How to Answer Behavioral Interview Questions: Tips from an Introvert
We often believe that employers are easily swayed by a charismatic, energetic and passionate interviewee. It feels like they’re looking for the personality traits of an extrovert, which leads us to think that the loudest person in the room will get the job.
I’m an introvert myself, leaning towards a mild ambivert on a really good day. I discovered that even though I wasn’t a charismatic speaker with perfectly-timed hand gestures, I was still able to get beyond a surface-level conversation and really connect with people. Despite not being the most outspoken, I was able to receive several job offers.
I realized that when it came to interviews, I actually had an advantage as an introvert. Most Fortunate 500 companies use a technique called “behavioral interviewing” which tries to assess your past behavior in order to predict your fit for the job. It means they want to hear stories about your previous work, which might indicate your ability to do the job you are interviewing for. These are questions like, “tell me about a time when…” that tend to make up the bulk of most interviews.
Here are my tips to play on your strengths as an introvert, answer behavioral interview questions, and maximize your time during a job interview.
When companies ask you behavioral interview questions like “what’s your greatest achievement?” or “tell me about a time when you had to meet a deadline” they are all basically asking one thing: Please, oh please tell us a story!
Often times people plow through an answer and give a story that might sound great on the surface, but lacks important details — like how the result was actually impactful or what role they played in the situation. This is where you have an opportunity to go beyond what is written in your resume and paint a well thought-out, descriptive, and context-rich story. There is no need for fancy analogies or perfect body language.
As Susan Cain, author of Quiet says, “There’s zero correlation between being the best talker and having the best ideas.”
The simplest way to provide detailed story is to structure your answers using the “STAR,” which stands for Situation, Task, Action, Result. Bring to mind an achievement from your past and ask yourself the following:
- Situation - Why did this happen at this point? Why was it a problem? Why was it really an issue? What was at stake?
- Task - Why was I involved? What was my responsibility?
- Action - Why did I decide to take these actions? What assumptions did I make?
- Result - Why was this result important? Why did X happen and not Y? Why did I care? What were the facts? What impact did I have? What did I learn? Why was it a failure or success?
Now that you have the basic structure, you want to make sure you are telling your stories in the right context.
We want to avoid this, of course. The safest way is to clarify what they are looking for beforehand before diving into your answer full throttle. “So you’re looking for an example where I did X?”
Or in describing an example to hit a tight deadline during your time at a newspaper publisher, you might quickly ask “Are you familiar with the workflow in news publishing?” If the interviewer is very familiar, then you can summarize and move on, but if they’re not, you’ll have to lay things out for them in more detail.
Misunderstanding happens often not because you don’t get the question, but because the interviewer is looking for something in particular but phrased the question poorly. Remember, most interviewers don’t have much experience interviewing, so it’s your job to help guide the conversation and make sure there are no communication blunders.
Where an interviewer may not have considered you a strong candidate from the start, sharing a high-context, relevant story allows them to reveal the “diamonds in the rough” like yourself.
I hate recording myself, but it works. Any great athlete or speaker records themselves to find out where the “gap” is in their performance, technique or presentation. If you don’t want to practice in front of a friend, then this is especially a great option. I always use either my computer camera or my iPhone video/audio record function.
The first time listening to the sound of your voice is going to make you cringe. You might be tempted to scamper away and hide under your blankets. Don’t worry, after you do this a couple of times you will get used to it and is a huge step in self-analysis. You’ll see how many times you say “umm.” And once you watch yourself, listen to yourself, and improve, just remember that you are one step ahead of Johnny Depp.
You might still get nervous in the interview, which is totally fine and happens to everyone. This means you’ll just need to spend more time practicing. But balancing out our weaknesses is as important as catering to our strengths. You might be surprised that what comes naturally to you is actually a strength in an interview — practicing emotional intelligence, carefully taking time to prepare, and holding a deeper conversation with someone. When you play on all of these strengths, you’re likely to see much greater success in your interviews!
Brought to you by Dorothy Tannahill-Moran – dedicated to unleashing your professional potential. Introvert Whisperer