The key to mastering the behavorial interview

By: Paul Rosario, Peers for Careers/SCDC Correspondent
(As originally published in the Ticker:

When improving your behavioral interviewing skills, a counselor can help you understand what to include in your answers, but it is your own life experiences that truly shape those answers.

Your experience working in groups, collaborating with others and handling pressures help you develop soft skills. Assessing these skills is the purpose of behavioral questions, to see if you fit within the organization.

As a college student, it is likely you will encounter behavioral questions during an interview, since you are still developing as a professional. With minimal experience under your belt, companies will put less focus on technical questions which test your aptitude and knowledge.

Employers want to see how you act in certain situations, so they ask questions around those topics.  For example, if an employer wants to know you handle pressure, they might ask, “Can you tell me about a time where you were pressed for time and how did you handle it?”

Previous behavior predicts future behavior, so they want to assess your abilities and competence in certain situations. Fit is one of the most important components when interviewing for a position. The interviewer often wants to feel that you are easy to work with.

So, let’s suppose you’re faced with a behavioral question such as, “Can you tell me about a time where you had to deal with a difficult client or customer and describe your actions?” How would you phrase your answer?

There is a framework we recommend using to answer behavioral questions called the STAR method.  S is for Situation, T for Task, A for Action, and R for Results.

Regarding the situation, try to give your story context and present the problem.  For example, “When working as a retail sales associate, I encountered a customer who wanted to return an item.  They were really upset, but my manager stepped out for a break and I needed to handle it myself.”

For the task, simply describe what you had to do in the situation.  You may say, “I needed to ensure the customer received excellent service while trying to deescalate the situation and process the return accordingly.”

The action focuses on the specific actions you took.  You may say, “I apologized for the inconvenience we had caused and assured the customer that I would do everything to guarantee the next item met their expectations.

I retrieved a replacement, gave them a coupon for a percentage off of their next purchase and processed the exchange.”

Your results should describe what resulted from your actions.  You may conclude, “As a result, the customer was satisfied. I encouraged her to return in the future and she said she would be back soon.”

Attending a mock interview at the Starr Career Development Center is a great place to practice your interviewing skills and practice the STAR method. There are some issues we frequently encounter when interviewing students.

Students make something up rather than having an example. The point of an interview is to speak on the things you have already accomplished. If something appears unclear, there is a good chance that an interviewer will ask you for further explanation.

Students are being too honest. It is important to know your audience during an interview. An interview is a professional meeting in which you are expected to clearly and cohesively tell your story.

Do not reveal details about yourself that do not pertain to the conversation. Students give too much description of the situation and task.

The interviewee must provide a fairly concise backstory so the interviewer understands the example.

However, students often spend too much time on the background when they should describe their actions or the results of the situation.

While there is no way to predict the exact questions an interviewer might ask, there are many resources to help you prepare. Websites like, and feature lists of sample interview questions. There are even helpful videos on YouTube and an interviewing tool on

The Career Development Center offers workshops on mastering the interview, in which behavioral interviewing is discussed.