Answering Tips for Behavioral Interview Questions

Give me an example of a time when you had to go the extra-mile?

“The only way to do great work is to love what you do”

Steve Jobs

Going the extra-mile is rarely a one-time act. More often, it is an ingrained habit. You need to properly explain to your recruiter that you love the idea of working that job. Also, explain how you want to be excellent at it. Your internal drive towards excellence is what motivates you to go the extra-mile – to do the things that you are not expected to do:

  • Study during the weekends
  • Stay late in the office
  • Striving for excellence constantly

If the job you are interviewing for is what you chose for your life, then you want to be excellent at it. Striving to achieve excellent performance is important. It means that you want to put quality in your work and create value for the company. Internal drive is probably the best reason to go the extra-mile; you are willing to do what is necessary in order to be good at what you do.

An example of such a situation:

During your previous internship experience, you put in a lot of extra effort in order to show that your tutor who also recruited you did not make a mistake. You stayed late and studied during the weekend because you wanted to improve your skills and to do it faster. The positive impression that you left with your work led to an excellent valuation and very positive feedback about your willingness to learn.

Provide me an example of a time when you had to teach someone a new skill?

This is an easy one, right? The Hiring Manager wants you to demonstrate that you are a person that is willing to teach others. The fact that you are willing to teach means a few very important things:

  • You are willing to share knowledge (very valuable for the company)
  • You are a team player who is willing to help others
  • You relate well to people

The second aspect that is important about this question is the method that you used when you were teaching. How did you share your knowledge? Did you have to use some special technique in order to explain a given concept? Did you have a strategy that helped to facilitate learning? Perhaps you provided valid practical examples?

An example of such a situation:

For example, you can say that you always wanted to teach your younger brother how to create good PowerPoint presentations. At first, it was difficult because it was very hard to get his attention. Then you proposed creating a presentation together – a presentation about his favorite motorbike company. He instantly agreed, because it was something that he was interested in sharing with his friends and perhaps post in one of his favorite forums. At first, you were the one who was working with the mouse and the keyboard, but then you let him complete the second half of the presentation and you gave him your guidance throughout the process. The results were amazing your brother learned so much in such a short period of time. This was a very fulfilling experience for you and you realized that you enjoy teaching.

Give me an example of a time when you worked as a team?

“Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.”

Henry Ford

One of the greatest virtues in the modern corporate world is the ability to work well as a team. Make sure that you are ready with a story that shows you are able to do exactly that. A team worker can be distinguished by his/her ability to:

  • Put the team’s needs first
  • Communicate well with the other team members
  • Want to succeed as a part of a group
  • Listen actively
  • Respect others
  • Appreciate other work styles

Keep in mind these qualities when you think of a story when you were part of a team. The story should demonstrate not only the fact that you were part of the team, but also that you were a great one too.

An example of such a situation:

A group assignment during the last year of your studies required you and four of your classmates to perform a detailed Company Valuation. This is a pretty difficult task that requires a significant amount of work. The deadline for submitting the complete work was in 2 weeks. At the time, you were busy filling out internship applications and had to prepare for some of your other exams. This was the case for the other team members as well. Nevertheless, all of you concentrated full-time on the project, as you understood that this was the only way you could have respected the tight deadline imposed. Another interesting thing about the project was that you managed to work well together, despite the different styles that each group member had. You listened actively and were open to the ideas that the other team members had, given that they came from a different background and could certainly add value to the project. Good communication helped team members to coordinate their responsibilities and integrate the separate pieces of work that were assigned individually.

Can you tell me a time when you were able to build motivation in your co-workers?

This question aims to assess whether you are a good leader and a positive influence at your workplace. Hiring managers look for people who are motivated themselves and are able to transmit their drive to their co-workers. Strong motivation makes for excellent results.

In order to be able to motivate someone, you have to fully understand the person that you are approaching. What is it that they currently need in order to be excited about a project? Perhaps they need:

  • One-on-one coaching
  • Interesting tasks
  • More complicated tasks
  • Responsibility
  • Autonomy
  • Recognition
  • A positive perspective

An example of such situation:

During your previous internship within the Corporate Finance department of a large firm, you were asked to prepare a Valuation model. There was another intern who was assigned to work with you. Given that she had less experience with Financial Modeling, she could only help you with minor data entry and consistency checks. You noticed that this was not particularly stimulating for her, as this is something she already knew how to do and she really wanted to learn how to create the model itself. You realized that she would be more motivated to do her part if she was given the opportunity to learn as well. That is why you asked her whether she would like to sit next to you while you work on the model, so that the two of you can comment on what you are doing together. This greatly motivated her and she came up with some valuable suggestions when you had to prepare a presentation that summarizes the model that you prepared.

