10 Behavioral Job Interview Questions and How to Answer

Interviewing for a job requires more than simply demonstrating that you have the requisite skills, qualifications, and experience. Hiring managers expect you to prove that you can handle any challenging situations that might come your way. That’s where behavioral job interview questions come in.

Behavioral job interview questions, also known as situational questions, are used to evaluate candidates’ problem-solving skills, teamwork, adaptability, multitasking and other desirable attributes. But it’s possible to excel in those areas and still freeze up when it comes time to answer the questions.

Learn how to answer behavioral job interview questions like a pro by reviewing 10 examples and studying the best strategies for tackling them.

What Are Behavioral Job Interview Questions?

Before we get to examples of common behavioral interview questions, it’s important to make sure you have a firm grasp on this interviewing style and its purpose.

Behavioral questions seek to go beyond the basic information that can be gleaned from a resume. They instead encourage the candidate to go into detail about real-life scenarios, with the goal of revealing how the person conducts his or herself as an employee. A behavioral job interview question could focus on any of the following:

  • Problem-solving skills
  • Handling multiple projects at once
  • Responding to failure or setbacks
  • Coping with tight deadlines and time management
  • Overcoming difficult situations at work
  • Customer service
  • Teamwork
  • Flexibility
  • Communication skills
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Meeting long-term goals

 

The list above is only a small sample of the qualities that an interviewer might hope to learn about. Regardless of the theme, these questions will always prompt you to offer specific examples of your work experiences.

Who Uses Behavioral Interviewing?

Behavioral interviewing is not confined to any particular field, sector, or level of experience. The approach forgoes industry-specific knowledge in favor of identifying broadly desirable qualities that are applicable to a wide array of jobs for young professionals. Thus, entry-level assistants and C-level executives alike may find themselves faced with situational job interview questions in their job searches.

Those applying to leadership and management positions should especially expect behavioral questions. These jobs require strong interpersonal and decision-making skills, two attributes that behavioral interviewing is effective at highlighting.

The strategy has become more and more common in the last few decades. According to the book “Interview Rx: A Powerful Guide for Making Your Next Interview a Success,” the percentage of Fortune 500 companies using behavioral interviewing skyrocketed from 5 percent in the 1990s to 65 percent in the mid-2000s. Top companies are increasingly finding the technique useful for finding the best possible candidates for their open positions, so learning to answer the interview questions is a must for anyone searching for a job.

How to Answer Behavioral Job Interview QuestionsHow to Answer Behavioral Job Interview Questions: Use the STAR Method

Behavioral interview questions are open-ended, expecting you to come up with real-life examples of relevant situations on the spot. Thankfully, there is a tried and true strategy for answering the questions effectively.

You may have all the qualities of a strong candidate, but to get the job you also need to be able to express your assets in an easy-to-understand way. The STAR Method provides a template for conveying to an interviewer your talents and strengths as an employee. The STAR technique stands for situation, task, action, result. Let’s break down this piece by piece.

  • Situation: Start your answer by describing a specific scenario that is relevant to the question. Keep it as simple as possible -- just the basic context. The anecdote should involve you making a decision or taking an action that shows your assets as a worker and team member.
  • Task: Make clear what the goal was for you and your colleagues or partners in the situation. You should share what the expectation was for you, and why it was important. Again, don’t get bogged down in details that will distract from the main point.
  • Action: Describe how you approached the problem. Explain the actions you took to accomplish your goal and why you chose them over the alternatives. Be specific: Broad strokes won’t adequately make clear how you tackle challenges.  
  • Result: Time to stick the landing. The result portion should be the culmination of your everything that came beforehand, revealing exactly how your actions translated to value for your company or team. If relevant, use specific metrics or numbers that show the impact.

This strategy for answering situational questions is so widely embraced that the interviews themselves are sometimes called “STAR interviews.”

Best Practices When Using the STAR Method

The STAR formula provides a straightforward framework point for approaching the questions. Using it as an outline helps candidates describe their work experiences in a way that best highlights what an interviewer wants to know. To make the most out of the STAR method, use these additional interview preparation tips.

  • Prepare several stories in advance. Identify examples of past work experiences where you demonstrated leadership, problem-solving, multitasking, communication skills or other appealing qualities. Practice describing them using the STAR method.
  • Be flexible. You won’t know the interviewer’s specific questions ahead of time, so the anecdotes you prepare should be applicable to a variety of different questions. If you get a question you weren’t expecting, don’t panic: Consider how if any of the answers you’ve practiced could be reframed to be a suitable response.
  • Stay focused. The STAR technique offers a clear outline for your interview answers -- don’t stray to much from path. You don’t want the hiring manager to miss the point of your story because you’ve bogged it down with unnecessary details.
  • Take a breath. Interviewers know that open-ended questions require the candidate to reach into the recesses of their minds for pertinent real-life experiences. This doesn’t happen instantaneously. Don’t be afraid to say, “Good question, let me think about that for a moment.” Take the time to gather your thoughts and consider the STAR method. A short pause is better than beginning a response without any idea of where you’ll end up.
  • Stay positive. Your responses should center on the positive outcomes and the benefits of your contributions as a worker. Do not spend time talking about how your colleagues or work environment frustrated you. If you are asked about conflicts or disagreements, speak respectfully about the opposing side. You don’t want to come off as stubborn or difficult.

