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Tell Me About a Time When...Be Ready for the Behavioral Interview Questions

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The moment you hear your interviewer prefix his question with, “Tell me about a time when..." be on your guard. He is going to assess you on your past behavior and judge how you will react to current similar situations. Your past will be a compass to guide him to your future. It is a behavioral interviewing technique that interviewers often use, when they are unsure of a candidate’s behavioral responses.

So when you answer them measure your words carefully. What you say will be taken as an indicator of your behavioral pattern. Whether you behave appropriately or not, the interviewer will assume that you will approach similar circumstances in the same manner.

Say for example he asks, “Tell me about a time when your company was facing labor union problems, did you ever have occasion to interact with the union head and what did you tell him?” If you answer, that you told him, “Atta boy! We are with you in this, let’s fix these baggy suits, we slog it out and they drive home in their limo’s. It time they smelt the coffee.”



Well, that may be the truth, but if you said that would probably be the last question they’d be asking you. A more diplomatic answer would be, “ Yes, I met him and I told him, this is the place that gives us our bread and butter and feeds our families, why should there be rancor or bitterness. Can’t we find a more amiable way to get them to our side of things?”

This will immediately get the interviewer’s mind churning the right way. Here’s a guy, whose loyalty and trustworthiness is beyond doubt. In difficult situations his practicality and strong values could come in handy.

When answering such retrospective questions, just keep these recommendations in mind

Be Precise – Don’t Be Ambiguous

Caught unawares it could become quite a task recollecting a particular instance pertaining to the query posed by the interviewer. So suppose the question is,"Tell me about a time when you had to rearrange a tight schedule to meet a deadline?"

You could pass it off as something that happens regularly in your line of work and that you are used to it and for you it is no big deal, to work under such pressures saying, "Juggling priorities was a way of life at my earlier workplace. There's wasn’ta day when I did not have to work under that kind of pressure."

But that would be vague and not what the interviewer is looking for. He could insist on a specific example.

A much better way of answering it would be to say, "I could tell you ten incidents, so frequent they were. One day I had a Senator on the phone, emails that needed urgent answering and hotel reservations to be made and two important deadlines to meet. I had to keep my wits about me and managed to meet all the demands made of me.”

For added emphasis you could also add: "Last month I received a panicky phone call from my chairman and I had to shelve everything that I was doing and attend to what he asked me to do. It was practically impossible to do what he had asked me to do. But I got my colleagues to rally around me, skipped our tea-break and somehow pulled it off. The chairman commended me meeting the tight deadline – for me that was worth all the effort and tension.”

Your answer would have given the interviewer enough information to assess how you handle urgencies and deadlines, how you work under pressure and how flexible you are?

1) Don’t Leave Incidents To Memory, Write Them Down

There are so many seemingly routine and mundane incidents that happen at the workplace, that make for very interesting reading if you write them down. Writing them down, keeps them fresh in your memory and you can also embellish them with adjectives, that ad extra emphasis and make them even more exciting.

They will come in handy when asked questions about how you faced tricky questions.

2) Behavioral Interview Questions You May Be Asked

There is no limit to the precise behavioral interview questions you may be asked. But here are a few that are fairly common and rehearsing these, could help you in answering other questions as well.
  • Tell me about a time when you felt everyone at the work was prejudiced against you and that everyone found fault with you and your work, even though you knew that you were right? How did you react?
  • Tell me about a time when you were working with someone who you felt was intentionally underperforming and was also being a bad influence on the other workers. How did you deal with this person?
  • Tell me about a time there was a serious impediment in your work. What was it? How did you overcome it?
  • Tell me about a time when you did something that succeeded in the face of huge odds. Give a specific example.

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