Of all the questions asked during a job interview, maybe the toughest ones to answer successfully are behavioural questions. These are the questions where you tell the employer about a time in your past work history that demonstrates a particular skill, ability or attitude that they are looking for. An example would be ‘Tell me about a time you went above and beyond your normal duties to solve a problem.’
Why are these questions so hard to answer? The truth is, most of us don’t know how to tell a good story.
Now I’m not talking about lying – just making up a story – during your interview. I’m talking about taking a real-life event in your work history and turning it into an exciting story that leaves a strong positive impression on the employer. Telling memorable stories that demonstrate your skills at work will put you ahead of the pack for the job!
So how do you do it?
The first thing to remember is you are telling a ‘hero’ story, with you as the hero. No matter how big or small the work event was, you are the one who saved the day. Make sure the focus of your story is on what YOU did.
Now, most people have heard about the STAR formula when answering behavioural interview questions. The formula looks like this:
S – Situation: What was the situation that needed to be addressed?
T – Task: What task or assignment were you asked to do to solve the situation?
A – Action: What actions did you take to address the situation?
R – Result: What was the result of your actions?
But how do you turn that simple formula into a memorable story? Well, it’s all about how much time and detail you spend on each part of the STAR formula.
Example: if you took an average ‘hero’ – type story from our pop culture pantheon, such as a 90 minute action movie, then you’d see that most of them follow the same basic timeline:
- (First 20 Minutes) Some kind of disastrous event happens, and if the situation isn’t fixed then the whole planet / human race could be in jeopardy.
- (Next 10 Minutes) The hero is called in to fix the problem. They could be a well-known hero, or someone who becomes an ‘unlikely’ hero.
- (Next 50 Minutes) The hero takes on the problem. They go through challenges and hardships, but persevere and through strategy, guts and tenacity, they solve the problem and save the planet / human race.
- (Final 10 Minutes) The good result / happy ending is revealed, and everything goes back to normal, until the sequel.
Because so many movies, books, and TV shows follow this formula and timeline, people are instantly attracted to stories that follow the same pattern.
How can you use this for behavioural questions in an interview? Try these percentages:
- Situation – 20% of your answer – Set the Situation up pretty quickly. Don’t bother with unnecessary details: Set the stage, get to the problem, and describe the negative consequences if the problem isn’t solved.
- Task – 5% of your answer – The task should be the shortest part of your answer. Just state what you were supposed to do to solve the problem and move on.
- Actions – 60% of your answer – Spend most of your answer describing what actions you took to solve the problem. Remember to describe what challenges you may have had while dealing with the situation, and how you overcame them, in detail.
- Result – 15% of your answer – Finish up your answer with a quick description of the result of your actions. What happy endings did you achieve for everyone involved? How did your actions help everyone else going forward?
Tip: Lots of people get bogged down setting up the story, describing the situation. Don’t do this! What the employer really wants to hear is about your skills, your abilities, and your attitudes when solving problems and dealing with challenging situations. They want to hire a HERO, so make sure you tell your behavioural interview story in the same way that hero stories have been told for hundreds of years.