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How to Find an Internship
February 15, 2016
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Behavioral-Based Interview

Behavioral interviewing is becoming more and more common. Have you ever heard people say that the best indicator of how you will perform on a job is how you have performed on jobs in the past?

With behavioral interviewing, the interviewer is looking for specific examples of how you have handled situations or problems in the past. Behavioral questions begin with phrases like: "tell me about a time when..." or "can you give me an example of..."

When an interviewer asks such questions, this is your chance to talk about your accomplishments and prove that you're a suitable candidate for success in a future position.

Know Your Success Stories!
Take some time before your interview to write out stories of times when you have:

  • successfully solved problems,
  • dealt with ambiguity and conflict,
  • showed creativity, assertiveness, decisiveness, or good communication skills, and
  • demonstrated goal setting and commitment to task.

Determine what stories you have that would be appropriate for the position based on its job description. They can come from jobs, classroom activities, or volunteer positions.

By preparing for an interview ahead of time and recalling your past successes, you will be able to have examples in mind and will not be caught off guard. You can not predict what the interviewer will ask, but you can prepare what you want him or her to know about your knowledge, skills, and characteristics.

Use the STAR Model
A useful tool to use in preparing "Job Skill Stories" is the S.T.A.R. Model. On paper, for each story, describe:

S = Situation: A specific situation that addresses the question.
T = Task: The tasks associated with the situation.
A = Action: The actions taken to address the situation.
R = Result: The results of your actions. Don't forget this, as it's very important.

The average answer to a behavioral interview question should be around 3 minutes.

Behavioral Interviewing Worksheet

Use this worksheet to prep for a behavioral-based interview.

Who (Your Position/Role)
Where (Your Company/Organization/Department/Class)
Why (The Problem/Assignment)

What (How did you develop the plan? Investigate/Consult/Analyze)

How (How did you develop and execute the steps of your plan)

What effect (Quantify! Did you increase/decrease/save/profit/improve? Use money, percentage, or time). Let the employer know that you can produce the same results for them!

Sample Behavioral Questions
These are drawn from the characteristics sought by employers.

Tell me about a time when you had to cope with strict deadlines or time demands. Give me an example. (With this question, the employer is looking for whether the applicant overreacted or withdrew from demanding work, and whether the success or failure in coping will generalize to another job.)

Tolerance of Ambiguity
Give me an example of a time when you had to deal with frequent job changes or unexpected events on the job. What does this situation say about your ability to work in an ambiguous or unstructured environment? (With this question, the interviewer is trying to see if the individual is comfortable with a lack of structure on the job and able to manage delay and ambiguity patiently, or was there a need to seek closure, jump to quick conclusions, or speed up the process too quickly.)

Describe a situation in which you had to draw a conclusion quickly and take specific action. (Interviewer is looking for whether the individual was able to take quick action based on available information or was there a tendency to vacillate or postpone the decision.)

Give me an example of a time when you had to be assertive in giving directions to others. (The interviewer is evaluating the candidate's ability to speak in a clear, direct manner, and gauge his or her ability to communicate with authority figures, hostile people or manipulative personalities.)

Give me an example of a time when your positive attitude caused others to be motivated or energized. (Looking for such things as an ability to be a role model for others to emulate, to coach others toward attitude improvement, and to build excitement at work. Also, was this positive, energizing attitude also present during the interview?)

Policy and Procedures
Tell me about a time on the job when you were expected to act in accordance with policy even when it was not convenient. What did you do? (The interviewer is trying to get at whether or not the applicant conformed to a policy when it was not convenient, and did the candidate demonstrate maturity and willingness to conform in the example that he or she has given.)

Tell me about a specific experience you have had in which it was necessary for you to react quickly because of a change in the physical environment. (The interviewer is trying to get at the extent to which the individual's actions reflect alertness. Did any part of the applicant's answer suggest a tendency to be distracted or daydream?)

Analytical Problem Solving
Tell me about a time when you were systematic in identifying potential problems at work. In picking and describing an instance, make sure that you showcase your analytical skills. (With this question, the interviewer is trying to see whether the individual was able to identify the problem while it was still manageable or had it already reached crisis level. Also, to what extent did the applicant's example reflect a systematic approach to problem solving?)

