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Blog>Guides>How to Answer “Tell Me About a Time” Questions During an Interview

How to Answer “Tell Me About a Time” Questions During an Interview

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Overview

  • Learn why interviewers love to ask questions that start with “Tell me about a time ...”

  • Read common behavioral interview questions and sample answers.

  • Find strategies for improving your response to behavioral interview questions.

Introduction

When interviewers want to get to know a particular candidate, they tend to ask open-ended questions like, “Tell me about a time ...” or “Describe a moment when …”

For interviewees, however, these questions can be a little difficult to answer. Knowing how to articulate the types of scenarios your interviewer wants to hear — and how to plan ahead to answer these questions — will help you feel more confident and comfortable heading into your interview.

Learn everything you need to know about these types of behavioral questions.

What are Behavioral Interview Questions?

Behavioral job interview questions try to understand your actions and how you’d likely react to various situations and scenarios. These questions target different soft skills to see how well you’d fit as a member of the existing team at the company. Recruiters and hiring managers use these questions to get a better sense of how you function in a work environment.

Why Do Interviewers Ask Behavioral Interview Questions?

These questions help the interviewer go deeper than simply listing your concrete job skills. Instead of just acknowledging that you have experience in the field, these questions look to understand your problem-solving skills and ability to work as a team member.

These questions also help the interviewer get a better sense of you and your thought processes — instead of just a person with a given set of skills. Team leaders know that teamwork improves when people have personalities and expectations that fit together well, so they want to find new hires that work well with the other people at the company.

5 Sample “Tell Me About a Time” Interview Questions and Answers

If you’re preparing for an interview, potential behavioral questions can be some of the most stressful to think about. It’s common to feel put on the spot when you receive a question in this format. You probably want to respond realistically while also demonstrating the soft skills the interviewer wants to see.

One of the best ways to prepare for these questions is to review some of the most common behavioral interview questions before the meeting so you can think about them beforehand and come up with thoughtful answers. This strategy can help you feel more relaxed when you encounter a similar question during the actual interview.

Below are five behavioral or situational questions you might encounter. We’ve also provided some example answers so you can save time by personalizing them to your own experiences and ace your future interview.

Tell Me About a Time You Had to Work with a Challenging Co-Worker

With this question, the interviewer likely wants to see how well you can overcome obstacles and collaborate with different personality styles. They don't want to hear answers that indicate you would run away from the problem, such as getting a new job or transferring departments.

Instead, answers that show your ability to work with people despite initial challenges will shine. For example:

  • “I spoke directly with the co-worker to better understand their point of view. I asked questions to help get us both on the same page. We developed a concrete outline of the project with clear expectations to ensure everything moved efficiently. Our boss was pleased with how well we worked together, and our team helped our company land three more contracts.”

  • “I consciously focused on laying aside the rumors about this person’s difficult personality and got to know them myself. I learned that they were actually just very introverted, and we were able to develop an efficient means of communicating. We completed our project and exceeded the client’s expectations. I have happily worked with them on two more projects since then.”

Tell Me About a Time You Were Not Satisfied with Your Job

Your interviewer wants to see your problem-solving skills and how well you can take the initiative. Answers that show an honest approach to improving the work environment and collaborating with others will reflect positively.

  • “I found myself in a stressful situation when I was trying to keep track of documents constantly passed around among team members, resulting in multiple copies and notes from multiple people. I asked the team to help me brainstorm a central place for document editing, and we invested in a project management platform. It has made work significantly smoother and improved our team’s performance.”

Tell Me About a Time You Faced an Overwhelming Workload

In this scenario, the interviewer wants to know more about your ability to prioritize tasks and manage different responsibilities. The right answer will show prioritization and delegation, which demonstrates your leadership and management skills.

  • “I had several large projects come in from multiple clients simultaneously. I evaluated which parts of the project would take more time and which parts I could delegate to my assistant lead. We created a timeline that helped us finish both projects on time, and the high quality meant that both clients became repeat clients.”

