Behavioral job interview questions are often used by interviewers during job interviews. These types of strategic interview questions require you to provide the interviewer with an example situation that you experienced in professional work environments. Behavioral job interview questions focus on work situations that you experienced in the past and how you responded to them. The way you respond to these questions tells the interviewer more about your work methods and ethics.
The rationale behind these questions is that by analyzing your past behavior is the best indicator to predict your future job performance. For interviewers, it’s the most pragmatic way to uncover past work experiences. The answers you give the interviewer should convince him or her that you are the right candidate for the job.
Interview questions about your past behavior might sound challenging, but it’s actually a great opportunity for you to show that you’re a fit for the position. With the right preparation, you can use your answers to your advantage by demonstrating your suitability for the job.
In this article, we discuss why the interviewer is asking you behavioral job interview questions and how you should answer them. Also, read more about frequently asked job interview questions here and check our job interview preparation checklist.
Why the interviewer is asking behavioral job interview questions
There are several reasons why interviewers use behavioral interview questions. Hiring the right candidates is, of course, the number one objective of interviewers. Instead of hiring the person that they ‘like’ they need something better to figure out which candidate is the right fit for the job. By analyzing your behavior in past situations that are similar to the ones that are required in the role that you’re applying for, they try to do just that.
Interviewers consider the following when utilizing behavioral questions in a job interview:
Bad hires are very costly
The interviewer wants to make sure that the right person for the job gets hired. For a company, making a bad hiring decision is not only about losing money, but it can also lead to a decrease in productivity. Hiring a bad candidate can leave a bad impression with customers/clients, but also with internal employees.
Furthermore, time will be lost if the company needs to search for another candidate after a bad hire. Therefore, employers do everything to avoid such situations. Behavioral questions are regarded as a preventative way to make sure that the right person with the right fit for the company is hired.
The interviewer is interested in specific details of your behavior
Behavioral interview questions give the interviewer the ability to get more in-depth information. Of course, they got your resume already and maybe even a motivational letter or letter of recommendation. Still, the interviewer can only assess your hard skills and educational levels based on such documents. Soft skills are better to gauge during job interviews with the help of behavioral interview questions. Therefore, include scenarios in your answers that demonstrate how you handle day-to-day tasks, how you approach challenges in the workplace, and what you learned from your mistakes.
Your past behavior is a good predictor for future performance
By asking about your past behavior in certain professional situations, the interviewers can quite accurately determine your future success in the job that you’re applying for.
This proven technique can give more insight into your future work performance. Therefore, prepare well for these questions and expect related questions about, for instance, your strengths and weaknesses. By preparing example answers with scenario’s that you’ve encountered in the past, you can provide a concise and concrete answer without missing important details.
The interviewer can avoid making the wrong decision
By using behavioral questions, employers can gauge future job performance of candidates and make a better hiring decision. Having the perfect resume or cover letter is not enough to make it past seasoned interviewers. The interviewer is interested in your previous patterns in work situations. This information gives them more insight into your approach to critical situations and if this approach matches the ones required for the position you’re applying for. By preparing the right way, you can make sure that your example answer situations include aspects of the important job requirements. Of course, the interviewer is looking for candidates that fit the job description, so make sure that your answers relate to the job requirements.
Behavioral job interview questions usually start with:
- Give me an example of
- Tell me about a time when you
- Have you ever
- What do you do when
- Describe situations where
During a job interview, there’s a large chance that you will encounter behavioral job interview questions. For instance, about your level of adaptability, teamwork, or leadership skills. The interviewer will focus his questions on important characteristics that you need to possess to be regarded as suitable for the position. Your past behavior in professional work settings will be discussed. The reason for asking behavioral job interview questions instead of just asking traditional ones is that the most accurate predictor of future performance is your past performance in similar situations.
During your job interview, the interviewer wants to discuss previous work situations and wants you to elaborate on them. By preparing example scenarios, you can give exactly the information that he or she is looking for. Make sure that you provide the interviewer the situation you were in, your task in that situation, the action you took, and the specific result you got from your actions. In short, this is called the STAR-method of providing an answer. The STAR method is discussed in more detail later on in this article.
