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 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


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:

Prepare five to seven stories to share

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:

(found at; accessed 2012/02)

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

(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:

(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)

(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:

(found at; accessed 2012/02)

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

(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.

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

some common behavioral interview










Ethics / Integrity


Information compiled from various public sources, including

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