“Tell me about a time you had to deal with uncertainty.”
Interview season is upon us, and behavior-based interview questions like this are a staple. Hopefully you are using the STAR method (explaining clearly the Situation, Task, Actions, and Results) as a template to answer them. But even with this method, many interviewees struggle with responses that are either too vague or jammed with excessive details.
Keep in mind, you are being asked to tell a story. And there are two storytelling fundamentals I want you to consider: All stories have a beginning, middle, and end. And secondly, specificity is the soul of narrative.
A simple three-part arc gives your story a natural flow. And the specificity gives it life. Specificity is tricky though, because you’re aiming to share only relevant details using the fewest words possible.
During a mock interview, I asked a student, Cora, about a time she tackled a big problem. She told me about her restaurant hosting job and went into a bit of detail about this one hectic shift, some pieces relevant and others not. It was a good start but lacked a clear message.
I asked her to break down the narrative into three beats… this thing happened, so I did this, and here’s the outcome. From those beats, Cora refined her response to a busy Friday night, a shortage of servers, a breakdown in communication, and how she coordinated the staff to seat customers and create efficiency from chaos. Her story had come to life.
So how can you tighten up your interview responses?
- Make a list of stand-out projects, accomplishments, and work examples.
- Next to each item, write the behavior-based topics it could address. That science team project may be a talking point about leadership, conflict resolution, or time management. Find a list of behavior-based categories to help label your examples.
- Have a friend choose a random behavior-based interview question, and find your strongest example. Now break it down. What’s the beginning, middle, and end of the story? This thing happened, so I did this, and here’s the outcome.
- Tell the story out loud. And record it on your phone. Watch your body language and listen to your words. Did all the details help your story? What worked and what needs work? What did your friend notice?
- Repeat with different questions and examples. And at some point, participate in a mock interview through the Career & Internship Center. Seriously, everyone should.
Through practice, your answers will become clearer and simpler. And your list of stand-out projects turns into a handy reference at your next interview. Not only will you have excellent examples at your fingertips, it frees your mind to focus on telling your story, and telling it well. This clarity and relevance is what interviewers and hiring managers are hoping to hear.