Pinstripe | Make your TMAAT stories ‘Interview Ready”

Focusing on specific examples, not opinionated generalisations, will give you the edge in interviews

TMAAT stands for ‘Tell Me About a Time’ and is the most common form of job interview question. That mystery is solved. Job seekers — from doctors to airline pilots and sales reps to surf lifesavers — are all asked these questions. In the aviation industry, it’s the ‘go-to’ style of interview question. You might also call them an ‘example’ question. As a group, they are part of a behavioural-style interview.

I speak to candidates regularly lamenting that TMAAT questions are a waste of time or a game hirers play. You might think you hate them, but let me assure you, TMAAT is the most effective way to answer most job interview questions. It is a format that, once mastered, will help your confidence levels and delivery to surge. I aim to change your mind about them.

Challenge accepted

As aviation recruitment is surging and not set to stop for the next 24 months at least, now is the time to review the power of the TMAAT question and why any job seeker should relish being asked one.

In this two-part series, we will unpack:

  1. What are TMAAT Questions, and why do hirers ask them? Top ‘don’ts’ when answering TMAAT interview questions.
  2. How to nail your TMAAT answer and the TMAAT question recruiters, HR teams and managers frequently use.

What are TMAAT Questions, and why do hirers ask them?

TMAAT questions are questions that require an example from your past that demonstrates precisely ‘how’ you managed a situation or project. The ’how’ is the operative word that indicates how you will act or perform in that area with your new employer. Simon Sinek wrote the book It Starts With Why. It might start with ‘why’, but it concludes with the ‘how’. The ‘how’ shows a potential employer your behaviour and whether that behaviour matches their values, standards and performance objectives.

To quote Dr Phil, “The best indicator of present behaviour is past behaviour”

Traditionally the format used to answer a TMAAT question is called the STAR, or my version is SAR. That stands for: Situation/Task – Action – Outcome. If it sounds a bit convoluted, you are right — it can be. That makes it super important to get that STAR or SAR answer out succinctly. I favour my SAR version as I find candidates get bogged down in the task part, so let’s slot that bit into situation.

Mastering TMAAT is a skill you will have for life and use throughout your aviation career

Why do hirers favour this format? The hirer usually does not know you. Understandably, they can’t take your word at face value. They need something more solid or more evidence-based to decide if you can actually do what you say you can do. Makes sense really. That evidence, or proof, is assessable. Whereas if they like you or not is not a standard the recruitment team can fairly assess your abilities and cultural fit on. Is it foolproof? No, but then, nothing is. It is a part of a screening system.

The benefit of a system or process is that it has a teachable format a candidate can prepare for in advance. It also fuels confidence and performance at the interview if a candidate feels armed with powerful answers that, importantly, meet the criteria set out by the hiring team.

“The benefit of a system or process is that it has a teachable format a candidate can prepare for … a candidate feels armed with powerful answers that, importantly, meet the criteria set out by the hiring team.”

Here are the top ‘don’ts’ when answering TMAAT interview questions

We all have a style of talking, and often, this style is not evidence-based. Some ways we communicate naturally can disadvantage us in a job interview. But don’t worry, you can take control of the narrative — I know this as it is something we do with candidates every day. If you think your communication style might be shooting you in the foot, here are a few SOPs to keep you in safe airspace.

Top 4 ‘don’ts’ at your next job interview

The great ‘I am’ answer

Stay away from kicking off with these two little words. ‘I am’ leads you straight into a general opinion-based answer. Opinions are things anyone could say about themselves and aren’t proof. Remember, they don’t know you. ‘I am’ answers look like this:

  • I get along well with people
  • I am very solutions focused
  • I am reliable
  • I achieve all my KPIs

Scratch ‘I am’ answers from your vocab.

‘I feel’ is right up there with ‘I am’

But what if they ask me how I feel? I hear you; it sounds like they want your feelings, but trust me, they don’t. Feelings are not accessible. Small caveat here — good self-knowledge or EQ is essential, but you can show that solid factual TMAAT examples. Feelings are banned! Questions that sound as if they want your feelings sound like this:

  • How do you feel you went in your last assessment?
  • What causes you stress?
  • How do you handle conflict in the team?
  • Why is now the right time to leave your current role?

Be on high alert for those.

Use your most dramatic TMMAT example

If you go to the biggest and most dramatic example you can find, you will likely not have managed each aspect of that situation well. The objective of your answer is to come out of it looking great and managing things in the way the employer values. For example, if you describe the most difficult person you have dealt with, and they were so bad they got fired, that does not show a hirer how well you can handle that person or resolve a situation. And that defeats the purpose of your answer (to make yourself look great!).

Not picking one event to talk about

I like to instruct my brain to go to one single event by thinking, ‘There was this one time…’ directly plagiarising from the movie American Pie, which ends with ‘at band camp’. If you head to a story that is a general situation that evolved over an entire day, week or month, you will get lost. It will lead you to be very general and provide an overview. What we need is your ‘how’, remember? So stick to one very specific, individual event.

None of us are awe-inspiring perfect orators like Barrack Obama or Tim Minchin, so don’t expect that of yourself. Understanding what not to do, is just as important as knowing what to do in your aviation interview. It helps you to be more in control of the narrative and to start to adjust your communication style in those areas that you could manage better. We can all improve, and these tips, SOPs, and insights will make improving achievable.

Head to the Pinstripe Blog for the second part of this article, where I examine how to nail your TMAAT answer and the TMAAT question recruiters, HR teams, and managers frequently use.

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