How to Prepare for Behavioral Interview Questions

When you prepare for behavioral questions as a college student, you are more likely to succeed in interviews and land the job you want. Taking the following steps is recommended:

  1. Examine the job description thoroughly and understand the requirements of the position. Assess how your skills and experiences align with the job requirements.
  2. Research the company you are applying to and try to understand its values and work culture. Having a clear understanding of their working environment will help you prepare for questions. For example, “Why would you like to work at [Company Name]”?
  3. Reflect on the instances in your professional and personal life when you have demonstrated leadership, teamwork, communication, problem-solving, and adaptability. These experiences can be used to answer common behavioral questions. 
  4. Use the STAR method to ensure your responses are clear and structured, and so that the interviewer can better understand your problem-solving abilities. The STAR method stands for Situation, Task, Action, and Result. 
  5. Try to practice answering common interview questions for your field of interest. Online resources can be used to find common behavioral interview questions and practice answering them. 
  6. Prepare a list of thoughtful questions to ask the interviewer about the company or the position. You can use this to demonstrate your interest and engagement in the interview (see examples below).
  7. Lastly, keeping calm and staying confident is key! Make sure you listen carefully to the questions and think about your answers before responding.

What is the STAR method?

  • Situation: Describe the situation or problem you faced.
  • Task: Explain the task or objective that you had to accomplish.
  • Action: Describe the specific steps you took to address the situation or task. Be sure to focus on your own contributions and actions (not hypotheticals or someone else's actions).
  • Result: Explain the outcome or result of your actions, and how it impacted the situation or task.
Tip: The bulk of your answer should be focused on Action and Result. Remember that your responses should always be real-life examples, not hypotheticals.

Examples using the STAR method

Question: “Can you give an example of a time when you had to overcome a challenge?”

Situation: During my junior year in college, I was part of a group project for my Business 101 class. Our task was to create a marketing plan for a small business that was struggling to attract customers due to increased competition.
Task: To boost the business's visibility and attract new clients, our team was assigned to conduct market research and develop a detailed marketing plan.
Action: Due to our various commitments and deadlines for other courses, it was difficult for us to coordinate team members' schedules. To address this, I took the initiative to create a shared calendar and set up regular virtual meetings to ensure everyone was on the same page and progress was being made. Besides assigning specific responsibilities to the team members based on their strengths and interests, I also managed the social media strategy for the project.
Result: Although we faced initial challenges, our team completed the marketing plan within the deadline. We received positive feedback on our presentation, and our recommendations were well received by the business owner and our professor. Our strategies were even implemented by the business owner, which increased customer engagement and sales by over 30%.

Question: “What is the professional achievement you’re most proud of?"

Situation: During my sophomore year of college, I decided to participate in a national coding competition as a way to challenge myself beyond the coursework I was taking.
Task: It required participants to solve complex coding problems within a time limit and demonstrate their programming skills in multiple rounds. I struggled a bit due to juggling my regular coursework and extracurricular activities while participating in the competition. 
Action: In order to prepare for the competition, I created a study schedule and dedicated time to practice coding every day, this also kept me on track with my school work and extracurriculars. I also took initiative to form a study group with classmates who were also in the competition; this really helped us learn from each other and solve problems together. Lastly,  in order to improve my coding speed and accuracy, I practiced solving problems from past competitions and researched various coding techniques, and sought guidance from professors to grow as an engineer.
Result: The dedication I put into preparing and working paid off in the end, as I advanced through multiple rounds of the competition. In the finals, I competed against top participants from other colleges and was awarded the third prize. This achievement demonstrated my technical abilities, perseverance, and ability to perform under pressure, and I was extremely proud of myself! 

Question: “Tell me about a time you made a mistake and how you handled the situation"

Situation: During my sophomore year, I was working on multiple projects at the same time and had a tight deadline to complete a digital poster for a design competition.
Task: I was tasked with creating an impactful and visually appealing poster demonstrating the competition's theme.
Action: As a result of my workload, I overlooked the resolution requirements for the digital poster and designed images with low resolutions. As the submission deadline approached, I realized my mistake and panicked, but I quickly contacted my professor and explained what had happened. I apologized for my error and accepted full responsibility.
Result: My professor advised me to redo the poster using the correct requirements. I knew I had to stay up late so worked hard to submit the revised version before the deadline. It was my mistake that caused a delay and extra effort, but I learned the importance of double-checking project requirements and managing my workload efficiently as a result.

List of questions you can ask your interviewer:

  1. What skills or qualities do you think are most important for success in this internship?
  2. How does this internship provide opportunities for professional growth and development?
  3. Can you describe the company culture and what it's like to work here?
  4. How does [Company Name] support and mentor its interns?
  5. What do you think sets this internship apart from others in the industry?
  6. What are some of the challenges or opportunities that the company is currently facing?
  7. Is there any advice you would be able to offer me as someone starting out in [Industry Name]?

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