Tell Me About A Time Question Examples
Tell me about a time when you have identified an opportunity for improvement within your processes?
Tell me about a time your decision was overruled
Tell Me About A Time When You Went Above And Beyond For A Customer
Tell me about a time when you have challenged the usual way of doing things
Tell Me About A Time You Helped A Co-Worker Learn A New Skill
Tell Me About A Project That Failed
Tell Me About A Time You Improved A Process
Tell me about a time you worked well as part of a team
Tell me about a time when you have had to make a decision using only limited information?
Tell Me About A Time Someone Challenged Your Decision
What the interviewer is looking for by asking ‘Tell me about a time’ questions
Interviews are like exams; you show up, someone asks you a question and you give an answer.
Where they differ though is when you are in an exam you usually have the right answer, or you have the wrong answer.
When it comes to an interview the lines aren’t as clear.
You can have bad answers, OK answers, good answers, great answers and perfect answers.
“Tell me about a time” questions are your chance to differentiate yourself from the other candidates, there are no right or wrong answers, only an opportunity for you to showcase your skills and experience.
When an interviewer asks a “Tell me about a time” question they are looking for someone who has experience in the subject matter and want to hear how you have handled the particular situation previously.
The questions they ask are sometimes indicative of what the corporate values and work culture is like.
- Firms that value exceeding customer expectations will ask questions like “Tell me about a time when you went above and beyond for a customer“.
- Organisations that are hiring in order to increase efficiencies will ask questions like “Tell Me About A Time You Improved A Process“.
The exact question you are asked will give you insight into what the interviewer is after. But regardless of the question when you are asked to “Tell me about a time” you know that the interviewer wants to see your experience in the subject matter and how you have tackled those situations and how you would tackle them in the future.
The best approach to answering these style of questions
When answering these type of questions it is important that you give full and detailed answers. But at the same time you need to ensure you remain on point and are not ‘waffling on’ and giving out too many superfluous details that the interviewer does not care about.
That is why we recommend using the B-STAR method. The B-STAR method is specifically designed for you to be able to hit all the key areas that the interviewer is looking for while still keeping your answers within a reasonable time frame.
Let’s take a look at how B-STAR works:
B – Belief – What are your beliefs (or thoughts/feelings) about the topic at hand. Do you have a process or methodology you usually follow when challenged with this topic? Are you passionate about a particular way of working or doing things?
This part of the answer is your chance to talk about your high level non-specific view on the subject.
Q: Tell me about a time when a delay impacted your ability to deliver
A: “I believe it’s very important to always be on time, especially in a professional setting. That is why I always take time to accurately set deadlines that I know are achievable. I appreciate there will always be times when this is not possible so I also feel that as soon as I know I am going to be late I need to inform my colleagues to manage their expectations. There was an occasion…[answer continues with STAR]”
Notice how the answer doesn’t have any details. You are giving the interviewer a look inside how your mind ticks and what frameworks/philosophies you live your life (and your working life) by. The interviewer will now know that the rest of your answer was no fluke occurrence, what you did and what you achieved is directly what you set out to do and falls in-line with your beliefs on the matter.
S – Situation – Set the scene for your tale. What was going on, where were you, who were you with, why were you there? When was this?
Basically the 5 Ws.
A: “A few months ago we (my colleague and I) were supposed to give a presentation in the clients office to provide a status update on their project but my colleague’s train was cancelled and they were going to be over 15 minutes late to the meeting start”
T – Task – What was your responsibility, what had you been assigned to do? Or rather what did you now have to do given the situation?
A: “It was now my responsibility to manage the situation with the client. A client that was very important to the firm and who we had only just started doing business with.
A – Action (or Activity) – What did you actually do? Walk through the steps that you took once you realised your situation all the way through to the end result.
A: “I quickly made a call to my manager to advise of the situation. The guidance from above was that the presentation had to go on as planned. I then called my colleague to get caught up to speed on his slides within the presentation. Luckily I had worked with my colleague to produce the presentation so it was a quick information download for me. I explained the situation to the client and reassured them they were in good hands with me while I delivered the presentation.
R – Result – How did everything play out? Did everything go as planned? You should also talk about any lessons that were learned from this scenario that you put to use in the future.
A: “The meeting ended up going quite well. I did struggle in some of my colleague’s areas but we were able to rectify that later when my colleague arrived. The client was impressed that I was able to cover both roles as seamlessly as I did and the relationship flourished from there. In the future I always ensured that I knew the whole presentation so that this issue would not re-occur.
How NOT to answer these questions
Do not avoid the question. The question is the question. That is what the interviewer wants to know, do not answer some other question that the interviewer hasn’t asked.