10 Examples of Behavioral Job Interview Questions to Practice10 Examples of Behavioral Job Interview Questions to Practice

Practice makes perfect. To prepare for the big interview, go over these sample questions for a sense of what you might be asked. Then, take a crack at trying to answer the interview questions with an applicable experience from your own life. Each question will reveal how you handled a situation that challenged you.

1. How have you balanced working on multiple projects at once?

This question aims to find out your multitasking abilities. Make no mistake, though. The hiring manager isn’t merely looking to confirm that you have dealt with multiple projects at some point. Almost any candidate can say that. What the interviewer wants to hear is how exactly you’ve thrived under those conditions -- and how the projects turned out.

How to Answer

Your answer should highlight not only your ability to work well under pressure but also your time management skills. The interview will also be looking for insight into your organization skills and flexibility.

Using the STAR method, start by describing the situation: What were the projects, and how were you assigned to them? How did they fit into the broader mission of the company? What made these projects demanding for you? Then, move on to the task: What was the goal for each of the projects? What was your specific role in the projects, and what were your expectations?

Next comes the action. Describe, in a specific language, how you organized your time to give each task the appropriate amount of care and effort. Everything you say should relate to how you balanced the competing demands of the multiple projects.

Finally, the results: Hopefully, you’ve picked a scenario in which you completed all of the projects successfully and on deadline. But that’s not enough. You also need to describe how your work benefited the company, whether that was through finding a new, more efficient process or contributing directly to the company’s revenue.

2. Talk about a time that you worked well on a team.

With this question, a hiring manager wants to gauge a candidate’s interpersonal and communication skills. The response will also give a window into how the candidate views his or herself within the context of a team -- as someone who seizes the opportunity to lead, or dutifully completes what’s expected. Depending on the position, either approach could be desirable.

How to Answer

The interviewer doesn’t want to hear about how well you get along with your coworkers. That’s great, of course, but it doesn’t show how you cope with challenging situations. Rather, an example of a time that members of your team had competing interests that you were able to resolve to produce favorable results.

Your answer should highlight communication skills as well as teamwork. Don’t just describe what you and your team did to accomplish the goal. Make clear to the interviewer how you contributed to delegating tasks or talked through a solution that satisfied all parties. The hiring manager wants to see that you were active in making the group successful, not merely part of the crowd.

3. Tell me a time you’ve handled a disagreement with a manager.

This question is an opportunity to test a candidate’s communication and interpersonal skills. Getting a message across when your whole team is on the same page is one thing. But when tensions are high because of a dispute, having the composure and thoughtfulness to keep the situation from escalating is a major asset. An employer wants workers who can be productive even amidst differing points of view.

How to Answer

Behavioral interview questions that cast you in conflict with a higher-up are among the toughest to answer. On the one hand, you don’t want to give the impression that you are defiant or contentious in the workplace when you don’t get your way. On the other hand, you do want to show that you are self-assured and unafraid to speak up.

The key is to stay positive. Don’t harp on how foolish your supervisor was for not seeing things your way. Rather, present both perspectives as legitimate. Be careful about picking a story that’s too recent -- the disagreement might still be fresh in your mind, and your emotions may get in the way of telling it clearly.

Focus on how you successfully resolved the disagreement through communication and moved forward, rather than who was right or wrong. The story should say more about your ability to work with people with different views than about how correct you are.

Nonetheless, the story should also show your conviction: You should describe how you respectfully advocated for your point of view. Bosses want employees who can identify a bad idea.

What was an example of a situation at work4. What was an example of a situation at work when you thrived under pressure?

More and more lately, employers value grit, perseverance and fortitude over other traditionally desirable attributes and qualifications. The reasoning is that skills, knowledge and experience can all be taught over time, but stick-to-it-iveness is something a candidate either has or doesn’t. A degree doesn’t prove that you can cope when the going gets tough. You want to show them that you don’t crumble under pressure.

How to Answer

The key to this question is to avoid falling into woe-is-me mode. Don’t frame yourself as beset by unjust outside forces piling you with unnecessary work. Rather, describe the high expectations and pressure on you as legitimate -- it’ll reflect all the better on you when you describe how you overcome it. Plus, this will make you seem engaged and mindful of your past employer’s goals and standards.

