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Crush Your Behavioral Interviews by Understanding the Pivot Point

interview tips Sep 29, 2022

The best way to determine which actions to present in your behavioral interview answers is to understand the “pivot point.” This is one of the simplest methods you can use to crush your behavioral answers.

What is the Pivot Point?

Most candidates fail to identify the pivot point. It is the strategic point where you introduce your actions within your behavioral answer. In other words, when you hear the question, when should your actions start?

Oftentimes, the contextual information and minor actions that come before the true pivot point are not answering the question. This can cause your interviewer to get bored and shut down before you actually get to the good stuff. You’re not really answering what they asked of you, and you will end up losing their attention. Remember, past performance predicts future performance. You want to get into the actions that the question is trying to uncover as quickly as possible.

Item #1—Clarity

We need to take four simple steps before we get started:

  1.   Write the Question Down
  2.   Ask Your Interviewer to Restate the Question (if needed)
  3.   You restate the Question
  4.   Take Your Time (up to 1 minute)

It’s okay to say something like, “I’m going to take a minute to gather my thoughts.” Take your time to understand the “pivot point” to provide a thoughtful/relevant answer. If you have prepared for your interview properly, you will already know the answer inside and out. However, the question itself may not be asking for all those actions. Taking some extra time here can help you better understand the actual question and which actions you need to highlight in your answer.

Item #2—Set Up

Briefly talk about the situation and task to provide enough context. However, these items should be completed in 30 seconds or less. State your role in the company to establish credibility. Then, the critical area is the next two sentences. You will detail the relevance of the project, including people, processes, technologies, etc. Then, you are going to briefly outline the task. Explain what you were tasked with and the timeline you had to do it.

Those two sentences will set the stage for the pivot point, as you will see in my example questions and answers below. 

Item #3—Example Question #1

Tell me about a time you had a conflict and how you resolved it?

This is a great example to start with because the pivot point is often misunderstood in conflict resolution questions. Your interviewer doesn’t actually care about how the conflict started. They want to know how you resolved it. Remember the story of the conflict itself is not action oriented. You are going to want to get to the resolution right away.

“This is an example from my time as a Program Manager at Apple, focused on new feature delivery for Apple Watches. My colleague, Bob, a Product Manager, did not agree with my timeline to launch a new heart rate feature on our Apple Watch Series 6. Let me tell you about the actions I took over a one-month period to get this new feature launched. The first action I took was to schedule a one-on-one with Bob.” 

In this example, we are only 20 seconds in and we’re already into the first action. The interviewer doesn’t need to know your full background with Bob and what led up to this conflict. The situation is simple. You want to release this new feature and Bob doesn’t. Any additional information is just going to slow down your ability to get to the pivot point and start focusing on the resolution items.

Item #4—Example Question #2

Tell me about a time when a program, project, or initiative was running behind schedule, and the step(s) you took to get things back on track?

In most behavioral interviews, you’ll get at least one question about when things did not go right and how you were able to resolve the issue. Again, we don’t need to give all that background context of how things got off track. This will only take away from the pivot point and your ability to get to the action steps you took. 

“This is an example from my time as a Sales Account Manager at Google, working with enterprise clients utilizing Google Ads. We were working to improve automation for our display campaigns, and we were seriously behind schedule on delivering these improvements to three critical enterprise customers. Each had more than a $10 million yearly Google Ad spend. Let me tell you how I partnered with both marketing and engineering to get things back on track in less than one quarter. The first action I took was to sit down with marketing to discuss communications.” 

Like the first example, the setup here is very fast. We’re getting to the actions in about 25 seconds. All the other previous challenges or delays are irrelevant. The pivot point is getting things moving toward getting the project back on schedule.

Item #5—Example Question #3

Tell me about your greatest accomplishment?

This is another very common behavioral question. In many cases, it is the most difficult because you might have a longer story behind it and there isn’t always a clear pivot point. There isn’t one word in this question that would trigger a first action. You will need to think about the main pivot point that led you to the accomplishment.

“This is an example from my time as a Technical Recruiter at Google, focused on hiring Program Managers. Early on in my career, I identified a few critical systems and processes that helped me deliver an awesome candidate experience for those interviewing at Google. My goal was to share this process and these systems with my recruiting colleagues by creating a global training program to help them create the same experience. Let me tell you about the actions I took over the next one-year period to make this goal a reality. The first action I took was to socialize a training system that I created for my team of 20.”

This example shows how you can get into your actions quickly and find the right pivot point within your answer. Here, the pivot point is setting the tone for what I wanted to accomplish. I’m starting with an action that took me in the right direction rather than going all the way back to the beginning. Any of the additional actions that took place beforehand would just drag out the story and keep me from getting to the real accomplishment and action steps I want to share.

For more insight on this topic, please watch my full video below:

To stay in touch with me and Practice Interviews training resources, follow my YouTube channel, check out my blog or sign up on the website.


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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