If you’ve gone on enough interviews throughout your career, you probably have ready-made answers to a few standard questions, like “Tell me about yourself” and “Why are you interested in this job?” A type of question that isn’t as easy to predict is the kind that begins with “Tell me about a time when . . .” Interviewers use this prompt to determine how well you might live up to a soft skill that the job requires. This is at least as important to an employer as your knowledge of the industry and your proficiency with relevant software and equipment, if not more so. Just like numbers resonate better with a hiring manager than claims of “proven results,” stories resonate better than claims of “proven ability.”
There are two techniques for telling those stories that can be used for all manner of questions in a behavioral interview. To get a sense of what they might ask you about, look over the job posting one more time and think about examples of how you’ve used the soft skills they’re looking for. Even if you don’t have a fully scripted answer down pat before you sit down with your interviewer, you can be confident that you have the rhythms down. Some employers may let you know in advance which method they prefer; if not, either of these methods will help you demonstrate how you respond to on-the-job problems.
STAR (Situation, Task/Target, Action, Results)
The STAR method works this way:
· Situation: Describe a challenge that you faced in a previous job. Explain how and why it came up.
· Task/Target: Describe your responsibility in the face of the challenge. If there was a problem to be fixed, what could you do, as an individual, to help fix it? If there was a target to meet, was it set for you, or did you set it for yourself?
· Action: Describe precisely what you did to bring about a solution to the problem. Explain why you chose this course of action, and why you didn’t choose any alternatives that were available to you.
· Results: Describe what happened after you put the action in motion and what you learned from doing so. Did you achieve your immediate goal? How did it change the way you did your job going forward?
In practice, an answer using the STAR method may sound like this:
Interviewer: Tell me about a time when you delegated a project effectively. Interviewee: S: When I was working at [company], I was responsible for [regular duty]. T: At one point, my manager went on vacation, and I had to perform some of his/her duties in addition to my own. That resulted in a bit of time crunch, A: so I decided to delegate [regular duty] to [junior co-worker], instead of trying to do everything alone and putting the success of the project at risk. [co-worker] was fairly familiar with [regular duty], but I made sure to go over a few pointers with them, just so they understood why each step was necessary. I also took time to look over their work in case I needed to recommend any changes. R: In the end, they handled the task very well, and I felt more confident in my ability to train people and oversee their work.
SOARA (Situation, Objective, Action, Results, Aftermath)
The SOARA method, which is a little more comprehensive, works this way:
· Situation: Present the challenge.
· Objective: Explain what you were trying to achieve as a result of your response to the challenge, and why this achievement was important to you and your colleagues.
· Action: Explain how you responded to the challenge.
· Results: Explain what happened immediately as a result of your action. Did you fix the problem in time?
· Aftermath: Explain what changed over the long-term as a result of your action. Did your action lead to fundamental changes to how your team handled similar challenges in the future? What did you learn in the process? How has this new insight continued to help you since?
In practice, an answer using the SOARA method may sound like this:
Interviewer: Tell me about a time when you had to deal with a difficult client. Interviewee: S: At [previous company], I had a client who often didn’t provide critical data when we needed it. O: At one point, I needed [information] so we could move forward with [project], but [client] hadn’t delivered despite multiple messages. I had made sure the request was clear and specific, and that they knew the value of the data for both parties, but my direct contact was consistently slow, and our project deadline was coming up in a week. A: Eventually I had no choice but to escalate the request by asking my supervisor to get in touch with their supervisor. R: We did get the data on time, and my direct contact was more responsive going forward. A: I was hesitant to fall back on my boss, but it was a good reminder to me that I shouldn’t be too proud to ask for help.
Here are a few samples of common behavioral interview questions you can expect during the interview process. Try practicing what you’ve learned about the SOARA method by writing down answers for each.
- Share an example of a time when you faced a difficult problem at work. How did you solve this problem?
- Describe a time when you had to deliver bad news. How did you do it?
- Share an example of a time when you failed. What did you learn from the experience?
- Tell me about a time when you disagreed with your boss. How did you resolve it?
When to use the SOARA Method
Even though there are an unlimited amount of possible behavioral questions a hiring manager could ask you, there are specific categories to narrow down in which they would all fall into:
- Problem Solving/Planning
- Interpersonal Skills/Conflict