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What Would You Say? What Would You Do?
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by Paul Hettich, PhD - DePaul University (IL)
In the television program What Would You Do?, unsuspecting individuals encounter
a situation created by actors where, for example, a person bullies another individual
while bystanders react in different ways. Subsequently, host John Quinones steps
in to explain the situation and discuss the bystanders’ reactions with assistance
from an expert on the behaviors involved.
During a job interview, expect recruiters to pose behavioral or situation-based
topics and request: Tell me about …, Describe a situation where …, or What you would
do? Among the challenges you face during college is to articulate the attitudes,
skills, and values you acquire and be able to apply them to settings that require
your action. In this article, I will identify a few job interview situations and
summarize an approach for responding to them. Below are eight sample situations
recruiters might pose.
- What was the last difficult decision you made and how (i.e., identify the processes,
steps and resources involved) did you arrive at that decision?
- Describe an example where you dealt with an angry customer or individual in a work
or comparable setting.
- Tell me about the last time you fell short of reaching a goal individually or collectively
as a team and what you would have done differently.
- Describe a situation where multiple priorities were pulling you in several directions
simultaneously and what you did about it.
- Tell me about an instance where you had to deliver bad news requiring integrity
or compassion to an individual or to a group.
- Describe a situation when you were unsuccessful at providing outstanding service
to a customer, individual, or group that depended on you.
- Tell me about a time when you had to go well above and beyond the call of duty in
order to get a job done.
- After you answer a question (most any question) the interviewer stares at you and
remains silent. What would you do?
Why are your responses important? The interviewer will be searching intently for
particular attitudes, skills, and values you express or demonstrate to deal with
that situation, the results you achieved, and what you learned. Your answers enable
that individual to infer how you reach decisions, your level of self-awareness,
your energy and conviction, and how you respond to ambiguity, conflict, and similar
conditions where clear solutions are not apparent. John Jameson, Career Foundations
advisor at Robert Morris University, maintains that because 75% of most jobs are
“trainable,” recruiters must pay close attention to applicants’ decision processes,
values, and similar characteristics that are less “trainable.” Jameson emphasizes
“As a hiring manager, I must be convinced that a candidate has the unwavering commitment
to uphold their values and integrity as a professional.”
You may be months away from a job search but why not try to “solve” examples like
those above that have counterparts in your college experiences. Camille Helkowski,
associate director of the Career Development Center at Loyola University Chicago,
encourages students to use a problem solving approach known as the STAR
- Describe the Situation you were in.
- Explain the Task you needed to accomplish.
- Describe the Action you took.
- Explain the Results of your action. What happened? What did you
accomplish? What did you learn?
To practice STAR, let’s use the example of a group project.
Situation: You are assigned to a four-person group who must research
a topic specified by your professor and provide the class with a 20 minute presentation.
One member, Scott, has not attended any meetings or responded to e-mails and your
presentation is due in 3 weeks.
Task: You are asked by the other two group members to find a way
to get Scott involved in the project. What would you do?
Action: You contact Scott and ask to meet at a mutually convenient
time to discuss the project and get his ideas. At the meeting, you ask him directly
and respectfully about his level of involvement so that the group can better support
his participation. Scott tells you he is absent because he works full time. After
further discussion you contact the other members and plan the remaining meetings
so Scott does not have a conflict. You also identify work he can do on his own
to minimize the time he is required to spend in meetings.
Results: All four members were actively involved in the research
and presentation; the group received an “A” grade. You communicated effectively
with all individuals involved, managed the interpersonal conflicts successfully,
redesigned the work flow and individual assignments, and kept the team working
toward the goal of producing an excellent presentation.
Let’s make the circumstances in this example more complex and use STAR.
- What would you do if the other group members insist that Scott compromise and give
up work to attend two group meetings at times convenient to them?
- What would you do if Scott is sincerely trying to contribute but his full-time job,
the recent death of a parent, and a sick spouse result in his submitting inferior
quality work late?
- What would you do if Scott’s absences from group meetings can not be settled satisfactorily
and your professor refuses to get involved, explaining that resolving such problems
is part of the task?
Now, describe specific values, attitudes, and skills (or absence of) demonstrated
in the resolution of each circumstance by the individuals involved? (Do not search
this page for solutions, because I did not provide any.) Why not apply STAR to these
situations as an exercise at your next Psi Chi meeting?
What can you do to improve your chances of succeeding in a situational interview?
- Identify instances comparable to those above, such as relationships, important decisions,
ethical dilemmas, and tense social interactions you encounter and apply STAR in
an attempt to resolve them. Expect STAR to function as a useful but imperfect problem-solving
- STAR contains components similar to other problem-solving models sometimes presented
in courses such as organizational behavior, cognition, and small group communication.
Review those models and determine their advantages and disadvantages for responding
to behavioral interview topics.
- The website www.emurse.com link to Behavioral Interviews contains a list of questions
in over 50 categories of skills and characteristics written by Alex Rudloff. Check
this and other websites for information about Situational Interviews and Behavioral
- The first seven sample situations described earlier are often encountered in major
campus organizations and clubs. Becoming an active member, better yet—a leader,
can help you prepare for situational job interviews. Similarly, resident hall assistants
are usually trained to deal with diverse problems and conflicts that require strong
communications, conflict management, stress reduction, decision making, time management,
planning and implementation, advocacy, programming, and instructional skills. For
example, during college and after graduation Beth worked in various jobs, subsequently
completed a PsyD degree, directed a university addictions program, and now writes
and lectures on psychotherapy. When I asked Beth which undergraduate experiences
were most important for developing problem-solving and interpersonal skills, she
described her senior year positions as a resident hall assistant and president of
the Student Governing Board. If you think about specific situations an “RA” or
president of student governance confront, you will likely notice they often include
the kinds of conditions posed in the first seven sample situations mentioned earlier.
To be exposed to such experiences, become involved energetically and with conviction
in diverse campus activities (not just Psi Chi) by your junior year with the goal
of becoming a leader. In conjunction with part-time jobs, internships, and coursework,
these experiences will probably contribute significantly to achieving the competence
and confidence you can display, and perhaps with ease, when an interviewer asks
you: What would you do if …. ?
Paul Hettich, PhD, Professor Emeritus at DePaul University (IL), was an Army personnel
psychologist, program evaluator in an education R&D lab, and a corporate applied
scientist—positions that created a “real world” foundation for his career in college
teaching and administration. He was inspired to coauthor Connect College to Career:
A Student Guide to Work and Life Transitions (2005) by graduates and employers who
revealed a major disconnect between university and workplace expectations, cultures,
and practices. Paul thanks his colleagues for their valuable input to this article.
Camille Helkowski is a also a counselor in private practice at
www.camillehelkowski.com and specializes in personal counseling and career
therapy. John Jameson is also founder of
www.ConnectingInsights.net, an organization that specializes in video mock
interviews, and is a former talent and diversity specialist at General Growth Properties.
You can contact Paul at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Winter 2011 issue of Eye on Psi Chi (Vol. 15, No. 2, p. 10), published by
Psi Chi, The International Honor Society in Psychology (Chattanooga, TN). Copyright,
2010, Psi Chi, The International Honor Society in Psychology. All rights reserved.