The interview question “Tell me about a time you went above and beyond” can be a golden opportunity for you as a candidate—as long as you prepare ahead of time. At best, this classic behavioral question is a chance to show off one of your greatest accomplishments related to the job you’re interviewing for. At worst, a vague or unfocused answer could leave your interviewer feeling like you’re unmotivated or lazy.
So how do you make sure you nail your answer when you’re telling a story about how you exceeded expectations—and why are you being asked to do it in the first place?
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Why Do Interviewers Ask About When You Went Above and Beyond?
When interviewers ask any question, “They are always trying to identify specific skills, competencies, and personality traits that they need to help them fulfill their goal,” says Eloise Eonnet, Muse career coach and founder of Eloquence Coaching. “Tell me about a time you went above and beyond” is no exception. Interviewers want to know that you’ll go the extra mile when you can, specifically in ways that will help them and their team or their company overall. Additionally, this question can show interviewers how motivated you are and whether you'll settle for mediocre or “good enough” rather than striving for great in your own work, says Muse career coach Steven Davis, owner of Renaissance Solutions Inc.
How Do You Answer “Tell Me About a Time You Went Above and Beyond”?
Here are a few steps to follow to prepare and give an impressive answer:
1. Figure Out What Skills, Qualities, or Experience You Want to Convey
Remember, in addition to your motivation, your answer to this question can also illustrate specific skills, accomplishments, and/or other traits you possess. So take some time to figure out which attributes you’d like to convey. These qualifications can relate to the position you’re looking to nab—for example, “For a sales position, they are [usually] looking for go-getters who will always go the extra mile to land a deal,” Eonnet says. Or they might be relevant to the company you’re hoping to join—for example, “For a startup, they are [often] looking for self-starters who take initiative and spearhead projects without much direction,” Eonnet says. If the person in this role will be in charge of solving a specific problem or completing a certain project, you might want to show the interviewer how you went above and beyond while doing similar work in the past.
To figure out what skills, experiences, or qualities are important for this position, review the job description, think about anything you learned about the role or company from earlier interviews, and do some research on the company’s website, social media, and Muse profile—if they have one. Then, match the qualifications they’re looking for with attributes you possess to nail down what you should be emphasizing—both in this answer and others throughout your interview.
2. Select the Right Story
Any time an interview question starts with “Tell me about a time…” that’s a signal that your interviewer is looking to hear a story detailing a specific scenario. Telling a story can show your skills and qualifications in action, as opposed to just listing them, which doesn’t give the interviewer any proof or context.
So the core of your answer to “Tell me about a time you went above and beyond” will be the story you choose to tell, and you want to make sure it’s a good one. A “good” story will be relevant to the work you’d be doing in this position and will communicate the qualifications you chose to convey, says Muse career coach Lynn Berger. And it may seem obvious, but make sure you pick a story about a time you successfully went above and beyond what was expected of you. So don’t just recount your greatest achievement or a situation where you really crushed what was asked of you; talk about a time you did more than you needed to and delivered more than your boss, teammates, or customers thought you would.
Read More: 4 Ways to Go Above and Beyond at Your Job
3. Use the STAR Method to Construct Your Answer—With a Few Additions
Once you know what qualities you want to convey and what story you want to tell, it’s time to put your answer together. First, don’t just assume that the interviewer will interpret what you’re hoping they will from your story. Help them connect the dots by leading with the quality you want to put forward and explaining why that quality led to you going above and beyond, Eonnet says. And “start with enthusiasm for your accomplishment,” Berger says. For example, if interviewing for a role or company where teamwork and collaboration are important, you might begin your answer with something like:
“I’m someone who really gets a sense of satisfaction from helping others, and I’ll always go above and beyond when a coworker needs some support.”
From there, tell your story. One great way to structure it is using the STAR method. STAR stands for:
- Situation (the context around your story)
- Task (what you were expected to do)
- Action (what you did, with an emphasis on the piece that was above and beyond)
- Results (the outcomes of your actions)
As you tell your story, be sure you’re describing how you did what you did and make your answer outcome-oriented by highlighting the impact you had on the business or your team, Eonnet says.
What does this look like in practice? Continuing with the answer we started above, you might say something like:
Situation: “In my last role, a group of marketing coordinators needed to put together a presentation for the decision makers at the company on a new marketing campaign we were proposing for the next quarter.”