Goal Setting
Tell me about the system that you use for goal setting. To what extent does it involve using written objectives, paper work, or forms? Describe a specific instance in which you defined your goals and objectives in writing. (The interviewer is assessing whether the candidate can define and elaborate goals, rather than set simple written goals? Is the importance of a systematic process appreciated by the candidate? Does the candidate believe in written goals, irrespective of other opinions?)

Written Communication
This job will require that you spend a large amount of time writing. Tell me about your writing experiences that you think will contribute to your ability to do this job well. (The interviewer is trying to determine the individual's actual depth of experience in written information. Did the example that the applicant gave provide evidence of some comfort with using written communications and does the writing experience match the job?)

Verbal Communication
Give me an example of a time when you used verbal communication to relate an important point.

Commitment to Task
Give me an example of a time in which you found it necessary to give long hours to the job. For example, tell me a period of time when it was necessary to take work home, work on weekends, or maintain unusually long hours. Be specific. (The interviewer is really looking at how the applicant answers this question. Is the candidate proud of the commitment he or she took to get the job done or do they complain about the personal sacrifice? Also, did it appear that the extra hours were required because of poor delegation or because of a dedication to excellence?)

Describe a time at work or school where you were able to be personally supportive and reassuring to a person who needed a friend. (Does the example given show how the candidate could build a helping relationship successfully? Was the candidate sensitive to the feelings of other persons? Was rapport built without appearing phony?)

Today's workplace involves a lot of multi-tasking, working on several projects at one time. How do you stay organized? Give an example of demonstrating what you specifically do to organize several tasks.

Organization Planning
Planning is more than thinking; it's also doing. Tell me what you have done with such tools as flow charts, production schedules, and filing systems (or anything else) to help you plan. (Did the tools that the individual use help him or her to be systematic and organized? Were the tools seen as actually useful to the candidate or were they simply complying with another person's system?)

Give me an example of a time when you were inventive and explored new ways of thinking. (The interviewer will assess the candidate's example provided information about breaking an old way of thinking to develop a new solution. Did the inventiveness cited in the example reflect the good use of intuition and the ability to 'play' with concepts?). Describe the most creative project that you have ever carried out. What was the process?

Versatility and Flexibility
In the work situation, we must all compromise to make things happen. Tell me about a time when you felt it necessary to compromise your own immediate interests in order to be flexible and tolerant of another person's needs. (The interviewer is looking for evidence that the candidate achieved an important, valuable, benefit to the work situation through deferral of self interests. Did the candidate seem overly accommodating or immature?)

Team Player
Give me an example of a time when you served on a team at work or at school.   Highlight the special aspects of the situation which best demonstrate your skill in this area. (The interviewer will determine if the candidate referred to a single discussion with one individual, or was there a mention of a plan/method for dealing with the team as a group? Was there emphasis on special incentives or using confrontation to build a team?)

Decision Making and Problem Solving
Give me an example of a time when you were able to take meaningful action in solving a practical problem. (The interviewer is seeking evidence for sound judgment, a systematic approach, and a willingness to find a solution. Did the solution seem reasonable even when dealing with an emotional topic?)

Even though the use of authority in a leadership role is not popular, it is necessary in some situations. Give me an example of some situation when you used your authority to influence another individual. Be specific. (The interviewer will be observing whether the candidate felt confident in using authority. Was there evidence of over-use or under-use of authority? Did the individual seem to be "locked in" to a democratic or participative leadership style?)

More Behavior-Based Questions

  • Tell me how you set and achieved a major goal in your life.
  • Describe a problem you've had on a job or in school and tell how you went about solving it.
  • Tell me about a time when you had to sacrifice quality to meet a deadline and how you handled it.
  • Tell me about a stressful situation that you have handled. Would you handle it differently now?
  • Give an example of a conflict with a co-worker. How did you handle it? Would you handle it differently now?
  • Give an example of a time when you needed help with a task or project and how you handled it.
  • Tell me about a time when you faced a strict deadline and how you handled it.
  • Describe a task you truly disliked and how you handled it.