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Behavioral-Based Interview Questions: How to Prepare for the Unexpected

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Behavioral-based interview questions are a popular way for employers to gain knowledge of your experiences and how you may make decisions or act as a potential employee.  A typical behavioral-based interview question would start out asking for you to "Tell me about a time when..." or "Give an example of..."  The employer is trying to use your past experiences to gauge how you will act in the future.  These questions can often throw interviewees off, as they try to come up with past experiences to meet employers' expectations right on the spot.  Job seekers often incorrectly believe there is no way to prepare for these questions.  After all, how can we anticipate exactly what scenario a school will be interested in hearing about?  Although you cannot always guess what questions an employer will ask, you can prepare for behavioral-based interview questions by knowing how to answer them and by thinking about your related experiences before the interview.  The STARR Technique is commonly spoken of when it comes to behavioral-based questions.  Before an interview, think about significant past experiences (either in your work with students, extracurricular work, or coursework).  Then practice answering questions about those experiences using the STARR method.  If you pick a variety of stories to prepare and think about, you will find many apply to questions asked in an interview.  If you practice the STARR method, the employer will have a good understanding of your experience.  Here is an example of using the STARR technique to answer a behavioral-based question:

Example Question: Tell me about a time you made a difference in a student's life.

(S/T) Situation/Task:

Describe the situation that you were in or the task you needed to accomplish.  You must describe a specific situation or event, not a generalized description of what you have done in the past.  Be sure to give enough detail for the interviewer to understand.  This situation can be from your role as a student, a previous job, volunteer experience, or any relevant event.

Example Answer:

During my student teaching experience, I had a student who was struggling both academically and socially.  This was apparent through both her grades and her lack of interaction with the students in class and social activities.

(A) Action you Took:

Describe the action you took and be sure to keep the focus on you.  Even if you are discussing a group project or effort, describe what you did - not the efforts of the team.  Don't tell what you might do, tell what you did.

Example Answer continued:

I planned a time with the student to talk after class, and began by praising her hard work and effort.  I then invited her to join the academic club that I moderate.  I explained that this club would be a great opportunity for her to help younger students improve their skills. 

(R) Results you achieved:

What happened?  How did the event end?  What did you accomplish?  What did you learn?

Example Answer continued:

The student attended the club and was paired with a younger student.  Over time, she became more social with her other peer leaders, and she also had an increase in her grades.  She is now involved in many school activities and is a B+ student.

(R) Relate:

Relate this experience back to the position to which you are interviewing for.

Example Answer continued:

This experience taught me that all students have different needs and struggle with different problems, and that as a teacher, I have to be aware of my students, and also aware of the resources available to them.  I will use this knowledge ever day as a teacher in your district to encourage students to excel and achieve and to engage them in the educational process.

 

Christine Falcone, MS, NCC

Career Counselor

Saint Joseph's University (Pennsylvania)

 

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