Give an example of a time when you had a goal and you achieved it?

The fact that you were able to achieve a goal shows determination, drive and the ability to execute. An important part of the whole story that you will tell is what you learned during the process of working towards your goal. Describe what skills you used in order to achieve your goal and how these skills will be valuable in the future. Choose a story that shows that you are persistent, dedicated and willing to go the extra mile – something important that you achieved.

An example of such a situation:

During the penultimate year of your university studies, you decided that you would like to pursue a career in Business Development. You did not have any previous work experience and you figured that a summer internship would improve your chances of sourcing a good opportunity in the future. The problem is that the summer internship turned out to be tougher to get than you initially thought, especially for someone without any previous work experience. You filled around 15 online applications, but did not receive a call back. Then you started replying to online ads, but that did not produce the necessary results either. The best thing that you did is that you did not give up. Given that you were interested in a career in Business Development, an experience with a startup firm appeared to be a great choice for you. That is why you made a list of interesting startup firms and started visiting their offices asking whether they would need a hand during the summer. Eventually, you found a great opportunity that allowed you to work with the product development team of a startup company where you were able to work closely with the firm’s first customers collecting their feedback. This story taught you that proactivity and persistence pay off in the long run. Working towards a goal is a process that you have to do over a sustained period of time. This is exactly why it requires dedication.

Describe a time when you had to persuade someone in order to see things your way?

Persuading involves being able to convince other people to take the appropriate action. You need to develop a line of reasoned argument and explain to the people that you want to persuade that the best thing to do is to take action. In order to show that you are good at persuading, think of an example when you:
Focused on both your needs and the needs of the person with whom you worked with
There was a clear, logical reason behind your argument
You were able to show mutual benefit that would come from taking action

An example of such situation:

Imagine that you are a university student and you are given a group assignment. The group consists of you and three other people – Jim, John and Jack. The task at hand is to develop a business plan for a completely new product and deliver a final presentation to potential investors. At your first meeting together, both Jim and Jack expressed that they would like to work on the financial projections of the business model. You immediately take notice of this issue. While Jim has studied a number of Finance classes and has additional preparation coming from a summer internship in the Finance department of a firm, this is not the case with Jack. He has studied mostly Management related subjects and has no previous experience in working with numbers. Given that you realize how important it is to keep a good atmosphere within the group, you approach Jack at the end of the meeting. You explain to him that it is really important that all of you do well at this assignment, because it is worth 60% of your final grade. According to you, one of the most critical parts in launching a new product is the initial marketing of the product. You explain to Jack that he will be great at working on that, while Jim would be able to handle the financials given his previous experience. By having both of them work at something that they are good at, the team will have a better chance of receiving an excellent grade at the end.

Describe a time when you were under pressure?

The recruiter wants to understand how you handle pressure. Are you someone who is likely to abandon the boat when things get a little tough? Every firm needs people that are reliable. All jobs involve a certain element of pressure; some more than others, obviously. Your task here is to give an example of a stressful situation and show how you coped with it.

An example of such situation:

I was under significant pressure before taking my GMAT exam. I needed a really good grade in order to be admitted to the graduate school that I am now graduating from. A few weeks before the exam, I noticed that I was becoming nervous. Two things helped me handle the pressure much better; I started sleeping for at least 7 hours (going to bed earlier in the evening) and I dedicated at least one hour a day to sport activities. This had a hugely positive impact on my concentration and stress level.

How do you handle a challenge?

First of all, you want to give the impression that you are someone who welcomes challenge. You are a person who is willing to leave his/her comfort zone and embrace challenging situations. You learn the most when you are put in a difficult situation. And this is certainly something that the Hiring Manager is looking to hear from you. The second part of the question is how you actually handle challenge. Do you have a structured approach? Are you a person who builds a plan of action and then sticks to it? It would be best if you could provide an example of your past experience. A story showing that:

  • you understood the issue
  • you created a plan of action
  • you executed the plan of action successfully

An example of such a situation:

Let’s say that you were admitted to a Master in Quantitative Finance. A really challenging situation arose because you knew that most of the people in the class had already studied Finance and Econometrics, while you concentrated on Management courses. There was a significant gap between your skills and those of others. You realized that. You also realized that the only way to address the issue was to start with the very basics and fill the knowledge gap step by step; a very long process that required significant efforts on your end. An encouraging sign was that the results at the end of the first semester showed that you reduced the gap significantly and were heading in the right direction. By the end of the second semester, your GPA was slightly higher than the average for the class.

