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Tell Me About a Time When?

  • Don't be caught off guard and give a vague answer.
  • The interviewer is looking for specific examples.
  • Identify and tailor your stories before the interview.
As soon as you hear the words, "Tell me about a time when?," you should be aware that your interviewer is probably using a behavioral interviewing technique.

This technique uses your past experiences and behaviors as an indicator of your future success. In other words, if you can demonstrate through examples that you accomplished something before, there is a tendency for the interviewer to believe you may do it again.

For example, if you saved your company money by streamlining a process and you relate that experience to the interviewer, he will become interested because there is a strong possibility you could save his company money, too.

Be Specific

Sometimes it is difficult to come up with a specific illustration, because the situation, such as managing multiple tasks at once, occurs regularly in your line of work.

For example, a candidate had worked in the publishing business for seven years. When she was asked, "Tell me about a time when you had to juggle priorities to meet a deadline," she almost laughed out loud.

"Juggling priorities is a way of life in the publishing business," she answered. "There's not a day when I don't have to work under that kind of pressure."

Her interviewer persisted, asking for specific examples of this type of demand.

"I could tell you five incidents that happened this week alone," the candidate replied. "I had one person on the phone, received three emails with project changes and I had two deadlines to meet. And that was only on Monday."

In this scenario, the interviewer is seeking information about how the candidate handles priorities and deadlines, how she works under pressure and how flexible she is.

Since this candidate had a lot of experience in these areas she would have satisfied the interview question by telling about a specific time when she demonstrated those organizational skills. She could have shown how she gets things done, no matter what it takes by saying, "There was an incident last month when I received a frantic phone call from one of the managers, and I had to drop everything to get a change processed. What he asked was almost impossible, but with some help from my team and working some extra hours, I was able to accomplish the goal. The department manager commended me for pulling off the changes and meeting the tight deadline."

Your Stories

Preparing your stories is one of the most beneficial exercises you can do to become focused before your interview. If you say you're good at something, prove it with a story. You should be able to back up anything you say on your resume or in an interview with a story or an example of how you have soared in a sticky situation.

by Carole Martin

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