How to Answer “Tell Me About a Time” Interview Questions

When interviewers ask you to tell them about a specific incident, they want details, so prep your answer in advance.

How to Answer “Tell Me About a Time” Interview Questions

Tell stories that highlight your past successes.

Job interviews vary from company to company, position to position, and interviewer to interviewer, but one thing is constant. You can count on the fact that your interviewer is probably using a behavioral interviewing technique when they ask you "Tell me about a time" interview questions.

This technique uses your past experiences and behaviors as an indicator of your future success. In other words, if you can demonstrate through examples that you accomplished a task before, it's highly likely that you can do it again.

For example, if you saved your company money by streamlining a process and you relate that experience to the interviewer, he will become interested, because there's a strong possibility you could save his company money, too.

Follow these tips to help craft great answers to "Tell me about a time" interview questions.

Be Specific in Your Answers

Sometimes it's difficult to come up with a specific example of a time when you solved a problem or achieved a great accomplishment because the situation (such as managing multiple tasks at once) occurs regularly in your line of work.

For example, when a candidate who had worked in publishing for seven years was asked, "Tell me about a time when you had to juggle priorities to meet a deadline," she almost laughed out loud.

"Juggling priorities is a way of life in the publishing business," she answered. "There's not a day when I don't have to work under that kind of pressure."

Her interviewer persisted, asking for specific examples of this type of demand.

"I could tell you five incidents that happened this week alone," the candidate replied. "I had one person on the phone, received three emails with project changes, and had two deadlines to meet. And that was only on Monday."

For these types of "Tell me about a time" interview questions, the interviewer is seeking information about how the candidate handles priorities and deadlines, how she works under pressure, and how flexible she is.

Since this candidate had a lot of experience in these areas, she would have satisfied the interview question by telling about a specific time when she demonstrated those organizational skills.

She could have shown how she gets things done, no matter what it takes, by saying, "There was an incident last month when I received a frantic phone call from one of the managers, and I had to drop everything to get a change processed. What he asked was almost impossible, but with some help from my team and working some extra hours, I was able to accomplish the goal. The department manager commended me for pulling off the changes and meeting the tight deadline."

Write Down Your Stories

Preparing your stories for "Tell me about a time" interview questions is one of the most beneficial exercises you can do to become focused before your interview. If you say you're good at something, prove it with a story. You should be able to back up anything you say on your resume or in an interview with a story or an example of how you soared in a sticky situation.

Don't trust that your memory is good enough that you'll simply remember all the times you overcame challenges at work. Between the pressure of the interview and the short amount of time in which you have to give your answer, you'll feel much more at ease if you scour your brain for examples ahead of time.

Examples of "Tell Me About a Time" Interview Questions

The exact behavioral interview questions you might be asked are virtually limitless, but here are a few examples of "Tell me about a time" interview questions:

  • Tell me about a time when you felt it was you against everyone else. You thought you were right and that everyone else was wrong. What did you do?
  • Tell me about a time when you were working with someone who wasn't pulling their weight, and they had a different value system than yours. How did you deal with this person?
  • Tell me about a time when you suffered a setback. What happened, and how did you recover?
  • Tell me about a time when you succeeded. Give a specific example.

Get More Job Interviews

"Tell me about a time" interview questions provide you with a priceless opportunity to demonstrate to hiring managers what you're capable of achieving. Want to get in front of more interviewers? Create a free profile on Monster, and we can hook you up with recruiters who are looking to hire.