Inside: The framework you need to answer “tell me about a time” interview questions.
After “tell me about yourself,” some of the next most common interview questions follow the “tell me about a time” format.
Answering the “tell me about a time” interview questions can leave people feeling a little stuck, or a lot rambly, but there is a great way to approach these questions.
What is the SOAR Method?
Here’s how this works. To answer “tell me about a time” interview questions you break down your story using the SOAR acronym.
SITUATION: Where were you? What was going on?
OBSTACLE: What was the problem?
ACTION: What did you do to solve the problem?
RESULT: What were the results of your actions?
But we can have a lot more fun learning this acronym than just listing it out, right?
Answer “Tell Me About a Time” Interview Questions with SOAR
Interviewer: Tell me about a time when you kept your composure under pressure.
S – Situation
When our kids were born 15 months apart, Glen and I knew that there would be a couple of years during which any attempt to do things would be complicated. Between bottles, and diaper changes, and potty training, if we were going to leave the house it was going to be an event and we were going to be pack mules.
We still went places and did things, but on a pretty strict time table and while carrying a diaper bag so large it really warranted its own zip code.
Then all of a sudden Norah was drinking milk from a cup and didn’t require numerous bibs. Then Jack mastered bathroom skills and we only had one kid in diapers with the significantly lower diaper blow out risk that comes with age and wisdom. Mostly age. So to go anywhere we could just grab an oversized grocery bag, or a canvas purse if I was feeling classy, and fill it to the brim with snacks. Things were getting simpler.
But then we got cocky and thought we should bring the kids to a minor league baseball game.
“It’ll be fine…”
O – Obstacle
And honestly, it was mostly fine. We got to the park without incident. The kids’ eyes got all big and “oh my goodness we are having an Americana moment” cute when they saw the field for the first time. Then we spent our life savings to let them ride some carnival rides and jump in bounce houses in the Kids’ Zone before the game started.
We paid for dinner from the concession stand, extending our retirement age target by three years, and settled into seats right on the third baseline. Sans protective net. I spent the next hour nervously praying that 1) these minor league players were professional hit the ball straighters and 2) I would naturally be a good enough parent to disregard my own safety if a line drive foul ball came flying at our heads. Protect the family, Becca. PROTECT THE FAMILY.
But that wasn’t the real obstacle, the real obstacle came after we had collectively decided that three innings of a ball game were about right for a three-year-old and a two year old with approaching bedtimes. We got all the way to the car when Jack turned to me and said the five words any parent with a toddler or preschooler dreads when they are in the no man’s land between their previous destination and future destination. “I have to go potty.”
Actually six words. “I have to go potty. NOW.”
A – Action
I had to take action immediately on this one. Quick scan, no bathroom to be seen in this parking garage. Peeing behind the car was not an option as this was not a pee situation. I had to get my teenage sized three year old to a bathroom stat and the only bathroom I was familiar with was back in the stadium.
The rest of the story will be more entertaining if you play this music while you read:
So I scoop up Jack, who by the way is donning full Spiderman facepaint, and start sprinting down the parking garage stairs. We bang a quick right out of the garage towards the back entrance of the stadium. I’m sure our game tickets were somewhere in my gigantic purse but there was no time for that. I had to convince the ticket taker that we needed immediate entrance. It was a rather straightforward negotiation.
“Spiderman has gotta go, do the right thing, man.”
Onto the next challenge, sprinting up the stairs carrying my dear Spider child while feeling the burn from my thighs down deep into my soul. Thanks for the height DNA so generously passed along to my son, Dutch ancestors…
We made it to the top of the stairs and now had to quickly locate restroom signs and then run the gauntlet of families buying cotton candy, some guy dressed up as a toothbrush mascot, toddling toddlers, and hawkers selling ice-cold beer. Summoning the strength of ten moms plus two, I kept Jack securely on my hip and weaved our way through the crowd with cat-like speed and dexterity.
If that’s not taking A for action, I don’t know what is.
R – Result
We ducked, dived, and dodged and made it into the bathroom with mere seconds to spare. A rousing success made possible by my speed, strength, focus, and quick problem-solving skills. As well as my son’s ability to hold it.
Jack was happy for biological reasons. I was happy because my gigantic purse did not contain a change of clothes for anyone in my family. The ballpark and parking garage employees were happy and they didn’t even know that they had the very real possibility of being very unhappy.
Everyone won that day.
Why SOAR Works for Tell Me About a Time Interview Questions
Now in a real interview you’re going to want to spend less time setting the scene in the situation phase, and less time adding unnecessary details in the obstacle phase. But what I did well here was showing the action I took to overcome the obstacle. The skillset I wanted to highlight was brought to the forefront without simply listing my strengths. Stories speak louder than lists.
And then the result phase is critical. What happened because of the action you took? How did you improve the situation, overcome the obstacle, take action and make something good happen?
Okay, I hear you. This was a super weird way to teach you how to answer “tell me about a time” interview questions. But it was also a pretty fun way to show how the SOAR method helps you structure your answer and showcase your skills.
And I bet you’ll remember it. (Wink)