What the interviewer is interested in
In short, the interviewer wants to gain knowledge about your work approach. That’s why we can’t emphasize the importance of being able to demonstrate your skills through solid example scenarios enough. The right preparation will get you there. The interviewer is looking for you to show that you can take on the day-to-day tasks required for the position and have the potential to grow. For instance, if you can deal with transitions in fast-paced environments such as financial markets. And can you handle such transitions effectively? In this case, you need to show adaptability in your example scenarios and how you adapted in the past. Adaptability means being able to fit into new environments quickly and easily.
Behavioral questions are used to get insights into who you really are and how you approach your work. Basically, the interviewers want to get the following questions answered:
- Are you easy to get along with?
- Can you communicate effectively with different personalities?
- Are you able to adequately respond to situations that occur during your work?
- Are you able to adjust to changing work environments?
- Can you assist your coworkers or team when needed?
- Are you flexible in your approaches to situations at work?
Red flags for the interviewer
Not providing enough detail
If you cannot provide specific details or examples about what you claimed in your resume or cover letter this can be considered as a warning sign. If you, for instance, claim that you have successfully led teams in the past, you better be able to back this up through clear examples. Failing to do so could lead to a quick elimination of your candidacy for the position. If the interviewer has trouble verifying your employment history, this could be a red flag.
Failing to respond effectively
Failing to respond effectively to follow-up questions comes across weak. Therefore, think about the follow-up questions the interviewer might ask you based on the scenarios and information you provide them. Because you already know what the scenario in your answer will include, if you prepare the right way, you can figure out which follow-up questions are likely to be asked. For instance, if you’re preparing for the interview question ‘Describe a time when you had to work on a task outside of your job description?’ you can expect the interviewer to follow up with ‘How did you approach this situation?’ and ‘What was the outcome?’
Taking no responsibility
If your situations do not show that you take responsibility for a mistake or a project that may have failed, this can be considered a warning sign. Self-awareness and being able to reflect on situations is an important characteristic to possess in the workplace. Interviewers want to hire candidates that can admit errors or who made thoughtful mistakes in the past and tried to fix them. The interviewers know that the candidates are human and make mistakes, just like everybody else. It’s important that your answers show that you take responsibility for situations and describe the actions you took to repair any problems or challenges.
Including too much negativity, in any form, in your answers about situations that you have encountered can also be viewed as a red flag. This can be talking inappropriately about previous employers or co-workers, but also a situation in general. Negative undertones never impress interviewers the right way. Therefore, focus on yourself and put yourself in the best light possible.
Frequently asked behavioral job interview questions
Below you can find commonly asked behavioral interview questions divided into categories:
Behavioral interview questions about teamwork
- Tell me about a team project that you worked on
- Tell me about a time when you had to resolve a conflict within the team. How did you handle it? What was the result?
- Are you easy to get along with?
- Tell me about a project that required input from coworkers at different levels in the company
- Describe a team experience that you found rewarding
- Describe a time when you had to mediate a disagreement? (conflict resolution)
Behavioral interview questions about leadership
- Tell me about a time you took the lead in a team project. How did you handle it, and what was the outcome?
- In what specific ways do you motivate your team and its members?
- Give me an example of a team project your where leading that did not work out as well as you would have liked. What exactly happened, and what did you learn from it?
- How would you describe your leadership style?
- Say, two important team members left your team right before the deadline for a big project. How would you approach such a situation, and how would you change your leadership style to meet the deadline?
Behavioral interview questions about adaptability
- How do you adjust to changing situations that you have no control over?
- Describe a situation in which you were assigned new tasks. How did you adapt to this situation, and what was the result?
- Tell me about a time you had to work on a task that was outside of your job description. How did you handle the situation? What was the result?
- If your colleagues are not open to learning something new that could improve team performance and efficiency, how would you try to convince them?
- Let’s say you’re working on a project for some time when the manager suddenly informs you that the client’s requirements have changed. What would you do?
Behavioral interview questions about time management
- If you’re working on a project with more than one manager, how do you prioritize your tasks?
