“In a crisis, be aware of the danger—but recognize the opportunity.”
— John F. Kennedy
Tell me about a time when …
If you’ve never heard those words from a recruiter or hiring manager, trust me: You will.
For decades, human resources departments have practiced behavior-based interviewing (BBI). The basic premise is simple: the best predictor of the future is—wait for it—the past. Put differently, people who have demonstrated grit, problem solving, critical thinking, and the like in prior jobs are likely to do so in the future. If you think that research supports this claim, trust your instincts.
But how can recruiters discern who’s got the chops from the poseurs?
The short answer: By asking for specific examples of when applicants demonstrated desired traits. Consider the following two questions:
- When confronted with a challenge, how would you respond?
- Tell me about a time when you overcame a significant work challenge. What was the background and specifically did you do?
Which question do you think provides a better window into your personality and work ethic?
Rather than ask hypothetical questions, recruiters who practice BBI probe. Yes, expect them to interrupt you during your interviews. You won’t have the floor for five minutes. They’re not trying to be rude; they simply want to home in on specific traits. Put differently, they know what they’re doing.
That’s all fine and dandy, but what about the elephant in the room: How does behavior-based interviewing relate to now: the greatest work- and learn-from-home experiments in history?
Funny you should ask.
What you can do right now to prepare for the future
At this point in your careers, you probably don’t have a great deal of work experience. Don’t feel bad. I sure didn’t a million years ago when I was in college interviewing for internships and full-time placement. Knowing now what I didn’t know then and faced with COVID-19 and all that it entails, I’d embrace the challenges.
Fast-forward a year. You’re interviewing for that internship or job. A recruiter asks you these two questions.
Tell me about a time in which you faced a significant challenge. What specifically did you do to overcome it?
Think back to right now. Did you find creative ways to complete your assignments, study, and work with your classmates? If so, then what were they?
Tell me an event that required you to quickly learn a new technology or application.
Now that all of your classes have moved online, are your professors forcing you to use new tools such as Slack, Zoom, and others? Are you embracing or fighting them? Even better, are you suggesting new tools to your professors and classmates? If so, then what are they?
Things are going to be challenging for a while. It’s going to get worse before it gets better.
Use this opportunity to learn new skills and develop new habits. Be flexible. Be creative. You may find that your new skills will help you stand out from other candidates during future interviews and land your first job.
I originally wrote this piece for Carnegie Mellon’s Dietrich College Diaries. This is the longer version.