How to pass your


I believe in the potential of behavioral interviews to elicit interesting and valuable stories from applicants. In practice, however, the process confuses some applicants because they do not understand why the interviewer is asking a particular question.

  • What kind of story does she want to hear?

  • What kinds of details will impress her?

  • What qualities does she hope I will demonstrate through my answers?

What if your interviewer actually asked you to tell her what she really wanted to hear?

Your interviewer wants to hear stories about you that will help her understand your

  • LEADERSHIP: stories that demonstrate your ability to influence a person, group or organization

  • TEAMWORK: stories that demonstrate your ability to build and maintain professional relationships

  • ACCOMPLISHMENTS: stories that demonstrate your ability to set an objective and achieve it

Most of us probably have the kinds of experiences that interviewer wants to hear about, we just don't know how to think of them up on the spot, how to frame them so they make sense, or how to deliver them so that they sound impressive. If you understand the intention of the question, you'll be able to give an answer that will be effective every time.

Unfortunately, interviews usually ask behavioral questions without any guidance. The interviewer asks her question. Then, the interviewee mumbles out a long and boring response that fails to address the questions behind the question – what the interviewer really wanted to hear but did not ask you to tell her.

If interviewers explained the process, interviewees might feel comfortable having a discussion rather than presenting a memorized speech. Therefore, I suggest you imagine your interviewer saying something like this:

"I'm going to ask you a behavioral question. As a part of your answer, please tell me about yourself. Your motivations. Your intentions. Your personal qualities. In your answer, be sure to cover the situation, the task, your action steps, and the results. If possible, I would also like to hear what you learned from this experience and how you've applied that lesson. Here is the question..."

Please watch this


Q: Tell me about a time you managed a team that failed.

Special thanks to my colleague, Jessica King, for her help developing this content.

Behavioral Interview Example #2

Question: “Describe a situation where you have had to deal with a difficult person.”

Answer: “I was transferred to a new project at my previous company to replace a beloved member of the team. My new team leader exhibited hostility towards me and I found myself left out of vital communications and meetings. After a few weeks, I was able to talk her into a one-on-one meeting. When laid out all of the key objectives for the team, the previous employee's role in meeting those objectives, and then discussed goals that I could set to make sure I was able to serve as a quality replacement. In our discussion, we also identified a few underlying issues with management that she had been carrying around with her. In uncovering all of these sentiments, she was able to clearly define her situation and achieve an understanding with her supervisors. In the end, the entire team morale improved, I was able to exceed my goals and the company itself became more profitable from our team's increased performance.”

Follow-up questions will test for consistency and determine if you exhibited the desired behavior in that situation:

  • "Can you give me an example?"

  • "What did you do?"

  • "What did you say?"

  • "What were you thinking?"

  • "How did you feel?

  • "What was your role?"

  • "What was the result?"

Prepare five to seven stories to share

  • My successful clients approach their interviews with five to seven stories they want to share.

  • Then, they bend the story to fit the question. I call this method "outside in," or "stories first, questions second."

  • After all, your interviewer (either a student or admissions team member) wants to hear good stories that demonstrate your selling points.

  • Think about your strengths.

  • Make a list of the personal qualities you want to share with your interviewer.

  • Then, find stories that demonstrate those qualities.

  • If you follow this approach, you will be able to answer nearly any question because you will remember your core message.

  • Finally, you can forget about trying to impress your interviewer. She has heard it all.

  • Instead, just focus on the core messages you are trying to convey.

  • Keep your stories simple.

  • Explain what they mean to you, and why your interviewer should care about them.

  • What do these stories say about you as an applicant?

  • Are you trying to help your interviewer imagine how you will behave at Wharton?

  • Does the story relate to your behavior in class discussions, study teams, and/or student clubs and activities?

I encourage you to prepare new stories, beyond those that you shared in your essays. MIT interviews are not blind, meaning that your interviewer has read your essays and letters of recommendation. interviews are blind, meaning that the interviewer only has your resume.

Still, most AdCom members would like to hear NEW stories beyond those you already shared in your essays. If you had access to your letters of recommendation, you might consider sharing an example that was used by your recommender.


and how to answer them

Behavioral interviewing is not common sense, but it could be. In fact, the STAR method (Situation, Task, Action, Result) is nothing less than good storytelling. I believe that every good story has five components:

(a) Setting

(b) Build-up (“Here comes trouble.”)

(c) Crisis or climax

(d) Learning

(e) New behavior or awareness (“How did you change?”)

(found at; accessed 2012/02)


Show teamwork by sharing stories about times that you have been successful BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS

RELATIONSHIP BUILDING: the ability to build and maintain professional relationships

The key success factors involve facilitation and soft skills.

