The Best Way to Answer Interview Questions

How to Answer Behavioral Interview Questions

From your side of the desk, the behavioral interviewing approach can appear somewhat difficult at first. The interviewer will be consistently drilling down to specific examples in your past. When you have difficulty coming up with a specific example, a well-trained behavioral interviewer will not let you off the hook, but will provide you with a prompt to continue thinking until you can provide an example. The dreaded silence that follows can be uncomfortable. Very uncomfortable. Unless you are prepared in advance.

Here is a simple way to be a star in the interview. Simply remember the STAR acronym and use it to provide fully complete behavioral interview responses:

ST - the situation or task
A - the action you took
R - the results achieved

By answering in STAR format, you are answering a behavioral question behaviorally. And instead of the interviewer having to pry the details out of you, the information will naturally flow for you. You can even use: "Let me tell you about a specific situation…" and "Here are the actions I took…" and "Here are the results achieved…"

Simple and complete. You will stand out as a star (and a STAR) in the interview.

The Behavioral Answering Technique

As you consider the variety of questions that can and will be posed over the course of a series of interviews, keep in mind that you will not always have the right answer to every question. But if you are well prepared, you will have a variety of specific behavioral examples to draw from which will give you the background and the basis from which to formulate your answers.

The Behavioral Answering Technique involves answering interview questions with specific examples, regardless of whether you have been asked to provide them. This technique works in lockstep with an interviewer who is following a behavioral interviewing approach, yet it works even better with those who are not. Because you will be providing behavioral examples and stories which make you a real person. With real experiences. Real experience that can benefit a future employer.

So as you go through the exercise of interview preparation, carefully consider all questions as an opportunity to answer in STAR behavioral format. Keep in mind the "Can you give me an example…" follow-up that is the cornerstone of the behavioral interviewing approach. Be prepared to use examples from your work, classes, and extracurricular activities. And be ready to offer up not just any example, but your very best example.

How to Answer Competency Interview Questions

Competency interviewing can often be the most difficult type of interviewing, both for the interviewer and the interviewee. For the interviewer, it requires understanding the competencies required for success in the position, which often can include a detailed analysis of the position as well as current employees who have succeeded in the position (and their common competencies). Yet when performed accurately, it can produce highly successful results.

An example of a competency is intelligence. The specific competency for a position may require someone with a minimum intelligence level. Competency-based questions which can probe this competency could include:

These are just a few sample questions on one specific competency (intelligence). Other competencies which may be measured may include creativity, analytical reasoning, strategic skills, tactical skills, risk taking, integrity, drive, organizational skills, teamwork, willingness to change, enthusiasm, ambition and life balance, just to name a few. A fully developed competency model may have as many as 30-50 different competencies that are being evaluated. And yes, it can produce a more grueling interview process.

For the interviewee, it may not be readily apparent that the interviewer is evaluating you on a competency-based model. And even if you are aware of a competency question, you likely will not know what the competency requirements are for the position. Successful competency interviewing focuses on those key competencies which are critical to success in the position.

So how do you answer competency questions? First, by understanding the key competencies for the position. When you have the opportunity to ask a question in a competency interview (or almost any in-depth interview, for that matter), it should be this one:

Or, stated in another format:

Note that with both questions, you are hitting on hot button phrases ("key competencies" and "critical success factors"). In fact, if you ever hear the phrase "CSF" being used in a business setting, they are referring to "Critical Success Factors."

Either question will drill to what the interviewer considers to be the key competencies for the position. It will then be your responsibility to demonstrate how you meet or exceed each one of these competencies. There are three approaches you can use to align your background to these competencies:

  1. Provide your competencies in summary format as a follow-up response to their reply.
  2. Answer each of the competencies in your later behavioral question responses.
  3. Mention them in your post interview thank you letter.

You must be ready to align your background with these competencies in order to win the position. Keep in mind that few, if any, of your competition will be taking this extra step. Just by making a sincere and focused effort, you will set yourself far apart from the field.

P.S. Do not be surprised when you get a different answer to this question from each interviewer. Seldom is an employer so well organized and process driven that all of the interviewers are in complete synch on the top three competencies needed for each position. But use that diversity of opinion as an opportunity to emphasize those aspects of your background which are the most important for each individual interviewer.

Top Ten Critical Success Factors

With all the different competencies being referenced, you may wonder what exactly the employer is seeking. Following is the list of the top ten critical success factors that nearly every employer is seeking:

  1. Positive attitude toward work
  2. Proficiency in field of study
  3. Communication skills (oral and written)
  4. Interpersonal skills
  5. Confidence
  6. Critical thinking and problem-solving skills
  7. Flexibility
  8. Self-motivation
  9. Leadership
  10. Teamwork

Show your competencies in as many of these critical success factors as possible and you will rise above the competition.

Don't Commit One of the Worst Interview Sins

One of the worst "sins" a candidate can commit is to speak in generalities rather than specifics. It is not enough to say, "I'm a very goal-oriented person." You have to back it up with specifics. For example: "I'm a very goal-oriented person. Let me give you a specific example. I regularly update a list of personal and business goals with specific time frames. Since I started keeping this goal list three years ago, I've successfully reached or surpassed over 90 percent of these goals. I'm confident that the other 10 percent are also within reach in the coming year. May I show you my goal list?"

If you are prone to using generalities, a sharp interviewer will usually follow with the behavioral question "Can you give me a specific example?" So beware! In fact, a favorite dual interview question for some experienced interviewers is to ask a two-step closed-open question combination, such as: "Do you consider yourself to be goal oriented?" (which almost all answer with "Yes"), followed by: "Can you give me a specific example?" It's amazing how many people cannot answer the second question or (worse yet) attempt to lie their way past it. The best answers come from those who do not even need the prompting of the second question, but gave specifics in response to the initial question. That is what a good interviewer will be seeking.

An important aspect of being specific is to use the quantitative approach. Don't just say, "I increased productivity." Instead use, "I increased staff meeting productivity within our department by implementing a videoconferencing system for participants at our other location on campus, thereby reducing the time commitment for those participants by 50 percent. And as a by-product of this focus on serving the needs of our team, meeting attendance is up over 10 percent. In fact, the videoconferencing system was showcased in the corporate August newsletter. Let me show you a copy…"

Read more:

The Compelling Story Technique