Best MBA Interview Practices: Behavioral Questions and the Importance of Examples

A lot has been written about “behavioral questions”, but the important thing to remember is that “behavioral question” simply means “provide a specific example”. That should be clear from the nature of how behavioral questions are asked:

Describe a time you had to take leadership on a team unexpectedly.

Give me an example of a time you persuaded a reluctant group or individual.

Tell me about a conflict you had with a teammate/teammates and how you resolved it.

Describe a time when you gave someone constructive feedback.

(Questions taken from this blog post.)

But even if you aren’t asked to provide a specific example, you should be constantly thinking about how and when to introduce your biggest wins, accomplishments, and impacts as part of your overall interview strategy. That is one of my most important interview training principles: EXEMPLIFY! In that sense, most interview questions (those beyond self-introductions and goals/why MBA/why school X) have the potential to be behavioral.

There are many proponents of the STAR method (Situation, Task, Action, Result) for answering behavioral questions, but I could never distinguish between Situation and Task, so I recommend to my clients the BAR method (Background, Actions, Results), broken down as follows:

Background (10-15%) – what were you trying to accomplish and what were the main obstacles?

Actions (70-75%) – what steps did you take and decisions did you make to overcome the obstacles?

Results (10-20%) – what was the final outcome?

If you didn’t realize it already, this is likely the same structure you followed when developing some of your experience-based (e.g., leadership) essays. However, it would be a fatal mistake if you were to memorize your essays and repeat them word-for-word during the interview. You won’t sound natural and the interviewer will question your preparation, confidence, and ability to answer hot questions in a live classroom.

The only remedy is to practice out loud and a lot to find the right balance of overview and detail that will leave your interviewer nodding in agreement. If you find yourself getting lost, you can simplify BAR even further by asking yourself, “What was the biggest difficulty, and how did I overcome it?” By doing so, you can strip away unnecessary information, maintain the interviewer’s interest, and focus on the most revealing and flattering details of your experience, which are revealed through your “Actions”. Unfortunately, too many people spend the majority of time describing the “Background” and they miss out on the “muscle” of the answer. Don’t be one of those people!!

Test yourself thoroughly by applying BAR to every accomplishment on your resume, either full experiences or only key parts of them. You can develop many more potential answers than you ever thought possible and reduce the fear of being caught unprepared during your all-important interview.

In the next post, I’ll explain how you can use your examples to take powerful control during the interview and direct it in the most advantageous way. Stay tuned.