Task: “I was in charge of analyzing the results of three past marketing campaigns with similar components to the one we were proposing and deciding what we could keep the same and what should be changed. Then, I was supposed to pass my work to a teammate so they could suggest new strategies for this campaign based on what I’d found.”
Action: “I completed my analysis and passed it to my coworker, but I noticed that they seemed overwhelmed. They mentioned that they’d been out the week before unexpectedly due to some personal issues, and they were still trying to catch up. I asked if it would be helpful for them to have a short meeting where we could talk through my analysis and start to brainstorm solutions together. Our meeting went really well, and afterward, I stayed late to write it all up. I did some research to figure out how viable these strategies were based on competitors’ campaigns and double-checked how our idea for increased social media spend would fit into our overall ad budget.”
Results: “My coworker was extremely thankful for my help and they were able to use what I’d sent them to get their part of the presentation done on time. The presentation went well and the campaign was approved. My coworker gave me a shoutout at our next team meeting and going forward, we all made a habit of checking in with one another to see if we could help with anything. Not only did we all get more efficient and end up with a bit less stress, but we also learned new aspects of one another's jobs so that it was easier to fill in when someone was out or left the company.”
Once you’ve finished your story, Davis recommends ending with an invitation to your interviewer to ask any follow-up questions. This can help transform a question-and-answer interview into a genuine conversation. So you might end your answer with:
“I’m happy to share more details about the campaign or how I helped out my teammates, or we can continue.”
“Tell Me About a Time You Went Above and Beyond” Example Answers
If you’re in account management or another client-relations role, you might want to give an example of how you’ve gone above and beyond for a customer. For instance:
“As an account manager, I always try to go above and beyond for the client—one of my favorite parts of the job is finding the right solution for their problem. For example, I once had a client who was at risk of churning after one year using our task-management software, and my job was to renew their contract.
“Rather than boasting about all the new features on the way, I asked them what they needed and what issues they were having with our product. They told me that one thing that was really missing was the ability to remove people from tasks and projects—their employees were getting overrun with alerts on projects they’d completed their work on months ago and missing relevant notifications within all that noise. I knew that there were enhanced tagging features on a higher tier of our product, but instead of insisting that moving up was the only option, I went over all the features of the upgraded tier with them and found that the only one they could use at the moment was this enhanced tagging.
“So I went to my manager and then to our product team and found out that there was no technical reason this feature couldn’t be offered as its own upsell. I chatted with other AMs and looked through my own account list to predict how many additional clients might buy this feature if it was offered on its own. After seeing that this was an issue many customers had mentioned before, I worked with finance to determine a price and went back to my client with it. They re-signed immediately—for a total deal size of $8,000—and they’re still a client three years later. Now that they’ve grown, they’ve fully upgraded to the higher tier and they’re willing to spend that extra money because they know I wouldn’t have recommended it to them if they didn’t need it. Their contract is now worth $30,000 yearly. And the AM team has had over 50 customers pay for this feature as an upsell in the last year alone.”
If you’re an entry-level candidate, your past experiences might not line up as directly with the job you’re trying to land, but you can still highlight transferable skills you’ve gained from your education, extracurriculars, and any jobs or internships you’ve held. So for example, if you’re an entry-level candidate wanting to highlight your willingness and ability to learn new things, you might say:
“I’ve always loved to jump right in and learn how to do new things—and I’m good at getting up to speed quickly. During my senior year, I had to do a research project on an event that happened between 1930 and 1940 for a course on race in the U.S. in the 20th century. We only had to evaluate written primary sources and previous research on the event, but I jumped at the chance to learn how to conduct historical interviews and speak to people who had experienced the Harlem Race Riot of 1935 firsthand. My T.A. for the course was a grad student focusing on the 1960’s civil rights movement and I knew she was interviewing people who had been present at the Selma to Montgomery Marches for her thesis. She allowed me to sit in on an interview she did with a source and answered any questions I had afterward. I also did a lot of outside reading on how to find and vet sources and how to prepare questions. After some additional research, I was able to find a few great interview subjects through a local historical society. I aced the project and my professor even chose me to present my project at a national conference that’s primarily for historians and PhD students. I was one of only three undergraduate presenters that year.”