How to shine during your next interview

Behavior-based interviews are designed to elicit information about how you have performed in the past because past behaviour is a good indicator of how you will function in the future.

Behavioral interview questions are based on the traits and skills needed to succeed in a specific position/role. Interviewers develop questions around these traits and skills and look for candidates to demonstrate their behaviors in past situations that may be similar to those that will be encountered in the new position/role.

These questions usually begin with phrases such as:

  • Tell me about a time...
  • Describe a situation in which...
  • Recall an instance when…
  • Give me an example of...

Candidates can prepare in advance by carefully identifying the traits and skills that are necessary, as outlined in the job posting or program description. This advance ‘research’ will allow candidates to recall specific instances from the past that demonstrate their accomplishments, abilities, and fit for the position, thereby reducing the need to think of an example ‘on the spot’ during the actual interview. Examples may be drawn from work (paid/unpaid), academics or other relevant life experiences.

Common behaviour-based interview themes may include the following:

  • Working effectively under pressure
  • Handling a difficult situation with a co-worker
  • Applying good judgment and logic in solving a problem
  • Thinking creatively
  • Completing a project on time
  • Persuading team members to do things your way
  • Writing a report or proposal that was well received
  • Anticipating potential problems & developing preventive measures
  • Making an important decision with limited facts and information
  • Adapting to a difficult situation
  • Being tolerant of a different opinion
  • Dealing with an upset client
  • Delegating a project effectively
  • Explaining complex information to a client, colleague, or peer
  • Surmounting a major obstacle or handling failure
  • Prioritizing the elements of a complicated project

Candidates need to prepare answers (“stories”) that highlight the different competencies and skillsets identified by the employer. To prepare effectively, candidates must take a focussed approach in developing appropriate stories and adapt them to the relevant competencies.

Use a structured “story telling” model to respond to behavioural questions.

"STARS" Approach

Situation (what was your role, where, when, etc.)
Task (a specific challenge you were faced with that resulted in a positive outcome)
Action(s) taken to resolve the situation
Results (who benefited; how did they benefit?)
Summary (relate skills to future role)

Behavioral Interview Questions – Response Techniques

Stories need to be specific, detailed and relevant to the question, rather than speaking in general terms.

Use the "STARS" model to structure your answer and stay on topic. The interviewer is generally most interested in the actions you took and the results (how you helped the organization/company, clients, colleagues or yourself – by saving money, time, reducing waste, improving efficiency, improving service, getting more customers, achieving specific goals... etc.)

There are a number of different ‘storytelling models’ that share similar components: “CAR” (Challenge, Action, Results); “PAR” (Problem, Action, Results); “SAR” (Situation, Action, Results).

Each story should include a clear beginning, middle and end. The results of your actions should always end on a positive note!

Aim for approximately 60 - 90 seconds to deliver your response. Make your story original - include out-of-the-box ways of doing things, your imaginative and clever methods to reach goals. The interviewer has heard a few stories in their day so make sure yours are special.

Throughout the interview, the employer/ interviewer is asking “WHY SHOULD I CHOOSE YOU”?

Candidates need to be prepared!

  1. What is unique about you, your skills or background? What sets you apart from others?
  2. What do you know about the employer and their needs? Have you done your research?
  3. In what ways can you demonstrate how you made a contribution?
    • Made/saved money
    • Saved time
    • Achieved a particular goal
    • Solve a specific problem
    • Increased productivity
    • Improved or simplified a process
    • Attracted new customers
    • Retained established customers
    • Used old things in a new way
    • Gained or kept a competitive edge
    • Made the boss look good
    • Improved the reputation in the community, built relationships
    • Built a brand/image with customers/vendors and the public
    • Added a new service or product to the business expanded business, etc.
  4. Do you have proof? Can you provide examples? Will your references agree? Can you deliver what you say?

Example of a STARS response:

Situation: In my role as Program Coordinator with TTT’s Challenge & Change program, I was responsible for coordinating the facilitation of locally-run programs and to raise homelessness awareness in the community

Task: I noticed that participation among community members had dropped by 30% over the past 3 years and wanted to do something to improve these numbers

Action: I initiated a new promotional campaign. In collaboration with the TTT volunteer board of directors, we set out to target community members to raise awareness of the issue. We set up displays at the public library and at other community based activities and also scheduled regular posts on Twitter and Facebook. I collected feedback and organized monthly round-table discussions with our board.

Result: Incorporating many of the great ideas received, we made our internal systems more efficient and increased our visibility. As a result, we raised program participation by 19% the first year and 25% the next. We were recognized by the Pillar Nonprofit Network for our contributions and dedication to the community.

Summary: I found this experience and challenge to be personally rewarding in many ways. I was able to develop my marketing and public speaking skills, while strengthening my ability to lead others to achieve a particular goal. I’m confident these skills will be useful in the role of Publicity Coordinator with your organization.