What are behavioral interview questions?

Behavioral interview questions are designed to examine how you react in various real-life scenarios. They offer interviewers more insight than simply asking about your biggest strengths and weaknesses. Behavioral questions make you prove you can back up the skills you’ve listed on your resume.

By looking at how you handled certain situations in the past, interviewers try to predict how successful you’d be in the role you’re going for.

Behavioral questions are easily recognizable. They usually start with phrases like:

  • “Have you ever…”
  • “Give an example of…”
  • “Tell me about a time when…”
  • “Describe a scenario where you…”

These questions tend to trip people up. It’s not easy to scour your memory bank when an interviewer puts you on the spot.

Career counselors advise that the best way to survive is to study common interview questions and answers beforehand. That way, you have your stories ready to pull out in an instant.

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How to answer behavioral interview questions

There are two parts to successfully answering behavioral interview questions:

  1. Choosing the right example.
  2. Telling a succinct and compelling story.

Choosing your example

To choose the best example, you need to prepare. Before your interview, brainstorm a list of stories that demonstrate the skills needed for the position you’re applying for. To find these skills, pop open the job listing for the role and a few for similar jobs, then note down the required traits.

For management positions, you’ll need stories that show your biggest leadership wins.

If you don’t have past management experience, think about times when you came up with creative solutions, motivated people, kept others accountable or trained someone in a position. For bonus points, choose stories that also highlight your soft skills such as empathy, integrity and sensitivity. For extra bonus points, jot down any hard numbers related to the story that back up the impressive results you achieved.

Understand the STAR interview method

When interviewers ask behavioral questions, they’re using the STAR interview method to gather certain pieces of information. The faster you can communicate that information, the better.

To give them everything they need without rambling, structure your story using the STAR format:

  • Situation: What was the context of the event?
  • Task: What task did you have to tackle?
  • Action: What steps did you take to achieve your objective?
  • Result: What happened? If the outcome was quite what you’d hoped, what did you learn?

Each section should only take a few sentences, and try to tell the entire story in a minute or less.

21 common themes for situational interview questions

Time management

When interviewers ask time management questions, they’re looking for proof of your ability to manage multiple projects, follow schedules, prioritize tasks and meet deadlines.

  • Describe a time when you juggled several responsibilities simultaneously.
  • Tell me about a long-term project you managed to finish on time.
  • Walk me through a time you felt overwhelmed with your responsibilities and how you handled it.

Communication skills

Interviewers are interested in how you communicate in various situations. They also want to know why you chose to communicate the way you did.

  • Give an example of a time when you gave someone negative feedback.
  • Tell me about a time you had to persuade an employee to view something from your perspective.
  • Describe a time when you mediated a conflict between your employees.

Teamwork

Managers are the glue that holds a team together, and your interviewer wants to see how strong your glue is in tough circumstances.

  • Describe a scenario where you successfully delegated tasks.
  • Tell me about a time when you helped prioritize diversity and inclusion at your company.
  • Give an example of a time you wished you had handled a situation differently with an employee.

Work with clients

If you’re applying for a customer-facing management role, interviewers want evidence you’ll be able to represent the company well.

  • Describe a time when you helped resolve a situation with a difficult client.
  • Give an example of a time you went to great lengths to win a customer’s trust.
  • Tell me about a time when you failed to meet a client’s expectations and what you did next.

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Adaptability

Things don’t always go according to plan, and interviewers want stories that show your ability to change course when needed.

  • Describe a time when you had to think on your feet.
  • Tell me about a time when you had to adapt to a change in your team or company.
  • Give me an example of a time you modified your plans to overcome an unexpected problem.

Leadership

When interviewing for management positions, you’re almost guaranteed to be asked about leadership. To ensure a good fit, interviewers want stories to assess both your leadership skill and your leadership style.

  • Talk about how you build trust with your employees and keep them on track.
  • Walk me through a successful project you’ve led.
  • Give an example of a time when you had to make a difficult decision.

Overcoming adversity

These questions can be challenging because they involve negative scenarios or outcomes. Try not to dwell on the negative for too long. Instead, focus on finding solutions and learning lessons.

  • How have you reacted to criticism from a client about a project?
  • Give an example of a time you had to manage an employee who wasn’t meeting expectations.
  • Tell me about one of your failures and how you dealt with it.

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About the Author

Mitchell Glass

Mitchell Glass

Freelance Contributor

Mitchell is a freelance contributor to MoneyWise.com.

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