Behavioral-Based Questions: How to Tell Good Stories during Interviews

Every great movie contains a good story. Employers like effective storytelling, too. In fact, behavioral-based questions are now the best practice in job interviews. These questions require you to describe your past performance under the assumption that it will predict your future behavior. Employers may ask you to describe a time you exceeded the call of duty, were a leader or received negative feedback from your supervisor.

The good news is that these questions are fairly easy to predict. Simply review the job description or consider the needs of the organization to identify the skills they are seeking. You can then convert these attributes into questions.

For example, if problem solving is essential for the position, describe a time you faced a challenge and how you overcame it. If they desire candidates who work well on a team, identify a time you collaborated with your colleagues to achieve a common goal. Many organizations also value leadership or initiative. Consequently, they also often ask for examples to assess your strengths in these areas.

In anticipation of the conversation, use the table below to prepare at least five good stories about an event or project that illustrates your ability to succeed in the position. When you provide your answers, use the STAR technique. Provide the details of the situation, the task or goal that you set-out to accomplish, the action you took, and the end result. Ten example responses that relate to co-curricular activities are provided below.

  1. Tell me about a time you were involved in an experience that was particularly challenging.
    Situation: I volunteered to serve breakfast at a homeless shelter on Christmas Morning in Chicago.
    Task: When our group arrived I was alarmed at the number of people at the shelter and the terrible conditions that lead to their homelessness. My duties that morning included preparing breakfast, serving the meal, visiting with the guests, distributing Christmas gifts, and cleaning the shelter once the guests left.
    Action: The task at hand was simple, but the environment was challenging. It was an eye opener to see the number of people that needed the shelter. It was hard at first to imagine that I could spread the slightest Christmas joy to these individuals in such great need. It wasn’t until breakfast was served and I began to have conversations with some of the residents that I realized my impact. I spent time playing with the children while I distributed the Christmas gifts we had purchased. The shelter closed after breakfast and it was hard to watch mothers and fathers bundle their children as best they could for the bitterly cold weather outside.
    Result: When the morning was over, I was filled with mixed emotions. I left a room of people who had nowhere to go and I returned to a warm house full of Christmas food and gifts. It was disheartening, but left me with a feeling that I had given something valuable and needed. I recognized the power of selflessly giving to others and will continue to do so throughout my life.
  2. Tell me about your best group work or project experience.
    Situation: During my junior year, I served as the fundraising chair for our campus chapter of Habitat for Humanity.
    Task: One of our projects was a t-shirt fundraising campaign. The purpose was to raise awareness about sub-standard housing and homelessness, as well as raising money for our housing projects.
    Action: In order to get the campus community on board, each member of the committee assumed responsibility for contacting and attending student and academic organization meetings. When we attended the meetings we presented a brief overview of Habitat and stated that we would include their name on the sponsor list in our public relations materials for our upcoming housing projects if they purchased a t-shirt. All of the committee members were extremely excited and enthusiastic when presenting to the organizations, which in turn motivated the organizations to help us.
    Result: The hard work, commitment, and enthusiasm of our close knit committee paid off. We raised over $600 from our t-shirt sales. I attributed the success to our honest efforts in including everyone, being optimistic, and projecting our campaign with energy.
  3. Tell me about a time you set a goal. How did you go about accomplishing that goal?
    Situation: Last fall, I served on the Family Weekend Committee with 10 other students.
    Task: One of our goals for the weekend was to hold a special dinner for all Augustana students, their families, guests, faculty, and staff. We hoped to follow dinner with a large scale entertainment performance.
    Action: We began by dividing our committee to address specific tasks that included marketing the event, planning the dinner, and scheduling live entertainment. Each small group brought our ideas back to the large group and continued the brainstorming process. After narrowing our lists down, we decided we needed to seek out resources on campus to find out vital information. For example, I sought out the student programming board to discuss co-sponsorship and procedures for booking an agent. We held regular meetings and set specific deadlines for our tasks throughout the spring term.
    Result: Our Saturday night dinner was extremely well attended and well received by the campus community. It was a great way for families to meet faculty and staff. The evening performance by “The Second Street Comedy Group” was a huge hit!
  4. Tell me about a time when you had to manage many tasks as a leader of your student organization.
    Situation: As President of the Biology Club, I had many tasks to manage during Biology Month.
    Task: I was responsible for contacting alumni to serve on panels about different aspects of biology, coordinating information sessions on the variety of career options in biology, and preparing a workshop focused on searching for graduate programs in biology.
    Action: I began to plan by outlining each event and then prioritized tasks. I realized that all of this planning was a lot for just one person. I called on my fellow Biology Club members and asked for volunteers to help. I also utilized campus resources, such as the Student Success Center, to assist in co-presenting some of the programs.
    Result: Overall, Biology Month was a successful program with well-attended events. My initial organization and ability to delegate some of the tasks contributed greatly to its success.
  5. Describe a time when another person’s success was dependent upon your work, help, or communication skills.
    Situation: Each spring the Student Success Center hosts a campus Career Fair. I played an important role in helping one of the Career Counselors with the preparation for the event.
    Task: I was asked to brainstorm ways our office could publicize and market the event.