Prepare the following:

  • Stories that illustrate alliances and partnerships that support you

  • A story that shows that people seek you out for your skills and expertise

(found at; accessed 2012/02)

Then, use your teamwork stories to answer the following behavioral event interview questions.

  1. Tell me about a time when you led a team and you experienced conflict between two members of the team.

  2. Tell me about a time you dealt with conflict on a team?

  3. Tell me about a time that you managed someone more experienced or older than you. How did that person react to you? How did you manage the relationship?

  4. Tell me about a time that you managed someone younger than you. How did that person react to you? How did you manage the relationship?

  5. Tell me about a time when you led a team and it failed. How did your teammates initially react? What would you do differently now?

  6. Describe a time when you have been working toward the completion of an important task when it has been necessary to consider the opinions and feelings of others.

  7. Describe a time when you have worked as part of a team working towards an important goal when you have addressed a conflict between two or more team members.

(found at; accessed 2012/02)


Show leadership by sharing stories about times that you have been successful INFLUENCING OTHERS

INFLUENCING OTHERS: the ability to influence a person, group or organization

The key success factors involve functional expertise, logic, data, and negotiation skills.

Prepare the following:

  • A story that illustrates how you’ve positively changed people you’ve worked with and/or organizations you’ve worked for

  • A story that exemplifies how you’ve contributed to the success of people you’ve worked with and/or organizations you’ve worked for

(found at; accessed 2012/02)

Then, use your leadership stories to answer the following behavioral event interview questions (recently asked by Wharton; similar questions are asked by other schools, including MIT, and Stanford)

  1. Tell me about a time when you were responsible for an important outcome and you had to convince people or defend your opinion.

  2. Tell me about a time someone convinced you of an idea that you initially opposed. How did they convince you and how did you respond? How has it affected your communication style and what have you learned from it?

  3. Tell me about a time you participated in a negotiation.

  4. Tell me about a time when you had to negotiate or convince someone to change their mind. Please provide specifics on what you thought and did and how the other person reacted.

  5. Describe a time you convinced someone on your team of something.

  6. Tell me about a time that your opinion was challenged and you had to defend yourself. Did they accept it? How did you do it? What was your strategy?

  7. Describe a time when you have had to persuade others to your way of thinking when at first they did not buy into your idea.

  8. Describe a time when your ideas have been challenged by others, requiring you to defend your opinions.

(found at; accessed 2012/02)


Show accomplishments by sharing stories about times that you have demonstrated DRIVE

DRIVE: the ability to set an objective and achieve it

The key success factors involve strategy, execution, and results.

Show that you have a goal orientation.

Prepare the following:

  • A story that includes an award, honor, accolade, testimonial, or other positive quotation that exemplifies your value proposition

  • Stories that describe life-changing events and how they’ve shaped your values and beliefs

  • Stories that reflect recurring patterns in your life/career and what those patterns mean

  • A story that demonstrates a pioneering idea you’ve developed

  • A story that illustrates how passionate you are about your field

  • A story that shows that people seek you out for your skills and expertise

  • A story that explains how your work has developed and improved

  • A story that illustrates that you consistently seek continuing education and professional development to enhance your value to your audience

  • A story about volunteer or philanthropic work that shows what you are passionate about

  • A story that demonstrates the roots of your ethics and values

(found at; accessed 2012/02)

Then, use your accomplishment stories to answer the following behavioral event interview questions.

  1. Describe a time you had to work with a team to accomplish something.

  2. Describe a time when you have worked with others to complete an important task when there was no formally appointed group leader.

  3. Describe a time when you have ensured an important task has been completed when you felt others were less focused than you on completing the important task.

(found at; accessed 2012/02)


Here is a simple storytelling template that my clients use to catch and hold the attention of their interviewers.

In this example, I have modified the PAR framework (problem, action, result) by adding a value statement or keyword at the beginning.

"I am someone who loves to make the most of limited resources. Last year, I implemented an outdoor language lab to motivate my students. They did not care about learning English, but I took advantage of the great weather and inspired them to see language as part of the world around them."

This example is not from an MBA admissions interview, but that does not matter; candidates can use this method in any interview situation.

Bottom line: Manage your message. What universal value, personal quality, or characteristic are you showing in this example?

Practice telling stories that sound like "impact statements." By doing so, your interviewer will be able to understand what the story means.

Otherwise, she might say to herself, "OK, so you took your students outside to learn English. So what? I am hiring you to do a sales job (or I am admitted you to my MBA program)."

If you explain that are innovative, she is more likely to say:

"Oh, I see. You can solve problems using limited resources. Well, that fits our culture well. You will definitely need that skill in our organization/program."

Ultimately, interviewers want to learn about your motivations. You are unlikely to encounter the same situation in the future. But if your interview knows that you possess the right qualities to solve problems in any situation, she is more likely to hire or admit you into her organization or graduate program.

