Job Search Advice – Cruise Through Behavioral Questions in Your CAR


Cruise Through Behavioral Questions in Your CAR  |

By Mike Francomb  |  senior vice president of marketing at RecruitMilitary and a former captain in the United States Army  |

Published in the March/April  2011  issue of print Search & Employ®  |

An interviewer’s main technique is to ask questions, and there are two basic types of interview questions: traditional and behavioral. A traditional question makes a general inquiry about your background and experiences.  An example would be, “Could you tell me about yourself?” In answering a traditional question, be brief and to the point. A rule of thumb for answering a traditional question is to respond in 20 to 120 seconds.

Behavioral interviewing is much more probing, and it works very differently. The basic principle of behavioral interviewing is: The best predictor of future performance is past performance in a similar situation.

Behavioral questions are easy to identify. The interviewer will ask you to tell about a past situation. For example: “Tell me about a time when you felt that a team member on a project wasn’t pulling his or her weight.” Other opening phrases of behavioral questions include: “How have you handled….” “Describe a situation….” “What did you do when….” “Give me an example of….”

Your response to a behavioral question should be specific and detailed. Frame your answer using the CAR technique. CAR stands for Circumstances, Actions, Results.

CBriefly describe the circumstances surrounding a critical event in which you were a central figure. Identify a goal that had to be reached, including the most critical tasks you had to accomplish, or obstacles you had to overcome.
ADescribe the specific actions you took as a central figure in reaching the goal.
RState the results of your actions. The outcome should clearly show the quality of your effort, but do not assume that the interviewer will be impressed by a qualitative answer. Quantify your answer whenever possible.

Here is an example of how to use the CAR technique.

Question:  Tell me about a time when you were given a difficult task to accomplish and how you achieved success.

Circumstances:  When I was new on the job as a programmer, I joined a group that was in the middle of a major file conversion project. It was my job to take over all of Bob’s responsibilities, because he was being transferred to New Jersey. On his last day before being transferred, he explained the status of all of his assigned programs. Most of his work was in good order, except for one project, a database conversion program. He was experiencing a major programming error, and he had been unable to isolate the problem. He left on the evening of the Friday before Thanksgiving for his going-away party, leaving me with a faulty database conversion program and no hint of what the problem might be or how to fix it.

Actions:  First, I traced the problem through the core dump to isolate where the program was aborting. After I corrected this error and had the program running smoothly, I thoroughly reviewed the analyst’s design to ensure that the conversion program was running as per the design. Finally, I tested the newly converted data base to ensure that the new system could access all data successfully.

Results:  We ran the database conversion program successfully over Thanksgiving weekend, and all new programs came up as designed and worked perfectly the Monday after Thanksgiving. At the project celebration party a few weeks later, the project manager presented me with a bottle of champagne for my success at handling the most important part of conversion weekend, the database conversion.

About the Author

This article was written by Jay Myers