How to Answer ‘Tell Me About a Time’ Interview Questions

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One of the most common interview questions is the inquiry that starts with ‘Tell me about a time’. During an interview, it is common for an employer to ask about specific situations you experienced or overcame in the workplace. In this article, you can review strategies for answering ‘Tell me about a time’ questions and practice answering some of the most common questions in this category.

What are ‘Tell me about a time’ interview questions?

‘Tell me about a time’ interview questions can target how you handle certain situations or provide insight into your general behavior and attitude. They ask about a candidate’s unique experience, so answers to this question should be as specific as possible. Some employers phrase these questions differently by asking directly how you handled a question or using sentence stems such as ‘Describe a time when…’ or ‘Give me an example of when…’ then listing the scenario.

Why do employers ask ‘Tell me about a time’ interview questions?

Employers ask ‘Tell me about a time’ interview questions in order to determine how a candidate might handle common situations if they were selected for the position. Your answer can help them assess whether you have learned from your past experiences in a way that you can apply to their company. They also want to see that the candidate has the ability to talk about the most relevant information in a situation. Because these questions are open-ended, it is your responsibility to give an answer that shows your qualifications for the job instead of simply sharing a workplace story.

Tips for answering ‘Tell me about a time’ interview questions

Use the following tips when preparing your answer for an interview question that begins with ‘Tell me about a time’:

Choose a relevant story

Before going to your interview, think about different impactful moments in your work life, including challenges and successes. The best answers to behavioral and situational interview questions include a description of the situation, an action you took and the result of your actions. Making connections about which of your stories are relevant to the job before the interview can help you develop a stronger response in the moment.

Be purposeful with how your answer relates to the job

Once you have decided on a few stories you could share during your interview, consider what each one says about you as an applicant. Think about how each story could relate to different responsibilities and requirements of the job. Have a goal for what you would like the interviewer to know about you after each question. Being purposeful with how your experience makes you a good applicant can help you use each interview question to your advantage.

Summarize the situation

Prepare to summarize your experience in a short sentence as a way to wrap up each answer. This shows that you have put thought into your answer and highlights the most important aspects of your experience.

Common ‘Tell me about a time’ questions to prepare before an interview

Here are some of the situational and behavioral questions you might encounter during a job interview with example answers:

Tell me about a time you failed

Employers who ask this question want to know about your ability to handle failure and grow from it. When answering this question, describe the situation and explain what you did to correct the failure.

Example: ‘When I began my career in publishing, I was over-eager to prove myself and promised that I could meet several ambitious deadlines. I tried to impress my boss by finishing an assignment in two weeks that should have taken about a month, but the final product was so rushed that the company couldn’t use it. I quickly learned that I could do my job better by being more humble, asking for help and being realistic about my abilities.’

Tell me about a time you had to handle a conflict with a coworker

Handling conflict is an essential part of working with others. Answers to this question should be solution-oriented and show your ability to work maturely with a variety of personalities.

Example: ‘When I was promoted to manager, one of my coworkers began refusing to communicate with me because she was upset that she was not offered the promotion first. I tried to put myself in her shoes instead of being defensive because I know what it is like to feel passed-over for an opportunity and she was great at her job. I met with her and we had a discussion about what I could do to encourage her growth and help her feel appreciated.’

Tell me about a time you solved a problem at work

When answering this question, try to focus on a situation where you went above and beyond the expectations of your job. Most jobs require some level of problem-solving, so the best answers also show your ability to be creative and take initiative.

Example: ‘As a medical receptionist, I had a day where one of the doctors had to unexpectedly leave the office. Instead of having to reschedule any patients, I noticed that I could stagger the other doctors’ appointments and fit everyone in without overworking any one person. I learned that thinking through all possible solutions before acting is extremely important.’

Tell me about a time that you experienced big changes at work

Being able to adapt to change is a highly desired skill among many employers. When answering this question, be mindful of expressing a positive attitude and a growth mindset.

Example: ‘The landscaping company I have worked with for the past several years changed owners shortly after I finished my initial training. Up until that point, I was mostly experienced in lawn care, but the new owner began taking on more complex projects for hotels and corporate headquarters. I asked to work with more experienced technicians on complicated projects so that I could learn by watching them, and I quickly learned I had a talent for large-scale landscape design.’

Tell me about a time when you had to choose between two important priorities.

Employers ask this question to determine how well you prioritize different tasks. They also want to see that a candidate takes their responsibilities seriously and can justify their choices.

Example: ‘After I received my bachelor’s degree in computer science, I planned to immediately go to graduate school. I got accepted with a great scholarship, but shortly after I graduated I got offered a really interesting job that would let me learn complex coding languages and development platforms in a hands-on environment. I accepted the job and had an amazing experience that I feel helped prepare me more to get the most out of a graduate program in the future.’