The question is vague, which can make it tough to know where to start. But we’ve all faced stressful stretches at work -- think back and identify an example where you took charge of the task in front of you with gusto, despite the pressures.

Explain why the situation was so demanding, and then walk through how you approach handling it step by step. The employer wants to see you making reasoned, considerate decisions in the face of difficulty. And don’t forget to share the results of your hard work: How did you, your team and your employer benefit?

5. What was a time that you didn’t meet a goal or made a mistake? How did you respond?

Adaptability in the workplace is a major quality interviewers look for. In a world where innovation, technology, and competition are constantly changing the expectations for businesses, the best employees will be able to thrive even in the face of setbacks. Anyone with high ambitions will face failure on occasion -- the ability to bounce back is more important than always succeeding.

How to Answer

While it might be uncomfortable to talk about failure in an interview, this isn’t a trick question. Don’t pretend that you’ve never fell short of a goal, missed a deadline, or made a blunder -- the interviewer will see right through you.

Similarly, don’t describe a situation where the failure was someone else’s fault. You should take responsibility for yourself. The answer should speak honestly to a situation where you didn’t succeed and needed to rectify the situation yourself.

The point is to focus not on the failure itself, but on your response. The initial missed goal or mistake should serve merely as backdrop for an anecdote that reveals your ability to rise to the occasion. Explain exactly how you corrected the problem, and what result you achieved in doing so. And be sure to note the lessons you learned from your original failure.

Give an Example of a time when you had to interact with a difficult client6. Give an example of a time when you had to interact with a difficult client. How did you handle the situation?

Demonstrating communication skills within a team of coworkers is one thing. But communicating with clients is a whole other ball game. After all, these interactions can have an impact on the company’s revenue. Client-facing skills are essential in a wide variety of positions. Even if you don’t see your job as a sales or customer service role, it’s always a plus to show that you’ve had experience dealing with clients.

How to Answer

Once again, don’t fall into the trap of bemoaning things beyond your control. Even though the question asks about a “difficult client,” a hiring manager wants someone who understands these hurdles are part of doing business and takes them in stride. Don’t focus your answer on how unreasonable the client was being -- rather, establish concisely what made the situation difficult, and move on to showing how you expertly handled it.

The question is a test of your communication skills as much as your ability to meet a clients’ need. You should not only explain how you handled the situation, but also how you conveyed the actions you took to the client in a way that pleased them. An ideal answer will also describe how your relationship with this client went on to improve as a result of your prowess meeting their needs.

7. Describe a time when you implemented an unpopular decision.

If you are applying for a position in management, expect to be asked about your ability to lead even amid resistance among employees. Managing a team when everyone is in sync with the mission is much easier than maintaining productivity when there’s disagreement. But every leader will at times have to go against the preferences of the rank-and-file. Interviewers want to know how you navigate this tricky situation.

How to Answer

When hiring for management positions, employers want to see that candidates can keep a team on task through thick and thin. They also want to see that you have confidence in your decision-making when the evidence is on your side

First, explain the problem that your decision addressed. Explain a few details that supported your conclusion despite in unpopularity. You want to show that you were able to see past the team’s gut reaction to the facts at hand.

The unpopular decision in your answer should be one that ended up producing good results. But simply being right isn’t enough to answer the question fully -- you also need to describe the steps you took to convince the team to stay on task even as they had reservations about the direction.

8. Tell me a time you had to advocate for your position at work. How did it turn out?

A good company culture values employees who aren’t afraid to speak up when the business is on the wrong track. After all, hiring only a team of yes-men and women is a good way to stymie innovation. But simply being outspoken isn’t enough. A hiring manager wants to see whether the candidate can make a case for their position that is both respectful and convincing.

How to Answer

Your answer to this question should speak to many important qualities: Teamwork, communication skills, leadership, integrity and more. Responding effectively also requires you to portray yourself as a compelling advocate without coming off as too obstinate. It’s a delicate balance, but one you can achieve.

Start by explaining a problem or challenge where multiple different solutions were proposed. Briefly detail the benefits of more than one solution, to show that you were mindful and benefits of the different points of view at play. Then, outline the reasons -- whether they are driven by data, mission, or integrity -- that you led to your conclusion.

From there, show how you laid out your case effectively to your colleagues. If you compromised or made other efforts to make people with opposing views feel included in the decision, be sure to mention that. Finally, tell the interview the results that bore out the validity of your position.

Tell me about a time when you had to advocate for your position at work9. Tell me about a stressful or difficult situation and how you handled it.