Background: Behavioral Event-Based Interviews (BEI)

What is BEI?

In the 1980s, industrial psychologist Dr. Tom Janz introduced a method of interviewing called the “Behavioral Interview.” Research shows that this interviewing style is extremely effective, and MBA adcoms have started using it in interviews as well as essay questions, first at MIT and now, to a lesser extent, Wharton, Stanford, and other programs (depending on the interviewer).

Why do interviewers use BEI?

The premise is that the best predictor of future behavior is your past behavior. In a behavioral interview, you will have to demonstrate your knowledge, skills, and abilities, collectively known as competencies, by giving specific examples from your past experiences. Instead of asking how you would behave in a particular situation, the interviewer will ask you to describe how you did behave. Expect the interviewer to question and probe you for more details about what you thought, felt, said, and did. Also, your interviewer will not allow you to theorize or generalize about several events.

How can you prepare for a Behavioral Event-Based Interview?

During a behavioral interview, always listen carefully to the question, ask for clarification if necessary, and make sure you answer the question completely. Your answer should contain these four steps (Situation, Task, Action, Result or "STAR") for optimum success.

  1. Situation: give an example of a situation you were involved in that resulted in a positive outcome

  2. Task: describe the tasks involved in that situation

  3. Action: talk about the various actions involved in the situation’s task

  4. Results: what results directly followed because of your actions

Whenever you can, quantify your results. Numbers illustrate your level of authority and responsibility. For example: "I was a shift supervisor." could be "As Shift Supervisor, I trained and evaluated 4 employees."

Example of a STAR Answer

  1. Situation: During my internship last summer, I was responsible for managing various events.

  2. Task: I noticed that attendance at these events had dropped by 30% over the past 3 years and wanted to do something to improve these numbers.

  3. Action: I designed a new promotional packet to go out to the local community businesses. I also included a rating sheet to collect feedback on our events and organized internal round table discussions to raise awareness of the issue with our employees.

  4. Result: We utilized some of the wonderful ideas we received from the community, made our internal systems more efficient and visible and raised attendance by 18% the first year.

some common behavioral interview



  • Tell us about a time that you had to work on a team that did not get along. What happened? What role did you take? What was the result? Based on that example, what would you do if your MBA study team members were not getting along with each other?

  • How do you resolve conflict on a team?

  • Tell me about a time when you experienced cultural conflict and how you handled it.

  • What role do you typically play in teams?

  • Tell me about a time when you contributed to a team.

  • What has been your most difficult teamwork experience?

  • Describe a situation in which you had to arrive at a compromise or help others to compromise. What was your role? What steps did you take? What was the end result?

  • Describe a team experience you found disappointing. What would you have done to prevent this?

  • Tell me about a time when you resolved a conflict in a group.

  • Tell us about the most difficult challenge you faced in trying to work cooperatively with someone who did not share the same ideas? What was your role in achieving the work objective?

  • What is the difficult part of being a member, not a leader, of a team? How did you handle this?

  • When is the last time you had a disagreement with a peer? How did you resolve the situation?

  • Tell us about the most difficult or frustrating individual that you’ve ever had to work with, and how you managed to work with them.

  • Have you ever been a member of a group where two of the members did not work well together? What did you do to get them to do so?

  • What is the toughest group that you have had to get cooperation from? Describe how you handled it. What was the outcome?


  • What is your leadership style? Give me an example of a time when you displayed that leadership style.

  • Tell me your definition of leadership and give an example.

  • Tell me about a time when you exercised leadership.

  • Tell me about a time when you took initiative.

  • Tell me about a time when you introduced an innovation.

  • Tell me about a time when you solved an important problem.

  • Tell me about a time when you took a position different from the consensus view of your team/organization.

  • How do you show leadership outside of your job?

  • What leadership areas do you wish to develop through your MBA experience? What specifically do you plan to do at School X to develop in these ways?

  • Describe your leadership style and give an example of a situation when you successfully led a group.

  • Have you ever been in a position where you had to lead a group of peers? How did you handle it?

  • Give an example of a time in which you felt you were able to build motivation in your co-workers or subordinates at work.


  • What is your greatest accomplishment?

  • What impact have your accomplishments had on your organization?


  • Have you ever failed?

  • How did you recover from this experience & what did you learn about yourself?

  • When have you faced a setback and how did you deal with it?

  • What has been your major work related disappointment? What happened and what did you do?

Ethics / Integrity

  • Discuss an ethical dilemma you faced at work.

  • Describe a situation where your values, ethics, or morals were challenged. How did you handle the situation? What did you learn about yourself?

Information compiled from various public sources, including

Information is subject to change. Please verify all data with the schools.