Do not describe a failure (unless specifically asked). Failure is important in life, it gives us opportunities to learn and grow. However this is not so easy to explain in an interview setting. Take the easier route and talk about your successes – and feel free to include some lessons learned in the ‘R – Results’ portion of your answer.
Do not downplay the situation. You are trying to sell yourself here. This is not the time or the place to be modest. Tell the interviewer exactly how important the situation was and how crucial you were in it.
Do not overhype the situation. Don’t go too far in selling yourself. Make sure you accurately represent the situation as it happened, once you start embellishing or over-exaggerating encounters the interviewer will pick up on this and you might lose credibility.
Do not say you have no experience with the subject matter. This is difficult to avoid if you truly have no experience with the matter being discussed. So you will need to fake it til you make it. Talk about experience outside of a work setting if you must.
Do not reject the premise of the question. Try to not to belittle the question. The question is being asked because the interviewer believes the subject matter is important to the organisation. You should feel the same (if you still want the job of course)
Do not have a passive role in the situation. The interviewer wants to see what you have done, what steps you took, what actions you drove to completion. Make sure you were an active participant in any example you provide.
Do not give a one-sentence answer. You need to expand on your answer in order to show that you have the necessary experience.
Do not overly describe the scenario and miss the action. Your answers need to focus on what you did and how you helped in the situation. Obviously the scenario needs to be described so everyone knows what was going on but the bulk of your answer needs to hit at what you did and how you will apply that knowledge and experience in the new organisation.
Tell me about a time when you have identified an opportunity for improvement within your processes? – Example Answer
“I am always looking for ways to improve my processes both in work and out of it. I feel that if we are not looking to improve, to optimise then we will stall and eventually get surpassed. Better to be ahead of the pack than overtaken by the pack.
Recently in my current role I was tasked with reviewing and documenting the process for one of our business areas. These teams worked in customer complaints and were primarily responsible for gathering information about our customer to input into the complaint file.
This was a purely manual process and involved the team going into various systems and pulling the relevant data to input into a spreadsheet.
In order to perform my task I shadowed a few colleagues over the course of a week to better learn how they perform their function. From here I noticed a number of things that could be improved.
Firstly the team had to manually check a folder to see if any new complaints had arrived. I suggested that an automated solution could ping an email to the Team Leader to advise when a complaint had arrived and could – if it was wanted by the business – automatically allocate to a team member.
Secondly I noticed that the systems the team would gather data from all had various data feeds coming in and out. My suggestions were to interact with this feed for the complaint so that the data required for the complaint files were automatically shared with the team meaning that they did not need to go into each system. I had a further suggestion that would compile the data into the complaint file but after further analysis I deemed this to not be feasible with the current resources available.
Once I was complete I delivered the documented process maps to the business area and filed my suggestions with the relevant programme manager, who took my suggestions and formed a project that delivered on all of my suggestions and took an action to look at further resource to implement my compilation idea. The successful delivery of the project reduced the time it took to complete a complaint file by 50%.
Tell me about a time your decision was overruled – Example Answer
“When I make a decision I always make sure that I have evaluated each and every option and take a rational approach to choose the optimal one based on the data available. I would say it is not often that my decisions are questions or overruled but when they are I am always appreciative of the feedback provided and, while I try to advocate my position further, if the decision has been made I accept that and see what lessons I can learn for the future.
On one such occasion I had been asked to produce a list of employees who would be suitable for a new task force the organisation was deploying. This would be a great career move for all of the potential members so there was a lot of interest from within the department.
I set about immediately by collating all of the information about the candidates and matching this against a list of required and desirable qualities for task force members. Any colleague that did not have the required qualities was ruled out and then the rest of the candidates were ranked according to how many desirable qualities they showed.
When I presented this list to my director he overruled a number of the choices I had made. I listened to his reasoning for each of the changes and largely agreed (for example 2 of the candidates had disciplinary actions on their file that I did not have access to see).
There was one change that I did not agree with. The director was requesting that a colleague be brought onto the task force when their position in my ranking meant that he would be jumping ahead of 3 other better qualified candidates. The reasoning behind the decision was clear in that the candidate in question was a relative of a senior director elsewhere in the organisation.
I advocated strongly against this change informing my director that doing so would be a case of nepotism that is highly discouraged in our organisation and would look poorly upon myself, the director and might even tarnish the reputation of the newly formed taskforce. Once it was laid out in front of him like that the director acquiesced and we went ahead with the original list of colleagues with the 2 discipline cases swapped out.
