Centred Content

Dear Joanna,

I’m following up from last month’s employment advice column on soft skills and the resume. You had mentioned that employers use behavioural questions in the job interview to assess the candidate’s soft skills that he or she put in the resume. Please can you explain this job interviewing technique, as well as how to respond to these types of questions if I’m asked them by an employer?

Signed: Interview Challenges

Centred Content

Dear Interview,

The behavioural question is one of the hardest for candidates to respond to in the job interview. It’s similar to learning a script for a play!  Based on my research from  a few websites including https://www.job-hunt.org/job_interviews/smart-behavioral-interview-answers.shtml, and https://zety.com/blog/star-method-interview as well as insights from the Reena Supported Employment Service and Summer Employment Transition job coaches, including my job coaching experiences, I will present some tips of what you should know regarding the behavioural interview.

  • What is a Behavioural question? Typically these questions start with,  “Tell me about a time when you…” or “Describe how you have handled…” or “Give me an example of…” or even “Walk me through…”. Employers want to hear real life examples from your job, school and/or volunteering and how your skills meet the requirement of the position. They are trying to  understand how the candidate handles different, especially difficult, situations on the job. It’s based on the theory that an employees’ past behaviour on the job can predict his or her future behaviour at the workplace. And you are correct – it’s how the interviewer can determine your “soft skills” that you have claimed on your resume and/or LinkedIn profile. Some examples of soft skills that will be questioned could beProblem-solving, initiative, judgement, handling stress, organizing, reliability, team work, to name a few.
  • Preparation. These answers require tons of preparation and practice before you attend the interview.  You need to explain different situations when you had to put these “soft skills” or abilities into action. It’s preparing “stories” about these experiences that can provide concrete answers to behavioral interview questions. You can’t answer with a simple yes or no. These questions are open-ended, so you can tell your story (or share) that presents you in the best light.
  • The STAR Method. This is the special and structured formula that you can use when you prepare, practice and finally respond to a behavioural interview question! It’s a storytelling style of explaining to the interviewer on how you handled specific work situations and challenges. The STAR format stands for SituationTaskActionResult:

Situation: An event, project, or challenge faced

Task: Your responsibilities and assignments for the situation

Action: Steps or procedure taken to relieve or rectify situation

Result: Results of actions taken.

  • Tell Stories. As I mentioned above, to answer behavioural questions, you need to provide examples of real work situations when you were successful — where you had a challenge and how you overcame that challenge. Be prepared, be positive, be brief and be truthful. Talk about your own experiences at work, volunteering and/or school.  And I recommend that you work with a job coach in a Reena supported employment program (or one in the community) to help you with this.

EXAMPLES: Here are two examples of countless responses to behavioural interview questions from a recent interview with a job seeker with RSES at Reena and  www.zety.com .

Interviewer: Tell me about a time when you made a mistake and how you handled it.

This is behavioural interview question assesses your soft skills such as: honesty, taking ownership for your mistake, ability and interest to learn and improve as well as good customer service practice…..

Candidate’s Response: Using the STAR Method – For example:

Step 1 – Describe the SITUATION: Last year, I made a terrible mistake when I was working as a grocery clerk at a supermarket in my last job. While I was packing the groceries of the customer, I forgot one item.

Step 2 – Describe the TASK.  I was actually the one who discovered my mistake first.

Step 3 – Describe the ACTION. When I did, I mentioned this to the cashier and tried to look for the customer in the parking lot but couldn’t find her. Immediately, I told my supervisor what happened and she documented this.

Step 4 – Describe the RESULTS. The good news was that the customer did return looking for her item at the customer service desk clerk who returned it to her. What I learned from this mistake is to always double check after I pack the groceries for the customer to make sure that I haven’t missed any item. And I haven’t made that mistake again!

Interviewer: “Tell me about a time when you performed well under pressure.”

This is a behavioural question that is assessing your soft skills/abilities to handle stress and problem solving skills.

Candidate’s Response: Using the STAR Method – For example:

Step 1. Using the STAR method to answer this question, we’ll first start with describing the SITUATION:

One time, at my last job, when I was a receptionist at a law firm, my co-worker had a family emergency and needed to miss work for some time. Her tasks were left unfinished.

Step 2. Next, we’ll give them the TASK:

My supervisor instructed me to take care of the co-workers’ tasks in his absence and gave me a deadline. I had only two days to finish both my work as well as the co-worker.

Step 3. Then the ACTION taken to solve the problem:

I told the supervisor that I was happy to help out and asked him if he could help me write out all the tasks in order of priority.  The supervisor was help me decide the order of tasks to be done.

Step 4. And finally, the RESULTS of your actions:

With the list of tasks to be done, in priority, I was able to finish all of the workload on time and accurately. My supervisor appreciated my attitude and drive, as well as team work, and when the co-worker returned to work, he was grateful as well and helped me out when I was  away or needed his support.

Preparing responses for these type of complicated questions and knowing how to tell your stories so that you are clear and concise takes lots of practice. Try to keep the stories simple and definitely don’t do this alone. Reach out for help from job coaches.


To submit your questions and comments to this column IN CONFIDENCE, please email jsamuels@reena.org