We have earlier discussed couple of behavioral questions in behavioral interview article; let’s see how they will be framed in an interview and how to respond. All the questions can be framed in this format to extract a real life example. It is important that you have at least one case scenario that supports your claims. Some key pointers in responding to a behavior based questions:
- Pick an situation that has challenged you
- A situation that helped you grow in some way or other
- A situation that made you stretch out of your competency and made you aware of other aspects. For example, if you are technical expert and you got into a situation involving people issues – bring those up if asked for a ‘difficult’ situation
- Something that forced you to go out of your comfort zone
Do NOT pick anything that is within your existing skill level at the time the situation took place
- Tell me about a situation where your client had moved the deadline way before you first agreed on. What did you do? Were you able to meet the deadline? How did this affect your deliverables?
- Describe a situation where you got into people issues? What happened? What did you do? What was the outcome? Would your approach be different should that situation arise now?
- What is the most difficult job you ever worked on? What makes it difficult? What did you do to execute it? What was the outcome?
- Describe a situation when you were not able to meet the client deadline? What measures did you take immediately after you knew you would not meet the deadline?
Question #1 Tell me about a situation where your client had moved the deadline way before you first agreed on. What did you do? Were you able to meet the deadline? How did this affect your deliverable?
Response: Due to various reasons, clients sometime ask us to rush the projects. This past May, we had a situation where the client had asked for a deadline that was two full weeks earlier than what we had agreed on, to make things worse, this was during the final phase of the project. If the client asks for such a timeline during the initial stages of the project we can put the team to work consistently overtime an hour or two per day to meet the deadline without bogging anyone down. Since this client had asked for it during the final phase, it made things hard for the whole team. Since I was the team lead on this project, I had put close to 90 hours each week to revise the game plan, communicating and managing the team resources to meet the new deadline. Not to mention, whole team put up 80 hour weeks for 3 straight weeks to meet the new deadline. Our Partners and the client were very happy with our team effort in responding to the business needs – this has resulted in a 2 years contract for the system support. After the product launch, we spent about a month refining aesthetics – which would have been part of the final deliverable had we stuck to the original deadline.
Notes: Use a situation that is recent and more apt for your role. Picking an experience situation that is too old and stale indicates that you have not had a key role recently.
Variations of this question:
- Describe a situation where things did not go accordingly to the plan, what was your reaction? What was the outcome?
- Describe a situation that demonstrates that you are flexible? What was the result of your flexibility?
Trap alert: It is important to highlight situations where YOU were more responsible than your ‘team’. In above behavioral example, we are demonstrating this by key words “team lead”, “90 hours (where team worked 80)” etc. Do not give examples that do not involve your ‘extra’ contributions in successful execution of the project.
Response: No matter how great the policies are and how great the managers are, there will always be situations that arise, especially with people. It is not the people per se but the circumstances are what lead to undesirable situations. During the beginning of this year, one of our team members had suggested that we give surprise gifts to team members for the new year. I ran the idea with our Partner who graciously sanctioned a budget for the gifts. We never thought that such an act would raise people issues but it did. One of the older employees argued that the gifts were too ‘hip’ and of no use to her. She demanded that she get compensated for its moneys’ worth. Since the idea was brought to Partner’s attention by me, he asked me to handle this. I took the employee in question out to lunch and explained the whole scenario in which the gifts were given and told her that they are not part of the compensation at all, either she can accept them or simply give them away to those who can use it. It took a lot of explaining for a trivial matter as that but in the end she understood. It made me realize that people issues can come up from most unexpected sources and situations. From then on, I try to think through all the possible angles of anything to do with the team/people. If someone had to give me a similar idea now, I would just stick with gift cards so that each individual can spend it the way they deem fit.
Notes: You will be surprised just how many things can go wrong in the real world and still amazing is the number of ways in which these things can be handled. Use a more non-obvious situation that demonstrates that you had to deal with more territories than an average applicant. Obviously, above situation is not ‘serious’ but it is ‘unexpected’.
Variations of this question:
- Were there situations where you found managing people difficult? What was the situation? What did you do?
Trap alert: Do not pick the situations that involve serious issues (even if they were handled successfully) that were caused due to your decision, especially issues related to people.
Response: As the phrase goes, what is difficult today becomes easy tomorrow and pleasurable day after, if you practice. I think that is true in all learning process. This past November, with the merger of our company with Pole Idle – we moved from Java to People – we had to migrate the whole system to the P. I had never worked on this technology before except the theory we learned during the college. The first 2 months were daunting to say the least, I used to work 10 hours to manage the work load and spend about 2-3 hours every day learning the new platform. The discipline paid off as we successfully migrated the system 20 days in advance than the projected estimate date. It was difficult initially but I now see the benefits of the new platform, the whole effort is worth it. Personally, this transition made me hone my discipline skills. Now I feel that if I could learn a new technology and become proficient at it with dedication, I can do anything.
Notes: Sometimes behavioral questions may be related to your inner qualities than the situation itself. This one for instance is targeted towards finding out how much you have stretched yourself in the job. If you give examples that relate to projects that did not require you to stretch much then you are falling victim to the behavior based question format.
Variations of this question:
- What is the biggest challenge you faced so far? How did you handle it? What was the outcome?
- Describe a situation when you had to leave your comfort zone? What did you do?
Trap alert: Do not pick situations that did not challenge your status quo. Things that don’t challenge do not bring any new qualities in you.
Response: Two years back, when I first transitioned into the role of a Senior, one of our other Seniors had left the firm. My Partner asked me to take over his accounts and finish the tasks. To our surprise, we did not know that the Senior had promised a deadline that was earlier than the regular filing deadline. No one knew about this communication until the last week when the client contact had sent us email about the status whereabouts. We were all in middle of a busy season schedule working 60 hours every week – this new deadline caused lot of stress and panic. I was the bearer of the bad news to the client letting the client know about the Senior leaving the firm without notice and how I had inherited his accounts. After lot of convincing, we were able to earn a week more for delivering the work. 60 hour weeks turned into 80 hour weeks and we were able to deliver but in client’s eyes – as a firm – we failed to meet the deadline. It was a bad note to start on a new engagement – but now after two years – things are going very smoothly with that client as I keep everyone on the team abreast of the client communications to avoid any surprises similar to that we encountered two years back.
Notes: You may have noticed that in this example, we picked a situation that can happen – people leave companies all the time and leave the can of worms for others to deal with. The example showcases a very real issue that all can relate with. It shows how you were NOT the reason for missing the deadline but you OWNED it without blaming the responsibility on anyone and did what was required to do to meet the business needs. This is the way you want to always respond to any behavioral question – focusing on the solution – you being part of the solution. Never focus on the problem or the person to blame too much.
Variations of this question:
- Were there client disappointing situations that involved you? What happened? What did you do or failed to do?
Trap alert: Do NOT pick a serious client issue that involves you. If you were called in a crisis as a consultant then pick the issue the size of a world saving armageddon crisis and showcase how you saved the day.