When I was in the thick of job hunting, I remember going through several different behavioral interviews, and it was always an exhausting process. I noticed a pattern in these interviews. Not only did nearly every question start with “Tell me about a time when…” but it felt like every interviewer was reading from the same script and wanted to hear the same type of story over and over.
They all wanted to know things like:
How do you handle conflict
- How do you handle failure
- How do you handle working with others (especially in times of conflict and failure)
After a few rounds of feeling like I was coming up with examples from scratch, I decided to systematize. And behold, the Behavioral Interview Matrix was born.
It is a tool that I created to help plot out my stories according to my experience and the typical interviewing questions I was hearing. I have created it in spreadsheets, but you can use pen & paper too if that’s your style!
Here’s how you set it up:
Across the top, list all the typical questions as your column headings, filling in the blank: “Tell me about a time when _____”
In my template I have:
You faced a challenge
You made a Mistakes/Failure
You really enjoyed a part of your work
You showed leadership
You managed a conflict
You’d do something differently
Along the left side, take the major items from your resume and list them out vertically, creating rows. Work experience, great projects, etc. You can also add some of the minor items on your resume, like professional clubs that you’re part of, or even topics that aren’t on your resume, like interesting hobbies, that you feel could help give your interviewer a good sense of your full personality.
And voila! Fill in the intersecting spaces with examples from your experience to answer the different scenarios. For example, if your most recent project has a great example of a time you managed a conflict, go to the corresponding square and fill in some details. You might not have a story for each box on the matrix, but this will help you build out your repertoire of answers, so you can prepare to recount the examples of your amazingness.
This helps you ahead of time identify which stories you have and which ones are your strongest. It also helps you brainstorm a diverse set of stories, so instead of always talking about a single project/experience, you can reference many different experiences to provide the interviewer a wide breadth of your experience.
To take it a step further, the Matrix 2.0 STAR Stories is there for you.
Along the side, pick out some stories you identified before. Maybe they’re your favorite ones to retell or you’re certain they’re likely to be asked in your interview. Maybe they’re your least favorite and therefore need a bit more practice.
Across the top, we have “Situation”, “Task”, “Action”, “Result”, and, if you’d like “Alternate Action”, “Different Result”. This method comes from story-telling techniques. Read more here.
For your stories, think through and write down the situation or relevant context, the task at hand, the action you took, and the result it had. In the case of any of the “Tell me about a time you made a mistake” or “Tell me about a time you had a conflict” stories, be sure to include what you would’ve done differently if you could go back as the alternate action, and finally how that would’ve resulted in a different outcome.
So if we take your leadership story from your most recent project, we’ll pluck that out of the behavioral matrix and bring into the STAR matrix. For “Situation” – identify that you were the project manager of a team of 10, and your “Task” is that you’ve got a launch coming up that you want to be successful. “Action” is the bulk of the story; this is where you tell the interviewer what all you did, and then the “Result” is how it turned out. You can also allude to an Alternate Action of the 2-3 things you learned in the launch and that you’d do differently next time, and how those would impact the result.
The Situation sets up the context, the Task introduces the conflict or objective, Action is all the interesting stuff, and Result is the outcome.
This is the structure that interviewers are looking for when they ask behavioral questions.
You’ll want to get in the habit of thinking about your stories in this way and filling out the matrix will help. Even if you don’t recite the story verbatim to your matrix in the interview, you’ll have identified the major parts of the story ahead of time and that sets you up for success.
This also applies if the interviewer asks a question that you haven’t explicitly prepared for; you can likely pull elements from one of your other prepared stories, and because you’ve done the STAR exercise, you’ll be in good shape to recount the experience in the best structure.
Once you’ve put in the work to think through these stories and their structure, you’re ready to rock your interview! Review them before the interview, and remember that they are your stories, so tell them from the heart!