How often do you make mistakes? What do you do in order to correct them?

Everybody makes mistakes; we all do. Don’t be afraid to speak about one of your past mistakes in the interview. People who make mistakes are usually the ones who are eager to do things that are outside their comfort zone and these happen to be the fastest learners. Now, does that mean that you should tell the recruiter that you make many mistakes? No, as you will come off as negligent and careless. But you can be humble about it and say that you have made mistakes in the past.

What matters most is your perception of these mistakes. Did you learn from them? Did you understand what went wrong? Are you likely to commit the same mistake again? Depending on the role that you are interviewing for, there could be a higher or a lower tolerance towards certain types of mistakes. A Marketing professional is likely to make mistakes until he figures out the right way to structure the company’s social networking presence. A Finance practitioner should not make many mistakes with numbers, because this is the basis of his work. Nevertheless, be open about it and tell about a situation when you made a mistake. It would be best if you point out a mistake that is not critical for the position that you are interviewing for. Then it is important to say that you divulged the mistake as soon as you found out there was one. You should conclude by explaining what you learned from that situation and how you took precautionary measures to ensure that you would not commit the same mistake again.

An example of such a situation:

Let’s suppose that you are applying for a position in Marketing. You can point out that you made a mistake with financial figures – something that is not indispensable for a good Marketing practitioner. In one of your university projects, you were supposed to prepare a Business Plan. Starting from the historical P&L figures of a firm and then making a forecast about its future. At some point, it became obvious that your predictions are very different than the ones obtained by your classmates. Digging deeper reveals that this is due to a data entry mistake that you made, which you were able to correct instantly. This resolved the issue and your results were aligned with the ones of your classmates. The main lesson that you learned is that you need to be very careful when working with numbers. You would not do the same mistake again, because you started to insert checks at the bottom of the page that will instantly signal that an error has been made.

What do you do if you disagree with someone at work?

It is perfectly normal to disagree with someone at work. Similar situations occur all the time. When answering this question, do not speak about the person that you disagreed with. This is really important, as you do not want to come off as someone who bad mouths people; this is unprofessional. The Hiring Manager is not interested in learning saucy details about the bad habits of that other person. Instead, he/she wants to know more about your conflict management abilities. He/she is eager to learn whether you are an active listener and whether you are good at persuading people.

Every behavioral question comes together with a story that supports the answer given by the candidate. When you answer this question, try to think of a disagreement that was not personal, but derived from different views regarding the execution of a certain task. It is much safer to have this type of disagreement, as it does not suggest you are someone that is difficult to work with.

There are a few key points which you should concentrate on:

  • You listened actively
  • You were looking for the best possible solution
  • You had at heart the team’s success rather than showing muscles
  • You are persuasive

An example of such a situation:

You and three of your classmates were asked to prepare a Business Plan. Probably the most important part of the whole Business Plan is the prediction of the top line – revenues. You wanted to use a bottom-up approach (starting from the number of units sold at a given price and the number of potential customers at that price) and one of your classmates thought that the top-down approach would be more useful (estimating the total dimensions of the market and arriving to the firm’s share of the total market). Both you and your colleague were convinced that your own approach was correct. The work could not continue before resolving this issue. You asked your classmate to elaborate his point and demonstrated that you are interested in his idea; he made a valid point. There was a recent market study that your team could use as reference. It predicted the overall dimensions of the market for the next five years. This was a valuable piece of information, although it is difficult to predict the firm’s market share. You explained that the advantage of the bottom-up approach is that you can base your growth assumptions on historical data and incorporate data that is specific for the firm under consideration. After each of you explained your points of view, you came to the conclusion that the best thing to do is to use both approaches and obtain a range that would indicate the company’s revenues.

Is there anything else that we should know about you?

Yes. The answer to this question is always “Yes”. There are many things that they should know about you. This question typically comes at the end of the interview and it is an opportunity to close in a strong fashion. There is no need to pass up on this extra opportunity that you are given by the interviewer. Try to address some of the following points that did not come up during the interview:

  • Skills that are relevant for the job under consideration
  • Past experience that will help you to be successful at this job
  • Motivation to work for the company in the particular role that you are interviewing for
  • What is going to be your added value to the team that you will be placed in

One of the basic rules in sales is that you need to convince your client that he/she needs your product. This is a similar situation. Make a closing statement that will convince your interviewer that you are the right person that they are looking for.

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