Your interviewer wants to see that you are able to think on your feet. In a demanding job, emergencies are bound to arise that require you to take quick action without sacrificing good judgment. In times of high-stress, sometimes your true instincts come out. The hiring manager wants to know whether they can count on you when a crisis occurs.

How to Answer

Let’s start with what not to do: Don’t wave off the question or suggest you’re not affected by stress. The interview could interpret that answer in a few different ways. First, the interview might assume that you are trying to avoid talking about how you handle stress, which could be a red flag.

Alternatively, the hiring manager might think that you don’t face stress because you don’t care enough about your job to become stressed. Hiring managers want employees who are invested and committed to their jobs, and that inevitably comes with occasional stress about completing tasks effectively.

Instead, tell the interviewer about a time that you used stress as a motivator. The stress made you aware of how important your work was to your team and company and drove you to complete tasks efficiently. This shows that you felt a responsibility to rise to the occasion, and spun a negative situation into a positive thing.

Tell me a time you set a goal and explain how you succeeded10. Tell me a time you set a goal and explain how you succeeded.

Employers don’t want a candidate that does the bare minimum at work. The best employees are constantly striving to reach new achievements in their careers. Motivation and follow-through are both highly prized attributes, and this question gives a potential employee a chance to prove that they’ve got what it takes. By talking through how exactly they’ve achieved a goal in the past, a candidate can show they have a plan for tackling new challenges.

How to Answer

This is among the most open-ended behavioral interview questions, which can at first blush make it daunting to settle on one real-life experience to respond with. But really, you should think of this question as a gift: It’s the perfect opportunity to showcase your finest moments and most desirable traits to a potential employer.

The ideal answer to this question will not only share how you achieved a goal, but also describe how you personally set the goal for yourself. This shows that you’re eager to go above and beyond what’s expected of you in the pursuit of excellence for yourself and the company. Think of a time when you saw an opportunity for growth in your job and took it upon yourself to put in extra effort. The interviewer will recognize your go-getting mentality.

Don’t leave out the challenges you faced along the way to reaching your goal. If you reached your objective without breaking a sweat, the interviewer might think it wasn’t much of a goal at all -- and could question your initiative. Instead, highlight the hurdles that you encountered to highlight your ability to adapt to challenges.

Remember, don’t forget to detail how your hard work paid off. You want to show that your effort was in pursuit of something meaningful to your professional growth and your employer’s mission. A hiring manager will see that results-oriented mindset as an asset to the company.

Dos and Do Nots of Answering Behavioral Interview QuestionsDos and Don’ts for Answering Behavioral Interview Questions

Now that you’ve gone through examples of the most common behavioral job interview questions, make sure you brush up on the etiquette of answering in the most effective way possible. These job interview tips will help you avoid common pitfalls when meeting with prospective employers.

Don’t Make Up Stories

If you’re struggling to come up with a suitable response to a behavioral interview question, it can be tempting to resort to inventing an anecdote out of thin air. In the moment, it feels preferable to coming up empty.

However, the strategy is riskier than it seems at first. First, you might not be as good of a buffer as you think -- often, an interviewer can tell when a prospective employee is faking an answer. You also don’t want to freeze up when pressed for details or risk contradicting yourself while concocting a narrative on the fly.

So what do you do if you draw a blank? Don’t be afraid to ask for a moment to think. Even if an ideal response doesn’t come right away, you can think of ways to massage an anecdote you’ve prepared in advance to fit what the question is asking. It’s easier to tweak a true story you’re familiar with than to improvise a convincing lie. Even for an experienced yarn-spinner, nerves can get the best of you in an interview environment. The truth is a safety net.

Don’t Over-Rehearse Your Answers

This might seem counterintuitive, seeing as this article has repeatedly stressed the importance of practice and preparation. But there’s a difference between being ready to answer any question and laying out exactly what you’re going to say.

You want your responses to the questions to sound extemporaneous, conversational and natural. You should familiarize yourself with the basic beats of the stories that you’ve prepared, but don’t memorize specific sentences. If you over-rehearse, you risk coming off as stiff or robotic. A hiring manager could conclude that you lack interpersonal skills. Communicating naturally is also a big part of conducting presentations, an important skill in many jobs.

Besides, the interviewer’s questions might not exactly align with the ones you’re expecting. You want to stay flexible enough to align your anecdotes with whatever the prompt might be.

Do Practice with Another Person

Taking time to think of anecdotes that show off your best qualities and laying them out using the STAR method are examples of preparation you can do on your own. But when it comes to actually answering questions verbally, it helps to have an outside perspective to let you know how you’re coming across.

You might be shy about practicing with a friend or partner, but you can’t always trust your own judgment about the message you send when answering interview questions. Have a little humility, and reach out to someone you trust. Not only will another person notice things you don’t, but they can also help you practice interview basics like maintaining eye contact.

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