Tag Archives: situation task action result

Interview Questions: What are your Weaknesses?

In this post, I’ll address the classic interview question: “What are your strengths and weaknesses?” How are you supposed to answer the second part of this question honestly without making yourself look bad?

First, let’s talk about what you should not do.
Do not say that you have no weaknesses! Even if the name on your resume is Clark Kent, you still have a weakness.

Do not say that your weakness is that you work too hard, or that you are too organized, too dedicated, or too passionate. The recruiter will see right through your B.S.

So, what do you say? There are two ways that recruiters have told me they like to hear this question answered.

1) Be honest.
We’re all only human. The recruiter wants to see you demonstrate the maturity to engage in some self-analysis and render yourself a little vulnerable. This does not mean you should talk about your weakness for a guy who can play the guitar, or a weak ankle from when you played little league and tripped sliding into 3rd base. Keep your examples appropriate and relevant to the job.

The idea behind having you identify a weakness is so that you can identify areas for personal and professional improvement. If your weakness is that you are too stubborn to take feedback, you better say how you recognize that you have a problem and you are working to fix it somehow. Don’t give a weakness that you can’t or won’t fix.

2) Use the STAR method.
When in doubt, always return to the STAR method and apply its formula to answer the question. Remember that STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action, Result.

In the case of identifying a weakness, start by explaining the situation – a good tip is to say, “I used to struggle with X.” Then, move on to the task: “I noticed that, due to my weakness in X, I was encountering problems with Y.” Next, talk about what you did about your problem: “I recognized that if I could learn how to Z, then I would reduce my problems with Y and my X behavior would decrease.” Lastly, explain the results of your action: “Now, because I have started doing Z, I have improved in Y and I no longer X. In fact, I recently received feedback from employers and peers commenting on my improvement.”

That’s the secret revealed. Pretty simple! Remember, think of more than one weakness to explain – don’t be surprised if the recruiter says, “Okay, good. Now, give me another weakness.” I have had recruiters ask me for up to five weaknesses, and it’s pretty stressful and dangerous for you to think things up on the spot. The key to impressing the interviewer and getting the job is being prepared.

I will share some tips with you on how to think like a recruiter, so you can anticipate their next moves and pass the interview with flying colors!

Interview Questions: Be a STAR


It’s a new year, and time to get a new job or a first job. With more people than ever fighting for a job in a down economy, how can you stand out and make it through all the bloodshed? There are a few ways I’ve seen students make a positive impression on potential employers, and one of the most important ways is responding with killer answers to tough interview questions.

This is the first post in a series of entries I’ll write about interview questions. Some of the most common interview questions are Behavioral Based Interview (BBI) Questions. The idea behind a BBI question is that past performance will indicate future success. The employer wants to know what you have done in the past to get an idea of how you will react to future situations in the firm. These are not hypothetical questions – you need to use real examples from your past to answer a BBI question.

These questions will generally start with, “Tell me about a time when…”

The typical topics interviewers are interested in are leadership experience, conflict, analytical skills, goal setting, innovation/creativity, and failure. A quick Google search of the most common interview questions will yield results that fall under those primary categories. Begin to think of some relevant stories for each of those topics long before your interview.

The reason I say stories rather than answers is because you need to answer BBI questions with a well-developed story. The best way I know to help students practice putting stories together for an interview is the STAR Method. STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action, Result. Use this method to craft your BBI stories. Go two or three stories deep for each topic, and practice your stories with friends.

Here is an example of what I mean:

“Give me an example of a goal you didn’t reach, and how you handled it.” This would be an example of a goal setting, conflict, and failure question.

Situation: My sophomore year, an ambassador for the International Programs office came to speak to my class about international internships. I heard that my university offered a Parliamentary internship in London, and that it was the most competitive position available, with only two people accepted each year. I wanted that internship!

Task: By the summer before my senior year, I had saved enough money and had built up enough experience on my resume to be eligible to apply for the program. I got past the initial screening and was finally offered a phone interview with a campaign manager for one of the MPs (Members of Parliament).

Action: I completely failed my interview. The campaign manager asked me my personal political opinion and I tried to dodge the question by saying I would represent my politician’s views to his constituents during my term in his office, but he kept pushing for an answer. Knowing that most politicians in England are more liberal than I am, I tried to defend my fiscally conservative position. He asked me to prove how a fiscally conservative government could provide for social projects, and I gave examples of big business sponsoring social programs. I even included personal examples of how Fortune 500 companies had helped my social entrepreneurship club with some community initiatives. But I don’t think he believed me!

Result: I did not get the internship with Parliament that summer, and I think it actually worked out for the best. I got an internship instead at an international dot com business headquartered in London and worked in sales, marketing, and public relations. I was living in the same building as the two students who were working at Parliament, and I found that in a smaller business setting I had far more opportunities to make a difference in the company than they had in Parliament. I sat next to the CEO and worked directly with country managers every day in my internship, where they were lucky to see their MP at all for the whole summer.

Make sure your stories fully answer the question, are memorable, and (especially for conflict and failure questions) depict the end result in a positive way. You will need to spend a while thinking up these stories ahead of time, but avoid making them sound rehearsed. Also, don’t be surprised if they ask you follow up questions about your story, or for a second example!