Artwork by: Polina Shpak
Behavioral interview questions are becoming the standard for managerial candidates. In this article, we’ll discuss how to answer common behavioral questions, and provide tips and examples for acing your next interview.
Interviews can be stressful. There’s no way to sugarcoat that — it’s just the truth. There’s a lot to deal with: company research, references, identifying your relevant skills, preparing common interview questions, and even what to wear. And if you’re applying for a managerial position, there’s a good chance you’ll experience more than your typical questions like, “So, tell me about yourself…”
Behavioral interview questions, especially for potential managers, incorporate soft skills to determine what kind of manager the candidate might be and how well they’d handle typical situations for that company. But far from being daunting, these questions can be enjoyable to answer. Not like, “If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?” or even “How many Volkswagen Beetles could fit in the Chrysler Building?”
Behavioral interview questions are, in essence, short stories starring you as the hero. They are also something you can prepare for in advance, so you can impress your interviewer and demonstrate that you’re the best manager for the job.
In this article, we’ll discuss some of the most common behavioral interview questions you’re likely to encounter as a managerial candidate and the best way to answer them, including
What are behavioral interview questions?
Using the STAR method to answer behavioral interview questions
Common behavioral interview questions
Example answers to behavioral interview questions
Behavioral-based interviewing is a method to gain insights about a managerial candidate's past knowledge, experience, behaviors, skills, and aptitudes. The aim is to ask the candidate to give detailed examples of past instances where they demonstrated particular proficiency or skills, which allows the hiring manager a way to predict the candidate’s future job performance. Basically, it means that past performance is a way to determine future success.
Answering these questions truthfully and honestly will offer compelling and specific verification as to how you, as a potential manager, have dealt with similar situations in the past. Hiring managers like to utilize these type of questions because it gives them a more detailed, real-world picture of how you operate in the workplace. It’s one thing to say, “I’m a team player,” but much more convincing to give a detailed example of how you lead a team of six people to create and implement a new marketing plan for a major client, or an instance when you successfully mediated a dispute between team members or two company departments.
According to Mitch Byers, author of “Interview Rx,” the number of employers using behavioral interviews has increased significantly over the past 20 years, with 65 percent of Fortune 500 companies currently utilizing behavioral interviews compared with approximately 5 percent in the 1990s.
While there are several methods you can use to answer behavioral interview questions, the best way is to utilize the STAR method, which stands for
Situation: Explain the setting
Task: What you needed to get done
Action: The precise steps you took to solve the problem
Result: The outcome you achieved
It’s easy to identify when to use this method because the behavioral interview questions are a call to describe a situation you found yourself in on the job. They often start with queries like
Have you ever…
Tell me about a time when you…
Give me an example of an instance when…
Describe a situation…
What do you do when…
You’ll want to spend some time in advance crafting your possible answers to these questions. To accomplish this, go over your past positions, and come up with a few instances that exemplify common manager behavioral interview situations, such as when you settled a conflict or managed a challenging issue. Obviously, you can’t anticipate every single question you might be asked, but having some prepared, relevant answers in your back pocket will help you demonstrate your skills and management style.
In his 1982 article in The Journal of Applied Psychology, psychologist Tom Janz compared the “traditional interview” with what he termed the “behavior descriptive interview.” The study demonstrated that the behavioral interview was significantly more accurate than the traditional interview.
If you’re interviewing for a managerial position, you probably have plenty of experience under your belt, and you shouldn’t have much of a problem coming up with appropriate stories to share with an interviewer. But don’t just plan on improvising in the moment — it’s very easy for your mind to go blank in the heat of the moment, and the hiring manager will not be impressed if you can’t come up with an answer.
So how do you narrow down your list? Consult the job description! Highlight any soft skills that are mentioned, such as “ability to multitask” or “leadership skills.” Then, find an example in your job history to demonstrate these key skills. You don’t need a laundry list — you want to have stores that are adaptable to several situations since you can’t be absolutely sure what you’ll be asked.
Adaptability is a key skill in the workplace and one at which potential managers should be adept. Good managers who can adapt to ever-changing situations are able to create solutions and handle change while still reaching their goals. In today’s unpredictable marketplace, companies want managers who can adapt and be flexible.
Questions you might encounter that focus on your ability to adapt are:
Describe a time when your company was experiencing change. How did that influence you as a manager, and what steps did you take to adapt?
