let that person know, but prepare them with details on the job and what they are looking for, so when asked, the reference can speak to specifics that will resonate with the employer.

Send a follow-up thank you letter expressing your understanding of the needs of the role and how you meet those needs. Be sure to include your enthusiasm about the company.

How can HR use STAR stories in interviews?

The premise behind behavioral interviewing is to create optimal questions that are the most accurate predictor of future performance to minimize risk.

In addition to writing a job description that attracts the best candidates, there are three main elements of STAR stories that can assist HR with their decision to find the best match:

Benefit #1: Asking behavioral questions is a key opportunity to get to know the job candidates outside of a recommendation, the branding documents (resume and cover letter), digital profiles, or applications in a way that will better assess ability and compatibility with the company’s culture. 

Benefit #2: Listening to experiences helps interviewers gain insights into the candidate’s experience, skills, knowledge, and behaviors. If you know how the candidate performed in the past, you’ll have a sense of how they might approach a similar situation or challenge in the future.

Benefit #3: Interviewers will get deeper insights into the candidate’s personality and can help assess if they not only meet the job's requirements, but if their style of working fits with the personality of their potential team and manager.

STAR questions open up the conversation to open ended follow-up questions such as:

  • Can you clarify your role in the project?
  • Did you enjoy working in that capacity?
  • Please tell me a little more about the situation?
  • What other challenges did you come across?
  • What was the final outcome?

Related content: 7 Easy Steps to Improve Your Company’s Hiring Processes

The effectiveness of negative-centered questions

"Tell me some negative qualities about yourself?" is a question commonly asked by HR. The point of this question is less about the actual weakness and more of a way to evaluate self-awareness.

For HR: When candidates answer this question, it’s good to remember that this is the most dreaded question of all in an interview! The interviewer is trying to figure out if the weakness will make it hard for the candidate to do a good job or fit into the organization.

Things to look out for:

  • The answer leads with a negative, and then moves to vague words like maybe, probably, pretty, and usually, i.e. “I can probably be more focused” or “I usually don’t get stressed.”
  • They refuse to answer the question
  • They don’t confess to any work-related weaknesses
  • The answer is the cliché “I’m a perfectionist”

You are ultimately trying to get an in-depth picture of who they are by seeing how they've reacted in different situations. Their answer may need some thinking over because there really is no glaring “weaknesses." Sometimes it takes discussing their answer with other decision makers or team members to identify best answers.

Keys to answering negative-centered questions

For interviewees, the key to this answer is to handle it by minimizing your weakness and emphasizing your strengths.

Remember that the interviewer is looking for a fit -- and this answer will not be the sole reason you are offered or rejected from a position. You have a few routes you can take:

Option #1: Your weakness has a potentially positive outcome that affects nobody except you. For example, you are too critical on yourself so sometimes you keep yourself up at night by overanalyzing your performance earlier in the day.

Option # 2: Your weakness is something that really isn’t so bad. Maybe you are incredibly time sensitive and know you can be impatient at times so when your colleagues don’t meet deadlines, you find yourself getting frustrated.

Option #3: Keep it positive! Stay away from personal qualities and concentrate on professional traits: "I am always working on improving my presentations skills. I recently joined Toastmasters, which I’m finding is helping me think on my feet and forcing me to produce more engaging speeches.”

Option # 4: Show your weakness is something that can be improved. If you feel your communication skills can be better, feel free to be honest and tell the interviewer just that - but remember to add that you have been working on it by taking a course in Mindfulness Communication or hiring a Career Coach.  

Expert tips for answering negative-centered questions:

  • Don’t dodge the question.
  • Put your energy into your strengths. Ensure you have articulated what value you have to offer.
  • Be smart but truthful. Demonstrate that you are aware of your weakness and what you have done to overcome it.
  • Do not reveal any serious weakness that could hinder your job performance. One of the biggest mistakes made while answering this question is to highlight a weakness that is a core competency of the job.
  • Don't think you are perfectionist and don't have any weakness.
  • Show that you are “self-aware” and that you have the ability and the confidence to take steps to improve yourself.
  • Let the interviewer know that although you may not be perfect, you are working on any shortcomings you have.

A good interview is one of the most critical steps in landing that dream job and hiring the best candidates. You can get ahead and stay ahead of the competition by being aware of different interviewing strategies, and knowing how to answer and assess effectively.

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