Got an interview coming up? How to confidently answer behavioral interview questions.

photo woman with arms outRemember that excitement/relief you felt when you got invited to that job interview you spent ages on your application for? Your resume or application got your foot in the door, but the interview itself will swing it open and land you the job, which is why you must be as prepared as possible before the big day.  It is best to assume you are up against a bunch of other top-notch candidates and to get yourself into maximum competitive and preparation mode!

The first step is to ask the employer or recruiter about the format of the interview:

–         Who will the interview be with? Check that person/people out on Linkedin (what is their specific area of work? Look at their past experience. Consider how this might affect the questions they ask in the interview).

–         How many interview rounds will there be? Will there be any presentations or tests?

–         What format will the interview take?


What is the difference between traditional and behavioral interview questions?

Most clients that come to me for interview help want support with both ‘traditional’ interview questions (i.e. ‘what are your strengths and weaknesses?’ or ‘why have you applied for this job?’) AND ‘behavioral’ interview questions (i.e. ‘Tell me about a time when you dealt with conflict in your team’).  The behavioral questions are more in-depth questions about your past experience which they want to test in relation to specific skills or competencies required for the job (teamwork, communications, dealing with conflict, negotiation skills, leadership skills etc).

The interviewer is looking for details about past relevant experiences. They want to know what the situation/challenge was, what your actions were and what the result was. Your responses will give the interviewer an indication of how you will perform in similar situations in the job you are applying for.


happy intelligent woman workingWhen a client first approaches me for support, I will ask them to send their resume and the job description.  It is the job description that is key here – I will go through a detailed review of it and make a note of all the personality traits, skills and experience that are required for the role.  I will then formulate likely interview questions, both traditional and behavioral, based on the requirements of the role. For the purpose of this post, I am focusing on behavioral questions – for example, if being able to deal with change is of particular importance to the role, I might ask the following:

“Tell me about a time when you were very much against a change that affected your work. How did it make you feel and how did you deal with it?”

You need to show how you have viewed things in an unbiased manner, how you demonstrated the strength of character to voice your concerns if you think a new practice will have a negative effect on the team or company and articulate your thoughts with well-reasoned arguments.

How do I answer behavioral interview questions?

Practice, practice and more practice!

women with coffees

First you need to get prepared and this is where the homework can really pay off.  I suggest using the STAR technique to answer the question, to give both structure to your preparation, but also for the interviewer to easily follow your answers (which trust me will score you extra ‘points’).


SITUATION – Explain when the specific example took place and where (company name, team you were working in, what your job was and your key responsibilities in that role).  Set the scene at the start of the answer.

TASK – Give an introduction to the specific ‘story’ in terms of what the challenge or project was, why it was so important to you/the company, what the issues were.

ACTIONS – What specifically were the actions taken by you and what were your responsibilities? Use action words to describe your major achievements, i.e. developed, established, led, supported, managed, engaged etc.  Avoid using the term ‘we’.

RESULTS – What were the results and what might you do differently/what did you learn?  Describe how you solved the problem or made improvements. Quantify if possible.  Here are some examples:

  • $8m increase in revenue
  • $5m decrease in cost
  • 30% reduction in processing time
  • Signed up 20 new customers

It is likely that you would be asked what you learnt or what might you do differently if confronted with the issue again, so be prepared!

 Sample answer to a behavioral interview question.

Using the STAR approach, I’m going to give you an example of an answer to a behavioral interview question.

Describe a time when there was a significant change in your company. What was your response towards it?’

Last year in my role as Sales Team Leader in xx company, we were undergoing a huge restructure having been bought by another company.  We had a large number of critical projects happening at the time and it was important that we stayed on track to deliver.

In the face of significant change for my team of 10, where individuals were not sure of their new teams and who they would report into going forward, I needed to keep them motivated to deliver on our goals.  Part of this was making sure that they were supported through the restructure that was taking place.

I wanted to make sure that despite the changes, people felt supported and part of a team and had clear goals to deliver on. 

I started by inviting my team to a weekly Q&A session where I kept them up to date with all the information I was allowed to share on the restructure so that they felt informed and supported by their team leader whatever the outcome was.

I held 1:1s with each team member to review goals with them throughout the restructure process and worked with them to edit where appropriate, i.e. where we knew that they would be transitioning across to a different team, I worked with the appropriate new team leader. I emphasized importance of focusing on current goals, and not letting speculation or conjecture of future changes distract them from delivery of their day-to-day responsibilities.

