Behavioral Interviewing (BI) is a style in which questions about past experiences are used to elicit information about underlying values, character-traits, and skills as well as to predict future behavior in similar situations.
BI questions often begin with an introductory phrase such as “Tell me about a time when…” as opposed to specific, performance-related questions that may have straightforward answers.
The general purpose of BI questions is to get a sense of how past actions and experiences may predict future success. Read more about preparing for a Behavioral Interview in this article.
A common technique for responding to BI questions is STAR:
- Situation - Describe in 1-2 sentences the context for the story you will tell including the relevant details regarding your position.
- Task - Describe in 1-2 sentences the task you were asked to perform, the problem that you sought to solve, or the opportunity that you hoped to exploit.
- Action - Describe in 2-4 sentences the specific actions you took to address this problem or opportunity.
- Result - Describe in 1-2 sentences the tangible outcomes of your action and next steps for follow-up (if appropriate).
STAR Example & Answer
Here is an example drawn from the history of ONSF as told by Dr. Henry Dyson:
- QUESTION: Tell us about a time when you successfully collaborated with other units on campus?
- ANSWER: “[SITUATION] When I began my position as the senior advisor in the LSA Honors Program in 2012 I had responsibility for four major national scholarships.
[TASK] As I looked at our peer institutions, I realized that U-M was almost the only school that did not have a dedicated office for national scholarship advising. Instead, we had as many as 10 different individuals and offices scattered across the University that touched on them to varying degrees.
[ACTION] I first created an advisory group where major stakeholders could meet and discuss potential collaborations.
[TASK] One concern was that our decentralized approach created pockets of privileged information: students in the LSA Honors Program might be recruited for the Goldwater Scholarship, whereas equally qualified students in Engineering or other units might never hear about it. Many other opportunities were simply falling between the cracks since no individual or office had ownership of them.
[ACTION] To remedy this problem, I launched a pilot website to be U-M’s central source of information for national scholarships and fellowships, including contacts and application instructions for each opportunity. Having firmly established a network of supportive colleagues in units across campus, as well as some excellent mentors in the Provost’s Office and LSA Dean’s Office who would support our project, I launched our Office of National Scholarship and Fellowships (ONSF) as a service that Honors provides to students throughout the University.
[RESULT] In our first two years, more than 31,000 users have visited the ONSF website. Our announcement emails go out to more than 100 individuals and subgroups including faculty, advisors, and administrators in every school or college in the University.”
Sample Behavioral Interview Questions
Here are a set of practice questions in BI format drawn from the criteria for the Knight Hennessy Scholarship at Stanford. Pick out one or two questions from each category and write your own STAR response.
Independence of Thought
Tell me about a break through experience in your research. What was the problem? How did you arrive at the solution?
Tell me about a time you went outside of your comfort zone to see the world in a new way.
Tell me about an original idea you’ve had. How did it arise? What did you do about it?
Tell me about an important ethical or political position on which you’re genuinely ambivalent (i.e. can see both sides with something like equal force). What are the opposing considerations in each direction? How do you navigate in this kind of situation?
Tell me about a time when you held a dissenting position in a group. How did the situation resolve? Did you convince others of your position? Did you give in for the sake of group unity? Reach a compromise?
Tell me about a time when you set an important goal and worked to achieve it. What are three goals that you’re currently working towards, including at least one short-term and one long-term?
Who are two heroes in your field? (i.e. people who are doing the work that you want to do in 10-20 years)
Tell me about a time when you recognized a deficit in your skills or knowledge and worked to improve it. What are two current areas that you’re working to improve?
Tell me about a time when you took a risk. How did it turn out? Was it worth it? What did you learn?
What are three areas of privilege in your life (i.e. unearned benefits)? What’s the appropriate response to these privileges?
Tell me about a time when you worked to overcome some adversity. What did you learn about yourself?
Tell me about a recent failure. How did you respond?
Tell me about a time when you did a favor for a friend.
Tell me about a time when you recognized people on the margins of a group and worked to bring them into the center.
What is the importance of diversity? Tell me about a time when you supported diversity within a group.
Tell me about a time when you gave considerable time and energy to a project, even if it wasn’t in your own self-interest
How do you want to be remembered at the end of your life?