“Tell me about a time you went above and beyond” is an interview question that should excite you when you hear it. It’s the perfect chance to showcase your skills as well as work ethic.
But unfortunately, it stumps countless applicants.
This guide will help you prepare and approach this question effectively so you can make a great impression with your answer.
Why Interviewers Ask This Question
When you go into your interview, there are many questions you expect to hear. You know that the interviewer will ask about your work experience. These are things people can usually answer on the spot.
But what about when you’re asked to talk about a time when you went above and beyond? Those are questions that often take job-seekers by surprise!
So, why do interviewers ask it?
Interview questions like this serve many different purposes and can tell hiring managers a lot about you in only a few minutes. That’s why they come up in interviewers for jobs ranging from customer service up to CEO!
“Tell me about a time when you went above and beyond” aims to highlight your work ethic and attitude towards work. It shows your willingness to go the extra mile to get something done or exceed expectations. Sure, you might be there primarily for a paycheck, but hiring decision-makers want to know that you’re committed to more than the bare basics.
Things happen, and you might find yourself in a situation that asks you to do something outside your job description. Maybe the company finds itself in a challenging position that requires “all hands on deck.” Are you the type to jump in, or will you refuse because the problem is outside your job description?
That’s what hiring managers want to know. They want to bring people in who are willing to help the company in any way they can. It’s about having a good attitude and doing more than just the bare minimum.
Of course, no hiring manager expects you to do something extra without proper recognition or compensation. It’s more about what you can do to improve the organization and how you’ll contribute to its purpose.
Another area that this question narrows in on is your motivation. There’s always room to go above and beyond the call of duty. Some people are naturally inclined to do more and push themselves further. Others are fine with mediocrity and completing projects until they’re “good enough.”
As you can probably guess, hiring managers prefer the former over the latter! They don’t want to tell you to do more when there’s room to do so. They want people who are naturally motivated to excel and push the boundaries.
Finally, this question is great for highlighting specific skills. People are complex, and discussing everything you can do on your resume is impossible. Questions like this require you to tell a story and highlight competencies or personality traits that might not arise elsewhere.
Ultimately, “Tell me about a time when you went above and beyond” is about learning more about who you are and what you have to bring to the table. Answer it strategically, and it could be the thing that takes you over the edge and earns you a job offer. It can also be the question that takes you out of the running, so it’s crucial to think about your response.
How to Answer It
“Describe a time you went above and beyond” isn’t as straightforward as it seems. The interviewer is looking for something specific, and the best way to impress is to form your answer around their expectations.
Here are a few tips for doing just that.
1. Choose What Professional Attributes You Want to Showcase
One thing you should never forget when forming answers for interview questions is that this will directly impact your chances of getting a job offer or not. You should use every question as an opportunity to highlight what skills you have to offer, and this question is no different!
Start by thinking about what details about your work ethic and attitude you want to focus on the most. As always, link it back to the job. Turn to the job description if you need a little guidance.
If the job is for a managerial position, you can highlight your leadership or communication skills. If it’s for an artistic role, you can choose to talk about how you like to think outside the box and do more. Whatever the case might be, try to choose something that matters to the job at hand.
Naming a time when you went above and beyond is an excellent chance to show off a little bit. Don’t be afraid to dig deep and think about the accomplishments and brag-worthy experiences you’ve had in the past. As long as your story revolves around those key skills and compensations, you can hit this question out of the park!
2. Pick a Situation That Applies
Once you figure out how you want to present yourself in this answer, you can choose an applicable story to illustrate your skills and capabilities.
“Tell me about a time when you went above and beyond” is an interview question that doesn’t require an overly long answer. In fact, rambling answers can do more harm than good. However, this particular question does require some context.
The interviewer is directly asking you to describe a situation. So, choose a moment that you can discuss in detail. One-word answers or super-short sentences won’t cut it. Your response should be concise, but there needs to be plenty of substance.
Choose a situation demonstrating how you successfully applied the skills and attributes you want to highlight. Preferably, you’ll choose a work-related story. Personal experiences can sometimes work, but most interviewers want to hear something connected to your professional career.
Work stories are easier to connect the dots. They directly show how you would perform in the open position, making it easier for hiring managers to understand the relevance of your response. If possible, choose a scenario that has to do with a similar industry or line of work. That makes things even more straightforward.
The best stories show relevant skills and directly support your strong work ethic. Focus on those instances when you went above the line of duty and did work beyond your job description and responsibilities.
3. Use the STAR Method
Here’s the thing about questions that require more organic story-telling: structure and your choice of words matters even more! Providing clear-cut answers about your work history or education is one thing. It’s another to try and illustrate a point through your words.
Whether communication is your strong suit or not, there are many ways to ensure you’re getting the message across. One example is the STAR interview method! The STAR method is a popular interview technique.
STAR is an acronym for Situation, Task, Action, and Result. The point of this technique is to form your answer in a way that guides the interviewer. It helps eliminate confusion and convey the details you’re trying to share.
The first letter in the acronym is for Situation. This point is about providing context. Don’t just jump into the story without giving details about its relevance.