- How do you organize your tasks when you’re working on multiple projects at the same time?
- Tell me about a time you successfully delegated tasks to your team
- How do you manage your time and prioritize your work?
- Tell me about a time when you had to manage competing deadlines at the same time
Behavioral interview questions about communication
- How would you go about explaining a complex situation or challenge to a client?
- Tell me about a time you used persuasiveness at work
- Tell me about a time you received unclear instructions from a manager. How did you approach this situation, and what was the result?
- Describe a time when you had to express your ideas in a work meeting
- Tell me about a situation in which miscommunication occurred at work. How did you handle/fix this?
- Tell me about a time you had to talk to an angry/frustrated client. How did you approach this situation, and what was the outcome?
- What challenges have you faced in communicating with your superiors? How did you approach these, and what was the result?
Behavioral interview questions about motivation
- Tell me about a time you suggested a new idea to your manager. Walk me through the steps that you took to implement your idea
- Tell me about a time you experienced a setback on the way to achieve your goal or target. How do you stay self-motivated?
- Describe the work environment or company culture in which you think you are most productive and content
- Tell me about a situation where you had a positive influence or effect on a coworker. What did you do, and why did it work?
- Give me an example of a time when you identified a new or different approach for addressing challenges at work
- Give me an example of a process or technique that you learned to make your work easier or make you more effective. How did you discover this, and how did you implement your ideas?
Behavioral interview questions about conflict management
- How do you deal with differences of opinion when working on a team?
- Tell me about a time you had a conflict at work
- Tell me about a decision you made that was not very popular and how you handled implementing it
- Give me an example of a time you had to deal with an unhappy client/coworker/manager
- Tell me about a time you disagreed with your boss/manager
Behavioral interview questions about decision making
- Describe a situation in which you had to make a decision without having access to all the information you needed. How did you handle it?
- Tell me about a time you had to make an immediate decision on a critical issue. What challenges did you face, and how did you approach it?
- When you’re working on a project with a team, do you make the most decisions, or do you prefer to follow someone else’s guidelines?
- Tell me about a decision you made in a professional work environment that you ultimately regretted? What happened, and what did you learn from it?
- Do you think you make better decisions alone than with a group? Why? At what moment do you ask for help?
- What is the most difficult decision you ever had to make at work? What made you take your decision, and what was the result?
Preparing answers to behavioral job interview questions
There are a couple of things you should focus on when preparing your answers to behavioral interview questions. Make sure to consider the following elements:
Do your homework and research
Thoroughly study the job description and company in general as the start of your interview preparation. This research will help you identify the needed competencies, skills, and abilities.
Write down a list of competencies, skills, and abilities
Behavioral interview questions are very good to actually demonstrate your talent, competencies, and results. Based on the competencies, skills, and abilities you have identified, you can prepare answers to behavioral questions. A lot of companies are looking for similar skills such as teamwork, leadership, flexibility, attention to detail, adaptability, creativity, responsibilities, etc. Rank the skills on importance in relation to the requirements of the job that you are interviewing for.
Come up with a list of your past experiences that relate to the job you’re applying for
Next, make a list of past work experiences. Make sure to highlight successful situations where you demonstrated behavior related to the competencies, skills, and abilities required for the job. Focus on delivering a concise and to-the-point answer.
Focus on successful situations and challenging ones
Just like you should be able to discuss a successful situation, you should also be prepared to answer questions about challenging situations. Make sure that you have some examples ready of work situations in which you faced a challenge but came out successfully. Tell the interviewer what you did, why you did it, and what the outcome was. Also, explain what you learned from the situation. Focus on demonstrating problem-solving ability, adaptability, and ability to professionally approach situations. There’s always a chance that the interviewer will ask a follow-up question to test your self-awareness by asking how you might handle a similar kind of situation differently now.
Always use the STAR method to structure your answer
The STAR method allows you to concisely provide the interviewer an answer by logically walking them through the situation. Below the STAR method is discussed step by step.
General elements to consider when structuring your answer:
- Give the interviewer an answer in the form of a ‘story’ and structure this story logically. Use the STAR interview technique to do this. STAR is an acronym that stands for a situation (S), your task (T) in that situation, the actions (A) you took, and what results (R) you got based on your actions. These are the basic steps you take in your walkthrough.