I produced a weekly email update to the team informing them of performance in relation to targets and congratulating them on new business successes.

My manager was really impressed with how I supported my team through the restructure, exceeding our sales targets that year by 20%.  The annual staff satisfaction survey reflected how the team felt well supported through the process, with the overall score not being materially impacted despite it being a period of uncertainty.

When preparing for these sorts of questions, its important you spend the time thinking of good examples and writing out your thoughts/ideas in detail – not scripted, but plenty of information you can draw upon. Practicing is essential, over and over again so that you can sound relaxed and confident when the time comes to share your proudest achievements and land that dream job!

For more interview support and preparation, please get in touch with me here or my email is 

I offer remote one-to-one coaching sessions focused on helping you with your quest for your dream job/lifestyle along with developing your job search and interview preparation strategy.  You will have the opportunity to practice traditional and behavioral interview questions and receive feedback that will enhance your confidence and performance in your interview.  See details of the services I offer here.

Joanna Brook

How can a ‘growth mindset’ help propel your career?

growth mindset pic

I recently attended a ‘How to raise a successful Mathematician’ workshop at my 8 year old’s school where the ‘growth mindset’ was emphasized as being so important at this age – it has had a big influence in K-8 education in recent years.  So many children from an early age decide that they are either good at something or they’re not, and they lose their motivation to put in effort (a fixed minsdset).  There are a number of ways we can help them to understand that although some children have to work harder than others at certain skills, they do have control (through effort levels) over how successful they can be at something.

I believe this concept should be embraced in the business world and how we navigate our way through our careers. The pace of change in the corporate world is accelerating and to succeed in any area of work, professionals need to embrace lifelong learning as a habit.  I’ve often had clients tell me oh, I don’t think I’ll be able to apply for that job because… I don’t have that experience or I don’t have that skill.  The problem is that people assume they are not capable of something or good at it and this leads to career stagnation, but we can take control of our own learning and propel our careers.  Carol Dweck, the author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success says “the passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it even (or especially) when it’s not going well, is the hallmark of the growth mindset”.  This is just as important for people who achieve success easily (perhaps through an innate level of talent) to continue to challenge themselves to achieve even greater things.

Career coaching itself holds the growth mindset as a key factor required for making positive change – for example in setting SMART goals, part of the process is to help individuals get better at something and help them navigate through the process of achieving those goals.  Career coaches also encourage people to try new things even if they make mistakes (perhaps by applying for a job that is appealing but maybe out of their comfort zone), because making mistakes is how we all learn to improve ourselves.  In making career choices with a growth mindset, we can be open to new ideas and be more confident in our actions, rather than sticking with what we’ve always done because trying something different seems too daunting.

In her book Pivot: The Only Move That Matters Is Your Next One, Jenny Blake talks about ‘high net growth’ or ‘impactors’, those individuals who love learning, taking action, tackling new projects, solving problems and those who love to make a difference – a true growth mindset mentality!

As a coach, these are some of my favorite ways to instill a growth mindset in my clients:

  1. Set yourself a goal to learn something new every week or every month or every year (my friend Allison has learnt to decorate wedding cakes, design jewelry, trained as a massage therapist and even learnt to fly a plane!) It’s such a buzz learning a new skill and what great dinner party conversation!
  2. Replace the word ‘failing’ with ‘learning’
  3. Use the word ‘yet’ – just because you can’t do something now, doesn’t mean you can’t learn or try to accomplish it.
  4. When you make a mistake or fail at something, make a note of what you could do differently in the future.
  5. Celebrate growth with others
  6. Finally, check out the book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.

“In one world, effort is a bad thing.  It, like failure, means you’re not smart or talented.  If you were, you wouldn’t need effort.  In the other world, effort is what makes you smart or talented” – Carol Dweck

Take action today and set yourself some new goals that will support your career!  I’d love to hear about your goals and achievements.

If you enjoyed this post, I’d be very grateful if you’d help it spread by emailing it to a friend or sharing it on Twitter or Facebook.  Thank you!

As always, if you need any career support or advice, please get in touch.

Joanna Brook

How to breeze your way through Topgrading

breeze image

This week I have had the pleasure of working with a highly inspirational and successful leader who is a candidate for several CEO and Executive level positions. One company has asked him to a Topgrading interview. “A what?” I hear many of you ask.

