Dear New Shrink,

I recently had an interview that did not go very well. I had a really hard time expressing my thoughts and answering the interviewer’s questions. In particular, I had a hard time thinking of a workplace conflict that I’ve had to overcome. This is mainly because I haven’t really experienced any conflict in my workplace and tend to be a pushover when it comes to confronting others. How should I deal with these questions? Do you have any advice to help me succeed in the interview in general?

Signed,

Nervous Interviewee

Dear Nervous Interviewee,

Successful interviewing takes practice and confidence. First off, consider that you have already passed round one. They were impressed by your resume and experience and now it’s up to you to confirm and strengthen their initial impressions.

The type of question you are describing is considered a behavioral interview question. Employers often ask these types of questions to get a better sense of your performance and the skills you utilize to handle situations that are also likely to come up in their company. The basic idea here is that past performance predicts future performance.

While you mention that you have not dealt with conflict in your job, I would encourage you to step back and consider whether there were any times when you and a coworker disagreed about a particular idea. It might have been when or how to contact a client, the allocation of responsibilities on an assignment, or how to approach a particular project. Regardless of what the content of the disagreement was, your answer should focus on how you have handled the situation and negotiated points with your colleague.

To answer behavioral questions I often advise my clients to use a four-step approach called CARR. This method is useful to ensure that you include all elements so the interviewer can easily understand and assess your background. Ideally, your answer should demonstrate your transferable qualities or traits that you bring to the company.

The C in CARR stands for “context.” At the start of your response you should discuss the situation; who was involved, what did the project entail, and what was the issue that arose? Setting up the situation will help the interviewer to understand the context and circumstances revolving around the disagreement of ideas.

The A stands for “action.” Describe the actions that you specifically took. Your answer should focus on the specific skills you utilized to handle the situation. The first R stands for “Results.” Tell the interviewer what happened in the end and how you handled the situation.

The example you choose does not have to be a perfect example, sometimes the best answers to behavioral questions are circumstances where things did not work out but your answer focuses on what you learned from the situation and how you would handle things next time around.

The final R stands for “relate.” Relate your experience, skills, and qualities gained to the traits requested in the job description. Focusing on how your past experience connects to their company will ensure that you make the most of your answer. Too many candidates just address the problem and therefore miss out on a great opportunity to highlight their skills and professional qualities.

Try practicing the CARR method by writing out a few case examples. While not all interviewers will ask about conflict, they may ask about other key qualities such as a time when you demonstrated leadership, strong communication skills, or initiative. Think back to work experiences or team projects where certain issues have come up. Consider writing down these examples and attaching specific elements to the CARR framework. Preparing your answers or brainstorming situations ahead of time will ensure that you have a strong answer ready to impress the interviewer.

Beyond this I think the most important thing is to practice. Saying your ideas out loud in front of a mirror or with a friend will help you to prepare. You may also want to tape or video record your answers so you can analyze your response. It is also important that you prepare for your interview. Research the company and re-read all of your interview materials and the job description. Every part of your interview should connect to what they are looking for. For instance if the job description notes that they are looking for someone with strong communication and analytical skills then your examples, answers and descriptions should focus on how you have exhibited and perfected these skills. Finally, consider your professional presentation. Wear a suit, speak with confident and well-paced speech, and always send a follow-up thank you note or e-mail. The more you practice and prepare, the more confident you will be in the real interview. Good luck and knock their socks off!

KATRINA DAVY is a professional career counselor who holds degrees from Cornell and Columbia universities. Send your questions to newshrink@gmail.com. All questions are kept anonymous; let us help you with your life matters!