Thursday, January 3, 2013

Guide to the Perfect Behavioral Interview Responses (STAR Format)

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So you're a college student who has landed your first interview for a college internship or full time job. Now if you've given it much thought, you've probably asked yourself "Self, What exactly are those recruiters looking for as an ideal answer to their questions?"

The first thing you should have probably asked is "Self, What are they going to ask me in that interview?" For that, please refer to my article Questions recruiters are likely to ask in an interview. After you've read through that, read on in this article!

Now that you know recruiters are very likely to ask you behavioral questions, the next thing to do is to figure out what they are looking for in an ideal response. And the wonderful thing is that there is a systematic response you can give to every single question they can throw at you! You just have to know how to formulate it. That's where I come in.

In my very first interview freshman year (with General Electric), I thought I was providing great answers, had some great experiences to share, etc. I look at it now, and it's no surprise I didn't hear back from them. I even wonder how fast it took the recruiter to throw away my resume.

Here's an example of mine of what not to do... The interviewer asked me "Tell me about a time you demonstrated leadership." To which I responded fairly plainly "Well...I was Senior Patrol Leader in Boy Scouts for several years, that's probably my best example of leadership."

The interviewer was nice and tried to help me through the rest of the interview, but honestly, it was a train-wreck. I hope you can see why. Now I know you won't ever do anything quite that bad, and I wrote this article to make sure of it.

Recruiters who use behavioral questions are looking for responses in what's called the STAR format. That breaks down into:
Actions Taken
As long as you answer behavioral questions in that format, you cannot go wrong! And the cool part about it is that it flows in a logical order that keeps you on track. By practicing this format, you are guaranteed to answer questions fully and concisely.

So let's get down to the details of the Situation component. The Situation is basically setting the stage for your response with the relevant background information. This includes where and when you were working (company, how old/what year in school), and maybe a bit of info on the problem you faced.
The Task blends slightly with the Situation, and is just as simple. This is something along the lines of "I was assigned to do x." Plain and simple, it may be the most straight forward part of your response. Keep in mind that it also sets up the measuring stick for your results, so be sure that it is actually what you were assigned to do!

The Actions portion of your response should be where the meat of your answer is. You need to take this opportunity to say "I performed xyz analysis and used abc tools to do so." or "I led the group by doing abc." You also need to consider how technically savvy your interviewer is. If she/he is an engineer, then you can feel free to go into a few (but not too many!) details about what you did. If you get an HR person doing the interview, don't even try to go into details, it probably won't help!

The Results should also be very easy, but is without question the most important part of your response. As interviewers and companies are looking for candidates who have been extremely effective in their past jobs and experiences, this is where they look to determine if you are someone they want to hire. Use this opportunity to highlight your results, and their impact on the company: awards, cost savings, sales made, production improvement, etc. Don't short change yourself on this section, its critical that you highlight every positive impact that you made!

I also must warn you not to exaggerate or lie about your accomplishments! This doesn't ever help anyone in the process, especially if a company does their homework by calling your provided references to ask about you!

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