Artwork by: Antonina Kasyanikova
Your past accomplishments are often an indication of your future potential. Behavioral interview questions seek to get to the bottom of your career stories. It is well worth preparing some impressive answers in advance.
Every hiring manager wants to gaze into the future and imagine what sort of employee you will be. How will you collaborate with those around you? Where will your biggest impact hit? How organized are you when the pressure is on?
The key to these questions (and many more) is understanding your behavioral preferences.
One reasonably accurate way to predict future behavior is to piece together the actions and decisions of your past and place them in a future context. Most of any job interview is spent translating, deciphering, and predicting your potential.
Contextual behavioral interview questions provide most of the insights.
As soon as you enter the interview room, the hunt for evidence is on.
Behavioral questions during a job interview are something that the best candidates anticipate. An interview may only last for an hour and there are so many aspects of workplace behavior to cover, so predicting the topics is not so tricky. The angle of each question will certainly vary, but if you have prepared enough examples, you will be sure to impress. In this blog we explore:
Why are behavioral interview questions important?
How is a behavioral question different from a situational question?
30+ examples of behavioral questions – with answers for each topic.
Answering behavioral interview questions well will put you in pole position for any job.
Analyzing someone’s previous professional behavior is far from an easy task. The context of something that happened a while ago might be hazy. Comparison between workplaces and cultures is never easy, while the competitive dynamics of any given employer may significantly affect the outcomes.
If you do not dig deeper, your understanding will remain superficial.
Most behavioral interview questions offer an open invitation to add the detail that the candidate considers appropriate. They know the context of what went on and they have a decent idea of what awaits them, so they can weave their story accordingly.
One common way of telling a behavioral interview story is the STAR method. It offers a tight structure to tell a behavioral tale and consists of four key sections:
Situation: What was the context of the situation?
Task: What was the nature of your responsibility?
Action: What did you do to move towards the outcome?
Result: What resulted because of your involvement?
One brief sentence for each section is all you need for the interview to get the message and hopefully move on to their next question. Deeper discussion of behavioral questions is a huge interview time suck, so it is advisable to offer enough detail at the first attempt.
Having emphasized their importance, it is worth mentioning that no interview will consist entirely of behavioral questions. Interviewers will want to ask more direct questions about personality, motivations and work experience.
They may also ask situational questions which are more theoretical in nature “what would you do if…?” Resist the temptation to answer a situational question with a real (behavioral) answer from your past. Use your imagination!
In terms of getting into the behavioral interview question detail, the best approach is to consider the typical areas of such questions with a few examples and potential answers. These will vary considerably depending on your industry sector, but you should get an idea.
The demands of each role will dictate the mix of behavioral interview questions that crop up. Some roles are more people focused, some involve solving complex problems and others require nuanced decision making.
For most professions, the following list of behavioral questions should cover many of the key areas. Have a read and put yourself in the hiring manager’s position. If you were them, what would you ask?
Innovation and flexibility will go a long way to solving seemingly impossible problems. When an unexpected obstacle stands in your way, how do you go about dealing with it?
Tell me about a time when you changed your mind against your will.
Tell me about a time when you solved a problem in an innovative way.
How do you adapt your priorities when new projects come along?
Example: “It took on six new clients which was 30% more workload in terms of my project management, so I decided to delegate some of the tasks to a more junior colleague that I had been mentoring. They focused on the simpler operational aspects.”
Teams gel when they overcome problems and trust the respective experts to contribute their share of the load. What sort of a team member are you?
Tell me about a time when you changed the dynamic of a team.
What has been your biggest realization about working with other people?
Tell me about when you had a personality clash with a colleague.
Example: “It was clear from the beginning that I would never see eye-to-eye with the marketing manager on a personal level, but we managed to find some common work interests and we learned to work with each other on a professional basis.”
Managing your emotions is essential in a stressful workplace. Are you able to take care of your mental health when everyone else is falling apart around you?
Tell me about when you had to complete a project with an impossible deadline.
How did you react the last time someone got angry with you at work?
Have you ever felt as if you can’t cope at work? What did you do?
Example: “I do not find it easy to work when I am dealing with personal issues, although I have learned to compartmentalize home and work lives. Working throughout a traumatic divorce showed me that I am stronger than I think.”