Tell Me About a Time You Faced a Seemingly Impossible Challenge and How You Solved It

This question aims to reveal more about your problem-solving skills and creativity. This also highlights your ability to move past obstacles and find solutions, rather than get weighed down by problems.

  • “I worked at a wedding venue. A week before one wedding, a particular client suddenly called up and frantically asked to add 20 people to the reception. We had no more room in the hall to fit another table. Since it was not in the contract, we could have said no. However, if there was a solution that could make the customer happy, I wanted to find it. I was able to find some formal benches in storage and cleaned them. Using them to line the tables around the outer part of the room instead of chairs allowed us to seat the rest of the guests comfortably. The couple was so grateful. We got rave reviews and booked two more weddings specifically on their recommendation.”

Tell Me About a Time You Failed

Another common variation of this question is, “Tell me about a time you made a mistake.”

With this type of question, the interviewer wants to see if you will acknowledge past mistakes, how you handled the situation, and what you did to correct the problem moving forward. Keep in mind that it’s important you provide answers that emphasize less of what happened and more of what you did moving forward.

For example, consider the following:

  • “I accidentally missed an email from an important client requesting to modify their contract to receive the platinum services instead of the silver level. When the client hadn’t received any response or acknowledgment from me after a week, they got upset and nearly walked away from the contract completely. I immediately set up a call with them to explain the situation and apologize. I also arranged for them to receive a discount on the platinum services. The customer was happy and stayed with us for the next five years. I also set up alerts on my email to better sort client emails from the constant influx I receive, and I never had another situation like that happen again.”

4 Tips for Answering Behavioral Interview Questions

As you prepare for the types of behavioral questions you might encounter during an interview, it can be helpful to have a plan. Below are some interview tips you can use to improve your ability to respond to these kinds of questions.

Prepare a Few Stories Based on the Job Description

Read the job description for your desired position carefully. Try to analyze the description for what types of soft skills the employer might like to see. Will problem solving or teamwork play a significant role? Will this role call for considerable prioritization and tight deadlines or managerial skills? Do you want to highlight your communication skills? Think back over your professional career and identify a few stories that fit the different types of soft skills the employer will likely want to see.

Review your stories so they are at the front of your mind and you can recall them easily when asked a relevant question.

Use the STAR Method

The STAR method will help structure your answers to these questions to hit upon the most important parts of your past work experiences. It can help you create effective answers and tap into what potential employees want to hear.

With the STAR method, you will focus on four main elements.

  1. Situation: Describe the situation that will form the basis of your story.

  2. Task: Describe what task you were responsible for.

  3. Action: Discuss what action you took to address the solution.

  4. Result: Finally, articulate the result of your actions.

Let the hiring manager know about your takeaways from the experience.

Use the STAR method to help you name the most important elements of each story and keep your thoughts organized. This type of organization can help you articulate the problem better and create a good impression.

Wrap Up Your Answers with a Conclusion

As you give answers to behavioral questions, highlight the conclusion in your answer. Let the interviewer know how you solved the problem and the outcome of your solution.

For example, if you created a solution that brought in a new client, highlight how your actions created a direct benefit to the business. Next, draw a throughline to the interviewer’s organization, thereby helping them see the benefits you could bring to their firm on day one.

Practice Aloud Before Your Real Interview

When making final preparations for your interview, practice giving your answers and telling these stories aloud. Select a few popular behavioral questions, like the ones we used in the examples above, to use for your rehearsal. Practice providing your answers to feel prepared when you head into the conversation.

Practicing aloud helps you think through your stories, makes it easier for you to tell an anecdote without having to pause multiple times, and can help you feel more confident and organized as you answer questions.

Land Your Next Interview With Joblist

If you are ready to find a new job, get started on Joblist. We offer customized results that target the specific fields where you want to find a job. Joblist works differently than other job search engines and has several bonus features, such as a quiz page. We target jobs that fit your criteria and provide personalized listings.

The level of personalization available through our site makes it easier for you to find the right positions. Get your resume in front of human resources and secure your interview calls with our help.

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