Ace behavioural interviews by drawing examples from internships and classes

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The least favorite question for any job candidate is probably, “Tell me about a time when you…”

It results in tongue-tied awkward silences and stumbled responses as you grasp for examples. This is one of the toughest interview types to tackle, especially as a new entry into the job market without much experience.

Monster.com says, “Such interviews are based on the simple belief that how a job candidate has responded to certain types of situations in the past is a good predictor of how that person will behave in a similar future situation.”

For this reason, they recommend picking an instance where the result was positive and offer some areas to think about when preparing for your interview. Examples include leadership skills, teamwork, decision-making, problem solving, feedback (giving or receiving), and meeting (or not meeting deadlines).

A popular technique for behavioral interviews is the STAR technique. You outline a situation or a task, describe the action you took to resolve it and tell the interviewer the result. QuintCareers.com outlines this nicely.

They also recommend that you take the time to work out answers to sample behavioral questions prior to the interview in the STAR format. It is often difficult to remember specific examples of accomplishments and achievements in the moment. They have a list of questions here for you to get started.

The MIT Development Center says, “Your interview preparation should include identifying examples of situations from your experiences on your resume where you have demonstrated the behaviors a given company seeks.” The more detailed the example, the better.

One of the toughest things as a recent graduate or someone who’s still in school is that you have a smaller pool of examples to choose from. “Use examples from past internships, classes, activities, team involvements, community service and work experience,” says the MIT Development Center.

Remember, just because you have never had a “real” job employed full-time, it does not mean you’ve never used leadership, problem-solving or decision-making skills.

The key then to a successful behavioural interview is preparation. Think about things you have been proud of over the last few years, and how you handled situations that didn’t turn out as planned.

There are many resources for sample behavioural interview questions on the Internet. Pick a few of these and work through them. Although you may not be able to anticipate a specific question an interviewer may ask, the examples that will make you stand out against other candidates will hopefully be closer to the tip of your tongue.

Photo credit: Alex France – Uni interview today at Huddersfield [Day 23]
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About the author

Mira Saraf studied psychology and English at McGill University. When she graduated, she wanted to pursue journalism but somehow ended up working in Montreal's garment industry. From there, she moved to New York to attend FIT. She worked there for a year before moving back to Toronto to work for Winners. Two and a half years in she took over a year off to pursue writing education and a career in freelance writing. She has since returned to the industry and now works for Loblaw/Joe Fresh. She continues to write on a part time basis.