Tom O'Neil: The Tough Questions

By Tom O'Neil

Prepare to think on your feet when interviewers ask tough questions.
Prepare to think on your feet when interviewers ask tough questions.

Of all the different types of interview questions prospective candidates are asked, the one people fear the most is the dreaded "behavioural" question.

Designed to make you think on your feet, the behavioural question forces you to juggle a range of scenarios in your mind, select one and communicate it in a professional way that "wows" the interviewer.

For example:

Can you describe a time when you were faced with a stressful situation that demonstrated your conflict management skills?

Tell me about a time when you had to work with a difficult client. What was the situation, and how did you manage it?

Tell me about a time when your organisation was undergoing change. How did that impact you, and how did you adapt?
Describe a time when you were forced to make an unpopular decision. What did you do and what was the result?

STAR(S)

Though this type of evidence and competency-based interviewing may be difficult to answer, a great way to approach it is with the STAR(S) method:

Situation or Task

Describe a specific situation that you were involved in or the task you needed to achieve. Remember that it has to be a specific, not generalised example. Detail the background, as well as the "who, what and why".

Action

Describe the specific actions you took to resolve the problem you outlined, remembering to focus primarily on your actions. Give the interviewer a good solid understanding of your thinking process, and how you turned this into positive action.

Results

Specifically detail the results of your efforts, including what you accomplished, tying this back strongly to the Situation or Task at the start. Remember to be quantitative as much as possible, as this generally adds real power to the answer.

(S) Skills Learned

Finally if you have managed to get this far, and really want to close off the question well, concentrate on what I call the "Skills Learned" approach. This part brings together all the experience you have talked about, and highlights your learning and development during this time. For example, a question involving resolving conflict in the workspace, could highlight a wide range of skills and competencies you have improved on in relation to conflict management, diplomacy, communication and open questioning. A question involving project leadership could focus on your learning related to managing deadlines and budgets, team leadership and crisis management.

Preparation beforehand

Besides the STAR(S) method, the only real way to prepare for behavioural based questions is to be clear about your experience and background, and be prepared to share these when examples permit. Going into an interview with these clear in your mind, will see you come out of the interview looking like a real professional.

Tom O'Neil is an award winning business speaker and MD of www.brandologist.co.nz and www.CV.CO.NZ. You can contact Tom at tom@tomoneil.com

- NZ Herald

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