Topgrading can be described more as a recruitment strategy (a very time consuming one) than a single interview, often used by employers that are aware of the huge cost of mis-hires, especially the higher up the organization you go. Organizations use this technique to ensure they hire A players – “one who qualifies among the top 10 percent of talent available for a position” – in other words, someone who is best of class. Check out the Brad Smart’s book Topgrading, 3rd Edition: The Proven Hiring and Promoting Method That Turbocharges Company Performance.

My experience of Topgrading has seen me on both sides of the table, both as an interviewee and, having survived that particular experience (I’ll admit I may have even enjoyed it!), then working to hire and identify A Players for Executive level roles in a large international organization.

This week, those two experiences have helped me navigate my coachee through both the perils and nuances of this particular type of recruitment approach, hopefully whilst still retaining their enthusiasm for interviews and securing their dream job!

Whilst still fresh on my mind this week, I wanted to take the opportunity to share some useful tips on how to prepare for this style of recruitment approach should you ever be lucky enough (or should I say unlucky enough!) to be invited to a Topgrading interview.
Firstly, lets get a bit more of an idea of the way in which Topgrading is used. I’ve heard Topgrading described as a recruiter’s ‘Jedi weapon’ to help companies find ‘stars‘. Topgrading holds 3 criteria of upmost importance in finding A players – average job tenure should be 3+ years, compensation grows nicely over time and the threat of a reference check (you will be asked for the name of your most recent hiring managers and asked what score each hiring manager will give you when they call them for a reference) that will drive away any individuals that are not high performing.

What to Expect from the process
1. Request to complete a Topgrading Career History Form
This becomes the company application form, requesting all the usual information but also all the information employers want but resumes never contain – the ‘truth serum’ – full salary history, manager ratings of overall performance, reasons for leaving an employer and a self-appraisal.

2. Telephone Screening Interviews
To review information contained in your career history form and select the best candidates.

3. One-hour Competency interviews
Only the best candidates will be invited for face to face interviews. There will usually be two interviews with different managers with the opportunity to ask questions.

4. Topgrading Interview (to be conducted by 2 managers or sometimes consultants trained in Topgrading)
This is a chronological interview starting with education years then asking around 14 questions about every job, then finishing with questions around goals and self-appraisal (usually around 4 hours in length, yikes!) The interview covers approximately 50 competencies and is extremely thorough. Finally the individual is asked to provide references and to set up reference calls to confirm the interviewer conclusions (note that having heard from the candidate what each of their previous managers may have to say about them, the interviewers get to choose the managers they want the candidate to contact for references. This is where C players (underperformers) tend to drop out! A Players want to arrange the calls because they know their former managers will have great things to say about them.

I’ll finish by stating the obvious – its long, its tough but most importantly, you need to do A LOT OF PREPARATION to succeed!

I’d love to hear about your experiences of Topgrading and have a number of tools and resources I’d be happy to share with anyone that gets invited to a Topgrading interview.

Please contact me here for any help or support.

A quick resume checklist – 10 top tips

Placeholder ImageIs your resume up to date with your most recent experience and includes what recruiters and ATSs (applicant tracking systems) are looking for?  If you’re looking to get your resume into tiptop shape, start by following my top tips below.

  1. Keep it professional – please don’t include funny email addresses on your resume.  This is one of the most common mistakes I see people make.
  2. Include a one-liner summary of what you do and keep it short (include relevant job title and number of years experience).
  3. Include 8-10 key skills that the recruiter can easily scan near the top of the resume (in 2 columns to be visually appealing).
  4. Try to stick to 2 pages as long as it isn’t squished together (quality over quantity!)
  5. New for 2018 – add hyperlinks to your resume.  This could be to your linkedin page or to past projects – just make sure they are highly relevant and stick to just a few.
  6. Emphasize accomplishments, not generic responsibilities and try to leave out buzz words such as ‘high-achiever’ and ‘reliable’.
  7. Make it tailored to applicant tracking systems so you have the best chance of getting past ‘the robots’.  Check out this post on glassdoor. 
  8. Create ‘additional’ resumes (using the same outline) – tailored to particular jobs so that you can be specific and relevant about what you can offer to a company.
  9. Fonts, italics and underlining – try to keep it simple.  Use at least a size 11 font and minimize the use of underlining and italics.  Use caps or bold to make job titles stand out – its easier on the eye (and the applicant tracking systems). Just remember to keep it simple and not get carried away.
  10. Leave out basics such as computer skills and foreign language skills from 20 years ago.