Ask Matt: How should I answer these interview questions?

  • Article by: MATT KRUMRIE
  • Updated: December 2, 2013 - 1:23 PM

Dear Matt: I always struggle with those interview questions asking me to describe a certain situation or experience and how I handled it. I freeze up and don’t know what to say. Got any advice?

Matt says: The theory behind these questions stems from the belief that past performance predicts future success. It also helps employers get to know you beyond the work history, achievements, training and education listed on your résumé.

“Employers are looking for soft skills,” says Bob LaBombard, CEO of Minneapolis-based GradStaff, Inc. (gradstaff.com), a company that helps college graduates and entry-level job seekers transition into the workforce. “These include transferable skills in the areas of problem solving, critical thinking, time management, interpersonal communication, initiative and leadership.”

Example questions include:

• Tell me about a time when you had a difficult problem to solve, and tell me what you did to resolve the challenge.

• Describe a situation where you had to communicate a difficult concept to someone and what you did to ensure understanding.

• Tell me about a time when you went beyond the defined responsibilities of your job in order to achieve success.

When responding, LaBombard recommends using the STAR method: Situation (describe a real-life situation from a past college, work, volunteer or extracurricular activity where you applied the skill in question); Task (describe your task or goal in creating a response to the situation identified); Action (review in detail the action you took, applying the skill in question to address the situation); Result (report the result of your action, providing as much measurable detail as possible).

For example, in response to a question about going above and beyond, a candidate could answer: “When I was a waiter in a restaurant, I noticed the tables were arranged in a way that did not maximize capacity. I suggested a new arrangement that allowed four more tables to be added to the dining room. As a result, the restaurant’s sales increased by 22 percent, while customer complaints about wait-time decreased by more than 50 percent.” The candidate highlighted a real-life example of a challenging task, an actionable solution and a positive result. It does not matter whether the challenge was met in a restaurant, a factory or a conference room; what matters most is the candidate’s approach to the situation.

“Job seekers who incorporate the STAR approach to interviewing will receive better interview feedback and more job offers than candidates who wing it, thinking their personality will carry the interview, or those who take a strict experience-based approach during the interview process,” says LaBombard.

Contact Matt at jobslink@startribune.com

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