University Relations

Interview Guide

Behavior-Based Interviewing

The term "behavior-based interview questions" is new to many students. If you want to have a successful job or internship interview, you need to understand what these questions are, then be prepared to answer them.

What Is It?
Behavior-based interviewing is one of the most commonly used interview techniques. It's based on the idea that your past performance is the best predictor of your future performance. In other words, how well you behaved or performed in past activities will help the interviewer decide how well you'd do in the new position.

When you're asked behavior-based interview questions, you're asked to describe situations in which you've displayed the skills, abilities and personal traits being sought for the position you're applying for. In the sample questions section on back, we list some of the typical traits and skills potential employers seek.

How These Questions Work and How to Answer Them:
The interviewer will ask you to describe a time when you demonstrated a specific behavior (for example, leadership, communications skills, teamwork, etc). The interviewer might say "Tell me about a time you _____ (had to handle a conflict OR contributed to a team success)." In response, you'll describe a relevant experience you had in a job, internship, class project, volunteer activity, team, or similar. To answer these questions successfully, you'll need to:
  • Be very familiar with the job/internship description and the skills and qualities being sought for it.
  • Anticipate the questions or topics you'll be asked about. (Scroll down for common questions.)
  • PRACTICE how you'll answer these questions, or what examples you'll give. Be sure your examples illustrate the skills being sought for the position.
  • Use examples that are as recent as possible.
  • Avoid using examples from your personal life (like relationships, friends, family).
  • Vary your examples—don't just talk about one project or one area of your life.
Your examples will basically be brief stories. Give each story a beginning, middle, and end. To help you do that, prepare stories that follow the STAR model. STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action, Result.

Stories that follow the STAR model incorporate these elements:
  • Situation: Briefly set up the situation by describing the context of your example (who, what, where, when, how).
  • Task: Explain the task you had to complete, or the problem you had to solve.
  • Action: Describe the actions you took to complete the task or solve the problem.
  • Result: Close by explaining the result of your efforts. Quantify that outcome if possible. (Examples: how much you helped raise fundraising, how many kids you tutored, how many people you helped to train, etc.)

Sample Interview Questions and Answers
Below are two examples of behavior-based interview questions, followed by sample answers that use the STAR model.

SAMPLE QUESTION #1: Describe a project for which you faced multiple deadlines, and how you handled it.

SITUATION = Last fall I took the initiative to apply for grants to fund a professional speaker for a CLA event. It's often difficult to get grants for event funding, and it's important to meet various grant deadlines.
TASK = I researched grant options and found several possibilities. Each had a different deadline and different window of time for which the money could be used.
ACTION = The varying timelines required me to create a small database, which I organized by grant deadlines, purposes, and the windows of time they could be used. I used this database to help me apply for the appropriate grants at the appropriate times.
RESULT = The primary grant came through, but a smaller grant did not. So I quickly helped find a last-minute event sponsor, then helped to update the PR materials and budget accordingly. In the end, the event was successful on multiple levels. We expected about 50 students to attend and got 60. Also, we were able to provide honorariums to additional speakers. So I feel this example highlights not only my ability to meet multiple deadlines, but also to be organized, take initiative, and be flexible when handling last-minute problems and changes.

SAMPLE QUESTION #2: Tell me about a project that required you to track small details while still managing the big picture.

SITUATION = When I worked as a Peer Advisor at my school's career services office, I was responsible for helping to train new Peer Advisors. These advisors help students explore academic majors, write resumes, apply to graduate schools, and learn how to conduct a job search.
TASK = Last year I was asked by my supervisor to develop a new training program for 5 new Peer Advisors. To do this, I worked with a fellow Peer Advisor to create new materials, and also to schedule training topics and presentations. My goal was to be sure the new advisors received all the information they'd need to effectively advise students, while also making the training enjoyable and interactive.
ACTION = I identified and worked on materials needed for the training binder, created a schedule for the daily training activities, identified and contacted appropriate speakers, and created fun and interactive training activities.
RESULT = In the end, the training was a solid success. It was well-organized and stayed on schedule. My supervisor gathered feedback, and all 5 trainees reported that it was an informative and fun training.

More Examples of Behavior-Based Interview Questions
As you read through these sample questions and consider how you'd answer them, it's helpful to be familiar with the skills and qualities interviewers look for in candidates. Those skills and qualities include: leadership, interpersonal communication, ability to collaborate with or create a team, quick learner, creativity, perseverance, well organized, proactive approach, thoroughness, analytical thinking, problem solving, assertiveness, initiative, and flexibility.
  • Tell me about a time you solved a difficult problem that could have had significant impact.
  • Describe the most difficult decision you've made in the last 6 months.
  • Tell me about a time you took initiative to do something that needed to be done, even though it wasn't really your responsibility.
  • Describe an important goal you have achieved, and how you achieved it. Tell me about set-backs you experienced.
  • Describe a time when you had difficulty communicating your thoughts clearly to an individual or group.
  • Tell me about a time you voiced a concern or disagreement to a coworker, supervisor, or professor.
  • Tell me about a situation in which you had to collaborate with several people to achieve a goal.
  • Describe your most disappointing experience. How did you cope with it? What did you do to move beyond it?
  • Describe a time when you were faced with a stressful situation that required coping skills.
  • Give me a specific example of a time when you convinced your supervisor or professor of an idea. How did you accomplish this and what was the result?
  • Tell me about a time when you took on a leadership role.
  • Tell me about a time you provided excellent customer service.

Return to the Guide to Effective Interviewing