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How to Answer Behavioral Questions Using the Sandwich Analogy

interview tips Aug 31, 2021

What if I told you a great sandwich is the key to great behavioral answers? 

Think about it this way. The top piece of bread is the situation. The bottom piece of bread represents the results. And, the actions are what is in between—meat, veggies or both!

Before you run off to make a sandwich, I want you to think about this sandwich analogy and how it can help you provide better answers to behavioral questions in a job interview. The interviewer is looking for you to provide examples of how you overcame challenges and produced tangible results in your current/past positions. The sandwich analogy will provide you with a simple and easy-to-follow structure you can use to construct better behavioral answers.

The bread is key for holding things together. And, though it is tasty and a critical part of the sandwich, the meat and veggies are really why we eat the sandwich. Now, put the same thought and effort you put into making a sandwich into your behavioral answers. This enables you to be more connected to the importance of each item. Let’s walk through each item and I’ll explain further.

The Situation—The Top Slice of Bread

For this analogy, I want you to think of white, wheat or rye bread. That’s because these are thin slices of bread that are still dense enough to hold your sandwich together. Don’t envision a bulky sub roll for this exercise.

The top piece of bread (i.e., the situation in your behavioral example) should be dense, yet thin. It is a simple and clear introduction of the situation you encountered. You will want to include your role, the company and any key context that is needed. You can provide one or two high-level, yet specific details regarding people, processes or technologies. Specify your key responsibilities and timelines. This top piece of bread accounts for only one sixth of the sandwich (30 seconds). You are trying to establish a foundation without taking over the whole sandwich.

The Actions—The Meat and/or Veggies

Think about the traditional meat and veggies in an American sandwich. When we picture a sandwich, we mostly think about what is in the middle. The bread is important and adds some flavor, but ultimately it’s about the tasty ingredients inside. Most people aren’t going to the deli to order two plain slices of bread!

The biggest challenge with showing actions in a behavioral interview answer is that many candidates simply forget to build a sandwich with enough filling. It’s like buying a $12 sandwich with only one slice of roast beef inside!

You also want to have a good balance between the meat and veggies. Veggies are the initial research, planning and conversations. Think of the meat as the execution, testing, launch, presentation, and documentation. The meat and/or veggies should account for two thirds of your sandwich (two minutes). 

The Results—The Bottom Slice of Bread

Like the top piece of bread, the bottom slice serves the function of holding your sandwich together. However, the difference is that we actually look at the top slice when we are eating. It establishes the function. The bottom slice, on the other hand, is hidden and only reveals its importance once we pick up the sandwich and start eating it. 

The biggest challenge many interview candidates face is that they are eating a sandwich with only the top slice of bread. It is important in your behavioral answers to show the results of your actions. Think about how the bottom slice of bread holds everything together. Make sure your results are answering the question, clearly defining what is repeatable, and showing the true impact. This bottom slice of bread also only accounts for only one sixth of the sandwich (30 seconds). 

Transitions—Condiments

Nobody likes a dry sandwich. You need condiments like mayo or mustard. A sandwich is still pretty good without condiments, but it is generally better with them. The condiments in our analogy represent the transitions between the bread, meat and veggies. It’s important to transition smoothly between each section of your answer. Make sure that the transitions are smooth from the situation to the actions, between each action, and finally when you transition from the actions to the solution. You don't want clumps of mustard or mayo!

So, if you can make a great sandwich, you can also put together a great behavioral answer! If you are able to follow this simple analogy, you will provide great examples in your interview!

Check out my full video on the sandwich analogy below:

For more interview tips, follow my YouTube Channel. Also, be sure to sign up on Practice Interviews for additional resources and for information about our personal interview coaching services.


Jeff H. Sipe

Jeff has interviewed over 1000 people in his career and previously spent five years working at Google headquarters in Silicon Valley. You likely found Jeff through YouTube and you will find the same level of dedication in his one on one practice interview sessions.

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