Tell Me About A Time When You Went Above And Beyond For A Customer – Example Answer
“I was always taught, as a child, that if a job is worth doing it is worth doing well, and I fully believe that still today, as an adult. I also believe that if you exceed a customer’s expectations by going above and beyond then that customer is many more times likely to revisit your business again down the line.
This is a philosophy I have taken with me to all my previous roles and will take with me to any future roles.
One time I remember going above and beyond was when I was working the Front Desk at my previous employer. Our hotel had a restaurant attached that was popular with guests and non-guests alike.
We had a customer at the restaurant try to book a same night stay at our hotel. Unfortunately for this customer though this was a busy weekend for the hotel and we were fully booked.
Upon learning that the customer was from way out of town and was quite stuck I took it upon myself to call around the other hotels in the area and find him a last minute room. It took about 20 minutes but I managed to find him a place not too far away and ordered him a taxi.
I have seen this customer numerous times since and he has told me that every time he stays in the city for work he now uses our hotel because of how much I helped him out that night.
Because I went above and beyond our hotel managed to turn someone from a restaurant customer to a frequent stayer.”
“I am always looking for ways to improve, be it my own development or trying to enhance the work in the office I believe that we all need to continually evolve else we will be overtaken by others.
On one such occasion I was assigned to oversee a process that was somewhat new to me. I took a short while to ensure I fully understood the end to end process and when I did I started to identify areas that could be improved.
My first ‘enhancement’ was also the most difficult to push across the line. In this organisation we had a number of subcontractors. These subbies would complete invoices on a word document and then email these across to the office staff who would then manually type the invoices into excel where another user would then combine them into other reports.
Coming from an automation background I knew that this process could be better streamlined so I set about seeing our options. I presented these options to my management team along with the estimated costs and benefits of each.
Management approved of my preferred option and tasked me with overseeing the deployment. Getting the subbies on board was easy as our process was similar to other firms that the subbies worked with so it made their jobs easier. The biggest hurdle to overcome was getting the office staff on board with a new process, but after a few training sessions and once they saw how much time would be saved out of their day they eventually came around. I did have to spend the first few days fighting fires though and handholding some colleagues through the process!
Overall the new process was a success and is still being used today saving a lot of time manually re-typing data.”
Tell Me About A Time You Helped A Co-Worker Learn A New Skill – Example Answer
“I love working in a team. I truly believe that when a team is functioning correctly that it is greater than the sum of its parts. More work just seems to get done than would be if we were working independently. That’s why whenever I see a team member struggling I always reach out and try to help for the good of the team. I also adore the feeling when someone learns something as a result of my help. In a different walk of life I might have been a teacher!
There was one occasion when our company was adopting a more Agile approach to our projects. Moving away from waterfall and into a sprint based delivery approach.
I noticed rather early on that one of my colleagues, Jayne, was not grasping the fundamental idea behind the change and was still trying to operate in a waterfall approach.
I approached my manager to ask if we could support some additional training for the team on Agile so that we could all understand the philosophies. He agreed and we all began taking LinkedIn courses in the afternoons.
I reached out to Jayne during these sessions so that we could share notes and discuss what we had learned. I even offered that we should work together on a project so that we could bounce the ideas we had learned off each other.
That was all it took really. After we delivered a couple sprints in our project Jayne was a full Agile convert. She has actually moved out of the team now and has taken a SCRUM master position in a different department.”
Tell Me About A Project That Failed – Example Answer
“Obviously I don’t like to see my projects fail. I always try to plan for enough scenarios and build in enough contingencies to my projects that I am ready for anything. But some times things change and what was going ok yesterday might not be today, so I also believe it’s best not to get too attached to projects and realise when it is the correct move – for the business – to wind the project down.
There was one occasion in early 2020 where a project was facing massive delays. We were attempting to offshore one of our processes and the next step in the project was to send a few trainers overseas to initiate the training sessions. Unfortunately, days before we were due to fly out all flights were cancelled indefinitely (COVID-19)
It was now my job to try to salvage what we could. Our fallback plan was to conduct training sessions via Teams. This was going well until COVID-19 got in our way again. The overseas offices were closed by the government (soon after our own offices would close).
Our team all had the ability to work from home however the offshore colleagues did not.
We started to perform analysis on what it would take our end to get all of the required colleagues trained and working from home. It readily became apparent that the initial costs of deploying such a solution would be higher than the expected benefits over the coming years.
As a result I proposed to senior management that we terminate the project as it no longer made commercial sense. My proposal was accepted and the project was halted and the colleagues were assigned to other projects.
All was not lost however as we were able to repurpose the training materials to be used for our onshore colleagues which saw a reduction in the time spent in attaining competency.“
Tell Me About A Time You Improved A Process – Example Answer
“I am a big fan of continuous improvement. I am always looking for ways to improve my skills and to make the people and processes around me better and more efficient. I wouldn’t go as far as saying it is my passion but something I very much enjoy doing is automating repetitive functions.
