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Working Wise: Job Interviews—Behaviour Descriptive Questions

Dear Working Wise,

I just had a job interview where they kept asking me questions like “tell me about a time when you had a disagreement with your supervisor.” I didn’t really know what to sayI didn’t want to talk about a fight with my supervisorbut then I didn’t get the job. Help!
Signed, Puzzled

August 17, 2016

Dear Puzzled,

You just had a Behaviour Descriptive Interview—technique employers use to assess how you will perform in the future based on what you did in the past.

You could be asked to talk about how you tackled a challenging problem, made a difficult decision, handled criticism of your work, or went beyond the call of duty.

The best way to prepare for this type of interview is to review the job posting for required skillsboth work skills and interpersonal skills—and think of examples from your past work that best illustrate your abilities and attributes.

Many employers are interested in how their employees handle conflict. If interpersonal skills are listed as desired skill, you might want to think of a time you had a conflict with your supervisor or co-worker and then helped bring about a positive resolution.

Interviewers are looking for short stories that clearly illustrate the situation, the action you took, and the resolution.

The STARS technique can help you answer Behaviour Descriptive Interview questions quickly and highlight your valuable skills to the employer.


  • Situation I was in
  • Task I needed to complete
  • Action I took
  • Results I achieved
  • Skills I used

Take some time to think about your past accomplishments and successes. Try to develop as many stories as possible—especially about the high points of your career—and stick to examples where you handled the situation well.

For questions about failure such as, “Tell me about a time you missed a deadline,” focus on what you learned so that it never happens again and mention a more recent project where you were successful as a result of your learning.

Unfortunately, it’s nearly impossible to think of every possible question. If you get a surprise question, take a moment to think of your most relevant story. If you don’t have a story you can use, describe how you would handle the situation.

Be honestdon’t make up an answer, because employers often have follow-up questions if they like what they hear, don’t completely understand, or are unsure if you are telling the truth.

Check out the article Be Prepared to Answer Behaviour-Descriptive Questions and the STARS technique on alis. also has a list of 100 common interview questions including 17 Behaviour Descriptive Interview questions.

Photo Credit: © iStockphoto/AdamGregor

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