Start by providing a few crucial background details that tell the interviewer why you were in that situation and why it matters.
Next is Task. With Task, you should discuss what the company expected you to do. It’s where you mention your original duties and what’s in your job description.
A is for Action. This part of the STAR method covers what you actually did. It’s the meat of your response and should focus on how you went above and beyond.
This is the part that matters most.
Finally, there are the Results. The last part of the STAR technique shows what happened after the action. What did your actions of going above and beyond achieve? How did they make a difference, and why should the interviewer care?
The STAR method is a fantastic way to form an impressive response. It applies to most scenarios, and sticking to the technique will ensure you get your point across clearly.
Our last tip for answering “Tell me about a time when you went above and beyond” is to practice. Practice makes perfect, and this is a question you do not want to figure out as you go along.
You can answer many questions on the spot, but this isn’t one of them. There’s too much at stake, and interviewers are looking for a specific type of answer. Rambling on and on about an irrelevant story will do more harm than good.
Think about your response, apply the STAR method, and have it in the back of your head. You can jot down a few key points and rehearse your answer several times.
However, try to avoid writing a full-on script. Over-rehearsed scripted answers can come off as disingenuous. You can have your answer planned and laid out.
But try to answer it organically to make yourself sound more present and authentic.
Need some inspiration to help you describe a time you went above and beyond? Your answer will depend on your work experience, but you can look to examples to see how you should form your response.
In our first example, the job-seeker is trying to land a leadership position at a big marketing firm. This new role would be a big career move. They don’t have any formal leadership experience, but they can use this question to highlight the skills required to excel at this job.
They focus on a situation that requires them to take action despite not being asked to do so.
“When I was an assistant copywriter on a small creative team for a marketing firm, we were assigned to create a marketing pamphlet for a ski resort.
The team was relatively small, consisting of only five people. Our leader would coordinate our work and act as a liaison for the client.
After working on pamphlet mockups, our lead scheduled a meeting with the client to present our drafts. I was set to attend the meeting alongside our leader to take notes about potential copy changes.
On the morning of the meeting, we received a call from our project lead informing us that she got into a minor car accident and would not be in the office in time to take the meeting. Our group had a brief meeting with our managerial team about possible solutions.
We toyed with the idea of canceling the meeting. However, because copy was a big part of the project, and I worked closely with our project lead as we created these mockups, I offered to take the meeting on our lead’s behalf.
With support from the lead, I gathered the necessary documents, touched base with the rest of our creative team, and quickly prepared for the meeting with our clients.
The meeting went well. They were impressed with our work. I also took note of all revision requests, handed them off to the relevant team members, and gave our lead with documentation covering the meeting.
By not canceling the meeting, we were able to move forward with the project, and continue working with that client for several years.”
In the next example, the interviewer chooses to highlight customer service skills. They talk about a previous job at a hotel desk and how they went above and beyond to help a customer.
“Several years ago, I worked as a receptionist at a relatively busy hotel. I worked the front desk in the evenings, so I often saw guests as they checked in and settled down for the evening.
My responsibilities were to man the front desk, check guests in with their reservation details and address any concerns that arose during evening hours.
One customer approached the desk late in the evening. He had forgotten his phone charger at home and was somewhat panicking about the prospect of his device losing power during the night. It was pretty late, so stores that would carry a charger for his device were all closed.
I noticed he had the same smartphone that I did, so I lent him my charger for the night. I had another at home, so I left it with him even after I clocked out.
When I returned the next day, the customer left the charger at the desk and gave glowing reviews online about my actions. He stayed with us several times throughout the following years, choosing our hotel any time he went through our city.”
Our last example is another one involving customer service. Here, the job-seeker talks about a situation that required a decent amount of work to complete. But they did so to keep a client happy and earn their return business.
“I used to work at a travel agency. I would book hotels, make dinner reservations, and get tickets for attractions. Our comprehensive service made it easy for our customers to enjoy their vacations.
My job was to simply book accommodations and tickets. However, one client wanted to learn more about potential dining options. She was vegan and couldn’t eat at most places.
While I didn’t have that information, I spent roughly three hours researching vegan restaurants at her destination. I called every establishment to ensure that they had vegan options.
After that research, I emailed her a list of restaurants she could visit. The customer was very thrilled, ultimately recommending us to all her friends and co-workers. We received many new customers because of that situation, and I was proud to have been a part of it.”
“Tell me about a time you exceeded expectations” is exactly what you want to hear if you want to impress your interviewer. All it takes is some preparation and practice!
Follow our tips above, do the work, and you’ll be thrilled when you get asked this question.
Hannah Morgan speaks and writes about job search and career strategies. She founded CareerSherpa.net to educate professionals on how to maneuver through today’s job search process. Hannah was nominated as a LinkedIn Top Voice in Job Search and Careers and is a regular contributor to US News & World Report. She has been quoted by media outlets, including Forbes, USA Today, Money Magazine, Huffington Post, as well as many other publications. She is also author of The Infographic Resume and co-author of Social Networking for Business Success.