    Action: I created posters, flyers, and table tents using Microsoft Publisher. I also identified a number of ways to get information about the career fair to the campus community including advertising in the student newspaper and sending emails to specific majors, staff members, and faculty.
    Result: Using a variety of creative marketing strategies proved to be successful. A record number of students attended the event. Students were given an evaluation as they left. They consistently responded positively to the marketing used to publicize the fair.
  6. Tell me about a time when you felt you communicated with others in a positive and effective manner.
    Situation: During the 2011-2012 academic year, I worked as an Admissions Ambassador.
    Task: My role was to lead prospective students and their families on campus tours and answer questions they had about the college.
    Action: Serving as a representative of the Admissions Office required me to act and communicate in an extremely professional manner. I spent a great deal of time familiarizing myself with areas of campus. I gathered information about the different majors on campus, the variety of campus activities, and made sure I knew the activities in each building on campus. When interacting with prospective students and their families, I was always careful to provide accurate information. If I didn’t know the answer to a question, I was sure to refer the family to another resource or take the extra step to find out.
    Result: By taking the time to learn everything I could about Augustana’s campus, I was able to present myself as an informed and professional campus representative. My professionalism and ability to verbally communicate was evident in the feedback I received from the families in their evaluation of the day’s activities. Approximately 93% of the prospective students I met with have chosen to attend Augie this fall.
  7. Tell me about a time when team morale and motivation were low. What did you do to rebuild team spirit?
    Situation: During the middle of the football season I began to notice that the energy and morale of our team dropped. Teammates weren’t excited to be at practices, we weren’t giving our all during our games, and some teammates were not getting along.
    Task: My success as an athlete thrives off the energy of others. I decided that something needed to be done for us to enjoy our season. As a senior team member, I knew the younger members looked to me for leadership. I decided to exercise my leadership abilities to try to help the team out of a slump.
    Action: I talked with the coaches to express my concern and to brainstorm ideas on strategies we might use to boost morale. After one of our practices, I asked if the team members could stick around for ten extra minutes. I facilitated a conversation regarding our low energy and morale. After that conversation, some other teammates and myself planned Friday morning breakfasts, played motivating music during warm-ups, and took turns planning social events outside of practice.
    Result: By making practices fun and by spending time together off the court, we formed supportive relationships with each other. This motivated us to succeed and ultimately led to a positive, enjoyable season.
  8. Tell me about a time when a colleague wasn’t pulling his or her weight and your response to the situation.
    Situation: As an athlete, one of my teammates consistently came to practice late, did not bring the equipment needed for practices, and even missed a game.
    Task: Part of being on a team is working together, utilizing one another’s strengths and being supportive. I became frustrated with my teammate because he wasn’t supporting or helping the team. I decided I would talk to him about my frustration and concerns rather than simply be angry.
    Action: I approached him after practice to indicate that I wanted to sit down and talk with him. I was careful to not use language that made me sound overly aggressive or angry. I wanted to learn the reason for his sudden disconnection from the team. As our conversation progressed, I understood some of his frustrations as a team member and encouraged him to talk with our coaches.
    Result: The conversation went well. I think he appreciated that I talked with him instead of just getting mad. He seemed to understand how his lack of commitment and energy affected the team as a whole. After our conversation I noticed that he was on time to most practices and increased his effort level during workouts.
  9. Tell me about a time you faced a challenging situation.
    Situation: I planned a weekend trip to Vienna, Austria, for myself and five other students.
    ask: My duties included organizing daily activities, making reservations, planning meeting times, and creating a budget for myself as well as others. When our group arrived, I was alarmed to learn that the youth hostel had lost part of our reservation. Consequently, I needed to find lodging for two people.
    Action: Overall, I learned the amount of preparation that is needed to plan a successful trip for a group of people. This situation was especially challenging. Not knowing the area, I asked the hostel staff for their assistance. They were very apologetic and provided me with a list of area hotels. I began calling them and learned that one hotel had an affordable rate due to a student discount. I made a reservation for myself and another student.
    Result: Because I remained calm and flexible, the situation seemed uneventful. Had I become upset, the staff may not have been as eager to assist us. Without this attitude, the other group members may have let the inconvenience and additional expense ruin their trip. Many of them expressed their gratitude for my leadership.
  10. Tell me about a time when a culture barrier was difficult to overcome. 
    Situation: Every time I dined out in Germany it was a learning experience.
    Task: Becoming accustomed to the rate and manner of service provided by the wait-staff in restaurants took a while.
    Action: We often went to restaurants with the intent of eating quickly and then being on our way again. Germans, however, are not accustomed to the term “eat and run.” Waiters take pride in the quality of the product, rather than in their speed. Once we sat down, a waiter would arrive about ten minutes later, take our drink orders, and provide us menus. This occurred at most of the restaurants that were not frequented by tourists. Initially we had to learn patience to understand a process we had no control over. Eventually we were prepared to set aside a large amount of time to spend at a restaurant. Waiters’ jobs also do not depend on generous tipping. Learning the proper amount was tricky. The best way to learn was by observation and practice.
    Result: By the end of our time in Germany, we could dine out comfortably with few hassles. Because we had realistic expectations, we could enjoy ourselves while not behaving like stereotypical rude tourists.