Behavioral Interview Questions: The 12 Most Common and How to Ace Them

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Overview

 

If you haven’t been to a job interview in a while, you might be surprised to have to answer behavioral interview questions.

 

Behavioral interview questions are the ones that often start with “Tell me about a time when…” 

Such questions can strike fear into even the most confident of speakers. But they also let you show off your personality, highlight your best “soft skills,” and dig into why your experiences make you perfect for the job. Embrace them! 

A well answered behavioral question will make you really stand out from a pool of experienced candidates. 

No matter if you have an interview on the horizon, or are just at the beginning of your job searching journey getting familiar with behavioral interview questions is essential. 

After consulting with a range of hiring managers and career experts, I’ve put together a list of the 12 most common behavioral interview questions and how to answer them so you can nail your next interview and land your dream job.

 

What Are Behavioral Interview Questions?

Behavioral questions invite candidates to share specific examples of them using particular skills and handling different kinds of scenarios. They allow the potential employer to understand how what you have done in the past has prepared you well for future tasks and challenges. Common openers to behavioral interview questions include:

behavioral interview questions
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  • What do you do when…
  • Have you ever…
  • Describe a time when…
  • What experience do you have with…

Why Are Behavioral Interview Questions Popular?

Many companies prefer behavioral questions in interviews because they shed light on how the candidate has dealt with specific situations they may face again. Asking someone to tell a personal story also gives the interviewer a better understanding of someone’s real personality rather than how well they have rote-learned outstanding answers to traditional interview questions. Like so much of our lives, our past behaviors are most predictive of our future behaviors.

 

How to Answer Behavioral Interview Questions

The best method for answering behavioral interview questions is using the STAR method, a tactic easily remembered by its S.T.A.R acronym. The STAR method provides a skeleton to which you can attach a meaningful and genuine story that not only answers the question, but shows off your communication skills, logic, and quick thinking. 

The STAR method stands for: 

Situation: Set the scene and give the necessary details to answer the question.
Task: Describe what your responsibility was and what the goal was in that situation.
Action: Explain what steps you took to address or achieve it.
Result: Share what outcomes your actions achieved, try and include measurable examples.

The following common behavioral interview questions are applicable across a range of industries. I’ve broken them down into what sort of information the interviewer is looking for when asking that particular question as well as some of the possible ways to answer it. 

Obviously, your own experiences are what counts here, but the following examples will give you a strong base to build your own answers from. 

1. Have you ever faced a conflict while working in a team? What did you do?

This question will show your potential employer how you deal with difficult team dynamics and what your method is in dealing with it. When answering be sure to recognize that all teams can have problems but that you have the ability to work with others even under challenging circumstances. Include your tactics for how you listen to all sides of the argument, and how you are able to act and react objectively.

behavioral interview questions conflict
Example: “When I was working on a cross-team project, there were issues with one working group continually failing to meet their deadlines. But instead of taking responsibility, they blamed another group for sabotaging their work, the Slack channel got quite ugly. I called a meeting and allowed each person a set amount of time to outline their main grievances. Once everyone realized what the exact struggles everyone was experiencing it was easier to work together to develop new strategies for setting achievable deadlines. The crucial thing here was ensuring that everyone felt heard and that I could help my team communicate with each other using objective language.”

2. Tell me about a time you were under a lot of pressure. What was happening, and how did you manage it?

3. Describe a time when you were managing multiple responsibilities. How did you handle that?

Being able to manage multiple deadlines, team structures, and your own tasks is obviously crucial for any job. This question gives you the opportunity to show that you can use industry-sepecific tools, good communication tactics, and delegation to work efficiently.

Example: Last year my direct manager went on maternity leave and there was a three-week gap between her departure and her replacement. I took on her tasks in addition to mine. Initially, I felt quite overwhelmed by having all these extra responsibilities. But I was able to develop really structured daily plans by utilizing online tools such as Asana, and set really clear daily deadlines with my colleagues. By the end of the three weeks, I was excelling at managing my time and meeting all the required deadlines. I learned to manage my time in a way that allowed me to take on additional responsibility without any drop in quality. Once the replacement took over I found I was far more efficient in my own work areas and could then use my extra time to develop a new onboarding process that once implemented saved our team a lot of time.

4. Describe a time when you had to work with a difficult client. What was the situation, and how did you handle it?

5. Give me an example of a time when you had to explain something complex to an unflexible client. How did you handle this tricky situation?

6. Tell me about a time when you went above the norm to deliver great service to a customer.

The above three questions fall into the same category. Think of them as a “family.” If the position you are going for has any kind of client-facing aspect, make sure you prepare a few of these types of questions. It’s critical to demonstrate the respect you have for your clients while highlighting how it was your actions that saved the interaction or sale. Be sure to explain the type of client you were working with, and what you learned from the experience, no matter if it was positive or negative.

teamwork

Example: A client came to me after asking to switch client managers due to a conflict. They were defensive from the first point of contact and I realized immediately I needed to gain their trust. I asked them out for a lunch meeting and asked them to explain to me their bigger company goals. They shared with me the very personal story of the companies beginning and how its success is much more about fulfilling a family legacy than financial gain. By giving them the space to see how much was at stake for them I could really earn their trust which set up a really productive working relationship. The project went really well and they ended up referring several other major clients for us.