There are only so many hours in the day (and in the evening for many of us workaholics). How do you summon the discipline to manage your time and prioritize your tasks?
Tell me about a time when you didn’t meet the deadline.
Describe a time when your to-do list became so full that it swamped you.
What do you typically do when something interrupts your plan?
Example: “I find that interruptions can be beneficial to help me gain a new perspective on the task that is being interrupted, so I welcome them. I remember being unable to finish an important presentation, but after a two-hour fire alarm test the solutions came to me.”
What makes you give that extra 10%? Sharing your motivations is crucial in an interview. Will your values and passions match up with those of the hiring manager?
How do you find motivation when nothing seems interesting?
Tell me about a time when you felt disillusioned with your work.
Have you ever convinced someone to do something that they didn’t want to do?
Example: “I once had to persuade my boss to hire an employee who had a criminal record. I believed that this person had been rehabilitated and they had a fantastic skill set. They eventually proved to be one of our most productive employees.”
What is your approach when an obstacle comes along? How do you go about overcoming it and how do you enlist the help of others? What have you learned from the challenges?
Have you ever had a huge failure that took a long time to recover from?
Tell me about a time when you had to buy into an unpopular decision.
Tell me about when you managed to sidestep a disaster that you saw coming.
Example: “I could see that the marketing strategy was flawed because we were not adapting to the new digital habits of our customers quickly enough. I took my boss through my research and made a strategy presentation to the board (which was taken forward).”
Taking informed decisions armed with the best insights (at the time) is a story of risk and reward. Sometimes you need to be brave and sometimes cautious. Judgment is key.
How did you go about making a decision when you didn’t have enough data?
Tell me about the riskiest (correct) decision that you have ever made.
Describe a situation when you had to decide in the face of insufficient data.
Example: “We brought a new product to market with no idea of the demand and potential order volume. Talking with suppliers wasn’t helpful as they didn’t know our customer, so we conducted some quick market research and made a semi-informed decision.”
You are in trouble if you are not able to share what is in your head. Influencing those around you requires explanation, illustration, and inspiration. How do you like to communicate?
Share a time when you had to give a message that the audience didn’t welcome.
Have you ever misunderstood a message? What happened next?
Describe a time when you had to say “no” to someone more senior than you.
Example: “I had the unfortunate job of making 40% of my team redundant during the last recession. I have never felt so low in my career, but I had to help them to feel that they were equipped to move on to new and exciting opportunities. Most of them did exactly that.”
You can lead in all directions – upwards, sideways, and downwards (if you choose to). How have you stepped out there and led by example? What sort of a leader are you?
Tell me about a time when you convinced other people to follow you.
When did you see an issue from another perspective and change your mind?
Describe a time when you filled in for your boss and learned something from it.
Example: “I was made a temporary manager of my team for a year during my bosses’ maternity leave. It was a challenge stepping up to be a leader to previous colleagues, but definitely something that contributed to a permanent promotion three years later.”
Conflict is common when differing priorities meet head on. Many workplaces view healthy conflict as the melting pot of progress, so dealing with it professionally is critical.
Tell me about a time when you had to pacify a dissatisfied customer.
How did you deal with a lasting disagreement with a colleague?
Tell me about a time when you felt like you had to stand up for your beliefs.
Example: “I was working as a department manager in the store one weekend when a customer started shouting at one of our customer service staff. I invited them to a quiet area of the store and worked through their concerns to find a resolution.”
Preparing for behavioral interview questions is not so tough. Think about the demands of the future role and delve into the mists of time for some suitable examples. It is important how you frame your stories as you will need to quantify your achievements and add context where possible. In conclusion, follow these behavioral interview question golden rules:
Understand what the hiring manager wants to hear before you answer
Tell the stories that will make you seem like one of the team
Use the STAR method to tell the most succinct and compelling story
Remember the difference between a situational and behavioral question
Which behaviors are you most proud of during your career thus far?
With a decade’s experience of writing about job search and recruitment topics, Paul understands the power of words to influence mindsets and alter destinies. His previous recruitment career taught him that the seeds of a successful job search are sown long before you come to writing your resume. Dad of two great teenage kids and husband to a long-suffering writing widow.