“Describe a time when you made an unpopular decision and had to stick with it under pressure.”  Behavioural questions like this assume the best way to predict your future performance is by listening to you talk specifically about how you’ve worked in the past. The interviewer wants to confirm whether you have the required skill.

That sounds reasonable enough. However, there are traps. You may have gone through the intimidating experience of not being able to recall a situation exactly like the one being asked about. Maybe you appeared nervous in an interview where decisions are made on perception rather than concrete accomplishments.

Worse, some candidates have been so frustrated by this experience that it affected the rest of their interview. Often the problem is that one becomes so focused on providing the perfect story that little information of use is actually offered.  Remember, an interviewer is asking for the story as a way of working back to your skill.

“Conversely, there will be times when the story comes readily, but that’s all the interviewer hears from you. If you just tell good stories, you may be competing against better storytellers,” says Brian Bassett, Interview Coach extraordinaire of Bassett Communication Clinics in Toronto. “Also, if you don’t spell out the point of your story in terms of your ability, the interviewer may not make that connection.”

Brian offers some tips for answering behavioural questions:

      1.   Think of what you are good at, or what you find important in the situation you’ve been asked to describe.

2.   Provide a story that demonstrates that point. Use strong action verbs to describe what you did in the situation to solve the problem or unravel the challenge.

3.   At the end of your answer, spell out what you brought to the situation. – the result and what part you played in the result. Use the word ‘I’, not ‘we’ unless it was a team effort and even then, as part of the team, highlight your contribution.
We know words are important but in an interview remember to bring your personality along. Make good use of your eyes, hands, pitch and voice modulation to keep the interviewer captivated and you memorable. Make it easy for the interviewer to want you!
Colleen Clarke

Career Specialist and Trainer


Author of Networking: How to Build Relationships That Count and How to Get a Job and Keep It