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  1. Blog
  2. Interviewing
  3. August 7, 2020

Behavioral Interview Questions: How to Answer & Prepare

Tell me about a time when you had to answer a behavioral interview question

Woman looking at the camera
Image courtesy of Martin Guido

What are behavioral interview questions?

Behavioral interview questions are questions that try to gauge how you have handled past work experiences, and therefore might handle future ones. 

Behavioral interview questions often begin with, tell me about a time when you…

For example: Tell me about a time when you disagreed with your boss. 

Why do employers ask behavioral questions?

Employers ask behavioral interview questions because they want to know how you represent yourself, if you can handle certain situations, how you use your skills, and how you may react to issues that arise in the workplace. 

Michele Mavi, career and interview coach and founder of MonumentalMe.com, explains that employers are trying to assess how a candidate will behave in various circumstances in the future, so they ask candidates to describe how they have handled these situations in the past.

Read more: 22 Tips for an Easy, Breezy Job Interview

Examples of behavioral interview questions

The essence of a behavioral interview question is this: Tell me about a time when _______. How did you respond and what was the result?

There’s no end to the types of behavioral questions your interviewer may ask, but here is a list to get you practicing.

  • Tell me about a time when you faced a conflict while working on the team and how you resolved it.

  • Tell me about a project you were managing that was getting derailed and how you got it back on course.

  • Tell me about a time you had to adapt to an unexpected situation. How did you handle it?

  • Give me an example of a time where you made a mistake at work. What was the outcome?

  • Tell me about a situation in which you had to work with a difficult client. How did you handle it?

  • Tell me about a time when you set a goal for yourself. How did you make sure that you achieved your goal?

  • Give me an example of a time where you were under pressure. How did you manage the stress?

  • Tell me about a time when you disagreed with the approach your boss was taking and how you persuaded him/her to use your approach instead.

  • Tell me about a time where you solved a problem in a creative way. What did you do and why?

  • Tell me about a time that your company or department went through a major change. How did you deal with it?

  • How do you prioritize your workload when everything feels like it's high priority?

  • How do you cooperate with another whose personality is very different from yours? Can you give me specific examples?

  • Describe a situation where you identified a problem and took the initiative to address it rather than waiting for someone else to do so.

Read more: How to Answer 6 Common Situational Interview Questions

How to answer behavioral interview questions

There is a helpful formula that you can use when answering a behavioral interview question: The STAR method, which stands for situation, task, action, result. This framework is beneficial because it helps keep your answer clear, concise, and organized. Biron Clark, former recruiter and founder of CareerSidekick.com, offered InHerSight some insight about how to use the STAR format.

Situation

Clark explains that you should start by outlining the situation and giving enough background information so the interviewer can see the big picture. This can be relatively short and can be a statement as simple as, “We had just launched a new version of our software to our enterprise clients.”

Task

You should then describe the task at hand or the problem that needs to be solved. For example, “After updating to the newest version of our software, multiple clients experienced software outages.”

Action

Next, you need to describe the action you took and the reason for choosing it. You might say, "My team spoke to multiple clients that were experiencing this issue to identify the root cause and begin working on a fix immediately. In the meantime, we also helped them revert back to a previous version of our software so that they wouldn't experience any more downtime."

Result

Finally, describe the result of what you achieved and what you learned from the situation. For example, "By the close of business that day, we were able to roll out a fixed version of the software to all clients which resolved the issue. To me, this experience stressed the importance of clear communication, both internally and externally. We wouldn't have been able to get such a successful result if we hadn't stayed calm and organized on our end, and communicated quickly and clearly with our clients at the same time."

“This isn’t a new method, but it’s highly effective and helpful in keeping your answer organized and making sure that you’re telling a story in a clear, understandable way,” Clark says. “It also ensures that you finish with the most important point—a positive outcome you achieved and how you used the experience to learn and improve as an employee.” 

How to prepare to answer behavioral questions

To prepare to answer behavioral questions, do your research on the company and become familiar with the job description so that you can tailor your answers to the specific position. 

Write down a list of the competencies, strengths, and skills the job description calls for, and map a past experience to each. Don't forget to use the STAR method and include the results and what you learned. For example, if the job description says they’re looking for someone with “strong interpersonal and communication skills,” come prepared with some anecdotes about how you had to communicate a complex problem or had to resolve a dispute between coworkers. 

Read more: The Ultimate Guide to Preparing for an In-Person Interview 

Mistakes to avoid 

Being long-winded

When answering behavioral interview questions, keep your answers brief. It can be tempting to provide every detail of the story, so sticking to the four points of the STAR method can help you stay on track.

Badmouthing former bosses, coworkers, or employers

Another good rule of thumb is to avoid talking poorly about past employers or colleagues when answering questions. For example, if you were answering the question, tell me about the time you disagreed with your boss’ approach and how you convinced them to use your approach instead, it can be tempting to talk about how terrible your boss was, but badmouthing former bosses and employers is bad interview etiquette. Instead, focus on yourself and how you adapted to or changed the situation.

Noelle Johnson, a career and interview coach the owner of a career services agency and InHerSight contributor, says it’s best to leave any emotion out of the situation, if possible. “People are great at explaining the situation and what they did, but they forget about sharing what the result is. This is key, especially if the result ended up saving the company time and money or helped the business make a profit.”

Being too humble

While there is a time and place to be humble, this is not one of them. Women especially are conditioned to be humble, modest, and unassertive. We often believe that being proud of our accomplishments or talking about them will make us appear haughty. However, you shouldn’t deflect credit where credit is due. Get comfortable talking about your accomplishments and talents confidently. 

Read more: 16 Interview Questions & Your Guide to Crushing Them 

About our sources

Michele Mavi has been coaching job seekers and helping organizations hire top talent for over 15 years. As a certified Gallup strengths coach and an applied positive psychology practitioner, she currently helps individuals and teams leverage their strengths to achieve more fulfilling professional and personal outcomes. She is a job search expert and her advice has been seen in several publications, including Fast Company, U.S. News, Glamour, Business Insider, FairyGodBoss, Career Contessa, and many more.

Biron Clark is a career advice author and former executive recruiter for multiple Fortune 500 companies. His website, CareerSidekick.com, is read by more than one million people per month and has been mentioned in Inc., Forbes, Business Insider, CNBC and more. He has been advising job seekers since 2012.

Noelle Johnson is the owner of a career services agency and is a writer and speaker. She speaks and writes on career topics specifically aimed toward women and marginalized communities. She is a comic book aficionado and has yet to meet a bad action film that she hasn't loved.

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Photo of Emily McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza

Emily McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza

Content Strategist, InHerSight

Emily is on staff at InHerSight where she researches and writes about data that describes women in the workplace, women's compensation and contract literacy, and women's rights in the workplace. Her bylines include Fast Company and The Glossary Co.

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