7. Tell me about a time you failed. What did you do to deal with the situation?

 

A behavioral twist on the classic “what is your weakness” question, this line of inquiry requires you to dive into the silver lining of a tough episode. Potential employees want to see how you can reflect on adversity and learn from past experiences.

Example: I was managing a project for a new client whom we were eager to impress. I told them they would have the product in two weeks, but it ended up taking longer. Even though I could communicate the change in delivery without too much trouble, it was a huge learning curve. I now recognize that it is better to give a slightly longer delivery period and then deliver early than disappoint by having to push the delivery date back.

8. Tell me about a time you were dissatisfied with your work. What could you have done to make it better?

Example: A few years ago, I was a writer at Company Y, when I had to create some content for a company whose campaign I felt bordered on sexist. I completed the work anyway, but felt uncomfortable about my part in it and really struggled to bring my best to the table. We did get the campaign done, but the whole team struggled to work well together, partly due to my unspoken annoyance and discomfort. It taught me a valuable lesson to share my views with my colleagues and to try and figure out a way to be my true self rather than hide it and disrupt workflow with passive energy.

I now implement a time for workshopping each campaign to ensure that everyone is comfortable and motivated to produce the necessary content. This open space for communication really brought our team together and increased the quality of your work. 

9. Describe a time when your team or company was undergoing some major change. How did you adapt, and how did it impact you?

Pick an example where a change directly affected your job. Work into your answer, your understanding that change is a welcome part of all contemporary workplaces and that you have the resilience and resources to adapt easily and with a positive attitude.

 

behavioral interview questions
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Example: Late last year my team was transitioned from the office to fully remote positions. I actually maintained a place in the office with the option of remote but lost my daily team. In the beginning, I was really angry and felt that the management had failed to recognize the importance of us sharing a workspace. But after some reflection, I was able to see how the loss of my team could be an advantage. I reorganized my work weeks so that I was choosing to work when it suited my personal productivity cycle instead of being stuck to the whims of the team. I organized for us to meet up one afternoon a week in a co-working space so we could still enjoy our team dynamics without some of the distractions I hadn’t realized we were creating. I also took a ‘work-away’ vacation to Croatia, something I would never have considered before the transition. This really increased my respect for my managers that they trusted me to get my work down without looking over my shoulder. 

10. Tell me about a time when you had to rely on written communication to explain your ideas to your team.

Being able to communicate using a variety of different methods is essential. This question might be altered to be oral, visual, etc. Prepare various answers that best fit the position you are interviewing for. This question allows your potential employee to understand how well you can work with limited resources. 

Example: In my last position, I noticed that not everyone was contributing to our regular feedback and brainstorming sessions. These usually consisted of people being asked to verbally respond to provocations about our procedures and projects. On reflection, I realized that this was likely because some people in our team were shy about speaking in English in front of a large group of their colleagues. I changed the format of the feedback so that people could choose to either contribute verbally, through writing a post-it note or even using emoji-type stickers to express their reactions to certain things. By giving more options for communicating we had a much bigger cross-section of people contributing and our project processes improved exponentially when everyone was able to share their thoughts and offer their ideas. 

11. What is your proudest professional accomplishment?

12. Tell me about a time you set a goal for yourself. How did you go about ensuring that you would meet your objective?

These questions aim to find out what motivates you. What is it that keeps you going and excited about your job? How do you envisage your future and how driven are you to get there? Align this answer to your potential future workplace by researching any training or mentorship programs they have and include this in your answer. 

Example: When I started at my last company we were relying heavily on three long-term customers for 80% of our work. While we were doing okay, I could see the risk if any one of these companies left. I made it my mission to diversify our client base to increase our security as well as tap into new markets. This idea wasn’t fully supported by my manager at the time, so I had to work without much assistance in the beginning. 12 months into the job I had managed to secure four more large ongoing clients that meant we would remain viable even if two of our regulars would leave suddenly. Three months later two of our major clients merged and left us. But thanks to our more diverse portfolio, we were able to weather the storm. It felt great to know that my actions and forward-thinking were what saved the company in this tough time. I still look back on this time with pride.

Example: In the middle of last year I was feeling a slight slump in motivation at work. It felt like I had learned everything I could, and the tasks I used to find exciting were becoming repetitive. As a product manager, I worked closely with both the design and engineering teams. I decided I would learn both some basic animation and coding skills to allow me to better understand what my colleagues do. I have to say it was much harder than I anticipated. I enrolled in a JavaScript course online and got animation lessons from one of my teammates after work hours. Initially, I thought I could build a whole website and create an entire short film, I soon realized I would need to scale back my ambitions and settled on the goal of an animated GIF and a functional website landing page. After six weeks of tremendous effort, I achieved both. While it might not seem like a lot, it really pushed me to learn entirely new skills. Not only did I get a huge confidence boost, I also learned a lot about my colleagues and feel like I can be a much better product manager now I realize even more how talented and patient they all are!

 

Behavioral Interview Questions: Wrap-Up

I hope you now feel more confident about how to answer common behavioral questions. If you haven’t landed an interview yet, sign up to job alerts at Lensa and follow us on LinkedIn for more interview tips and career stories.

Still worried about preparing for your interview or finding your next big break? Get in touch – we are ready to support your job search journey.

Jessica Miley

Jessica Miley

Jess Miley is a freelance blogger and founder of Ways Art Residency. She is excited about the good, the bad and the ugly of AI and its effect on how we work. Ask her for a new podcast recommendation.

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