One such occasion was in a previous role where I was working in the accounts department of a flooring company. This firm employed numerous contractors across the country who would be submitting expense reports and invoices regularly.
My job was to receive these emails and transpose the data into our accounting software in order for payment to be made.
As I was interested in automation I knew that a lot of repetitive type data entry tasks could be automated. But I wasn’t sure how. So before I approached my managers with my idea I did some research into various solutions.
Once I found how it could be done I pitched the idea to my managers who were totally on board. We hired an IT contractor who automated the entire process within a week.
The end result was instead of spending 20 hours a week on expense reports and invoices I spent just the 1 hour doing quality checks of the tool, leaving me an additional 19 hours a week to spend on other value adding tasks for the firm”
Tell me about a time you worked well as part of a team – Example Answer
“I love working in a team, I find the collaboration and task specialisation that group working offers allows for higher quality and more efficient outputs – than what would happen working solo.
In a previous role I actually initiated a shared team approach to our process. At the time the department I was working in was responsible for handling customer complaints for a large retail bank.
The process that we followed had 3 main phases; reviewing the complaint, calculating moneys owed in redress and production/mailing of the payment. Each member of the team would be assigned one case and would work the case through each phase to the end. We were expected to work 2 cases a day which meant 50 cases a day for the department.
I had a knack for the calculation aspect of the work and was able to breeze through them quicker than anyone else in the team. I noticed that other colleagues would struggle with the calculations not only with how long it took them but with the overall quality.
I suggested to my manager that we break the process down and allocate people based on their strengths. I took over calculations for the department while other colleagues were put on review and payments.
Using this team approach to the task we quickly started to hit 80 cases a day and even hit 100 cases a few times, a feat that I attribute to the team work we showed”
Tell me about a time when you have had to make a decision using only limited information? – Example Answer
“When I worked as a store manager for X I was there on Day 1 of a new store opening and it was my job to make the staff schedule.
Now if you’ve ever been responsible for creating the shift rota you know that the number of colleagues you need is based on forecasts. Forecasts that are largely driven from past data.
But this was a new store so I needed to decide how many staff we should have in without knowing how many staff we were going to need!
I had to think about things tactically. While it would not be ideal to have too many staff in it would be worse if we had too few; so any judgements I were to make would have to err on the side of over staffing.
Through my experience I knew how many staff members were needed to manage a store when empty and when at peak. Now I just needed to make an informed estimate of how many customers to expect.
I reached out to similar sized stores in the organisation and started to speak to the store owners within the area to get an idea of what to face.
Eventually using the information I had gathered I completed the schedule. Day of opening rolled around and luckily we had enough staff to motor through, toward the end of the shift we probably had too many colleagues on the shop floor but that just meant we were able to provide even better customer service. Gotta make a great first impression after all!
After things had settled down I reported to my senior management team that in the future it would be wise to provide the store manager with the analysis that was used when deciding to open the store in this location as it would have had a lot of the necessary information for me to make my decision”
Tell Me About A Time Someone Challenged Your Decision– Example answer
“Whenever I make a decision in work (or anywhere for that matter!) I ensure that I have looked at all the possible options and weighed the pros / cons accordingly to make sure my decision is the most effective one for the organisation as a whole.
That is why I enjoy when others question or challenge my decisions, as it allows me to hear differing opinions and improves my decision making abilities for the next time.
One such occasion occurred recently. I was put in charge of choosing a supplier for a part we needed on a new product range. We had taken proffers from 4 firms and it was my job to decide who to go with.
Using all of the information I could gather I made my choice, but before I rubberstamped my decision I invited some of the key stakeholders to a meeting to talk things over.
It was at this meeting that my preferred choice was challenged. The colleague raised good points in favour of one of the other suppliers, namely that we have used this supplier before so were already familiar with how they operated and would not need to create new relationships.
I agreed with my colleague and politely told them that I had considered that information when making my decision. I explained that the supplier I had chosen was cheaper than the supplier we have a relationship with. I also showed how this new supplier had recently hired a number of key personnel from our usual supplier meaning that we would be liaising with people we already had existing relationships with. Granted we would still need to create new accounts for the new supplier but for the cost savings I believed it was well worth it.
Once I mentioned this the colleague was immediately relieved, her main cause of concern was with dealing with new suppliers as our products were highly specialised and it often took a while for suppliers to get used to our requirements.
After the meeting I signed the contracts for the new supplier and we have received a number of shipments from them without incident.