- Display the skills and abilities that are needed for the job you’re applying for and that the interviewer wants to see. Make sure you match your qualifications to the job and skills, as mentioned in the job description.
- Be honest. Interviewers will notice if you make a story up. Also, they will ask follow-up questions to go more in-depth into the situation you provide them with. Make sure to prepare several example situations of skills and abilities that you think will be discussed based on your research.
STAR Interview Technique
Behavioral job interview questions are best answered by providing example situations according to the STAR method. This way, you can give interviewers exactly what they are looking for. Also, it allows you to provide a concise and to the point answer about how you acted in previous work situations. Below, the STAR acronym is broken down into each step.
When you give your answer to the interviewer, start by setting the stage. Provide context around the situation or challenge you were facing. Also, make sure to provide relevant details.
After you describe the situation, talk about your specific responsibilities and what your role was. It’s important that the interviewer gets an understanding of your task.
Then, talk about the actions you took to resolve the challenges you were facing. Provide the interviewer with a step by step description of what actions you took.
Finally, talk about the outcomes of your actions. Make sure to take credit for your behavior that led to the result. Here you answer questions such as What happened? What did you accomplish? Also, provide the interviewer with information about what you learned from the situation. Make sure to focus on positive results and positive learning experiences.
Sample answers to behavioral job interview questions
Below you will find some example questions. The examples are already written in STAR format so that you can clearly see how you can structure your answers. However, these are ‘general’ examples. Do not forget to structure your own answers in a way that includes enough detail to convince the interviewer that you’re the right person for the job!
STAR-Method Example 1:
‘Give me an example of a time you had to adapt to a change in the workplace.’
Situation: ‘In my previous position, I encountered a situation that required me to quickly adapt to changes in the organization.
Task: ‘After our company was sold to a major player in the market, a lot of our management teams and protocols changed as well. As a result, new systems were implemented, and we needed to adjust as soon as possible to ensure a smooth transition between the company processes.
Action: ‘I took the initiative to get familiar with the new systems and software to make sure that I could stay productive and would not fall behind on my daily tasks.
Result: ‘After learning to work with the new systems, I found out that these were actually beneficial for my productivity. The company that bought us developed tailor-made software for all departments, and therefore the transition went smoothly. As a result, I was pretty happy that we got to use these new systems to increase our output.’
Why is this a good answer?
- The provided example is related and relevant to the workplace.
- This answer shows important skills such as being pro-active, problem-solving skills, and adaptability.
- The new situation led to increased productivity, which gives more weight to the scenario in which you had to adapt.
STAR-Method Example 2:
‘Tell me about a time when you had to perform a task in which you had little or no experience in doing. How did you approach this situation, and what did you learn?’
Situation: ‘In my previous position, my manager had to unexpectedly leave for six months due to a medical condition.
Task: Because of this unexpected turn of events, our director asked me to step in as interim manager. At the time, I was familiar with the basics of management and what my manager was looking for in our team because I worked with her for quite some time. However, I was certainly not trained to be a manager yet.
Action: I accepted the interim position because I enjoy challenges and was confident enough to think that I could do it. I gathered the team and told them about the situation we were in. Also, I asked them to cooperate together as well as possible and that we had to get through this period together. Furthermore, I asked another manager to coach me during the process to make sure all projects would stay on track, and the team would stay productive.
Result: We managed to get through the six months very well, and all the projects were finished on time. When my manager returned, she was very pleased with the work the team delivered, and I even got compliments from our director. My performance led to me being promoted to team manager myself at the end of that year.’
Why is this a good answer?
- This example shows that you’re not hesitating when uncertain events occur but also that you possess management skills and leadership potential.
- The provided example is related but also relevant to the workplace. It show’s that you’re able to adapt when a situation asks for it.
- This answer shows important skills such as being proactive, problem-solving skills, teamwork, adaptability, and creativity.
- Your choice of taking up the task of interim manager turned out successful, which gives more weight to the situation you discuss in which you had to adapt.