If your employees are not willing to learn a new way of doing things, even if it would increase efficiency and productivity, how would you go about changing their minds?
Give me an example of a time you failed. How did you handle it?
Tell me about a time when you had to think on your feet to tactfully navigate through a challenging situation.
It is very likely you will be asked about your ability to communicate, as it is a key skill for every employee, especially those at the management level. Whether it’s communicating with co-workers, clients, or superiors, managers need high-level communication skills to be effective at their job.
Possible questions you might encounter are:
Describe a time when you had to express your ideas in a meeting.
Describe an instance when you were able to change someone’s mind.
Tell me about an instance where you received negative feedback. How did you respond?
Give an example of a time you had to communicate ideas or information in a meeting or presentation.
As a manager, you’ll definitely be asked questions about how you work with a team. In this instance, highlight your experience working with people in demanding or challenging situations. You may also be asked to talk about how you deal with workplace conflict or acted as a mediator between subordinates or peers. If this is out of your wheelhouse, consider a time when you handled conflict in your personal life, or give a theoretical answer on how you would deal with such a situation.
Can you share an example of when teamwork increased your productivity?
What do you think is an effective team-building activity?
What support do you provide your team so that they perform at their peak efficiency?
We all make mistakes from time to time. Describe a situation with a coworker that you wished you’d handled differently.
As a manager, you’ll be expected to deal with outside entities as well as your team, so you’ll most likely be asked about how you interact with clients and support your employees.
Tell me about a time that you found a client’s requests vague or incomplete. What steps did you take to resolve the situation?
Describe an instance where you dealt with an irate customer.
Give an example of a time that you did not meet a client’s expectations.
It can be challenging to meet the needs of multiple clients. How do you prioritize changing client requirements?
Take your time and come up with a specific answer.
Be vague. Make sure you have a specific example to use in your answer.
Make sure to include the background, the actions you took, and the end result.
Recite your resume. The interviewer has already read it.
Answer truthfully, and don’t obsess over being “wrong.” The interviewer simply wants to determine if you have the skills they’re looking for.
Ramble on. Keep your answers clear, relevant, and concise.
It’s important to remember that every story needs a beginning, middle, and yes, an end. Interviewers might be hesitant to hire a manager who ends their answer with a “there you go,” or just peters out at the end. Remember to tie your ending back into the original question to end on a strong note.
“Tell me about a time you faced a conflict while managing a team. What steps did you take to overcome it?”
“Six months ago I was leading a team of interdepartmental employees. We were tasked with organizing a series of professional development workshops. Unfortunately, we received a lot of negative feedback when corporate wanted to make these workshops mandatory. One manager was particularly upset. She felt overwhelmed because she had a large workload and two employees who were on medical leave. She felt her team just didn’t have the time to manage everything. I was careful to acknowledge her apprehension but tactfully pointed out that the professional development was designed to improve the company culture as well as increase overall productivity. We felt the end result would streamline everyone’s workload. She did wind up attending, without additional complaints, and seemed responsive when I addressed the attendees about handling conflict directly, without “piling on” unrelated issues. This is how I like to handle conflicts and disputes in the workplace, by being direct and emphasizing the net benefits.”
“Give me an example of a situation where you required information from a person who wasn’t responding to you. What did you do to resolve this problem?”
“When I first became the office manager for a mid-sized accounting firm, I was in charge of fulfilling the office supplies for several departments. The vendors were easy to deal with, but the problem was that the ordering system allowed senior managers to access it and change their orders without notifying me. These changes meant that the bulk pricing for items would change, and I was constantly going over my quarterly budget. I had to do a lot of rearranging to make sure the orders were meeting each team’s needs. I found, however, that many of the executives just weren’t responding to my emails, and that required me to run around to each individual team leader to get an exact count of what supplies they required. It was taxing (no pun intended), but I got the lists I needed. The upside to all this was that I was able to meet a lot of people in the company, and learned more about what supplies they need for their departments to run smoothly. Eventually, I implemented a standardized order form to eliminate other people from changing vendor orders, and I also learned that direct, face-to-face interaction can be much more effective than emails or voice messages.”
“Tell me about a time you were able to make a good impression with a new client.”
“As a manager, I think it’s important to make a good impression before the client has signed on the bottom line. When I go into meetings with my team to meet with potential clients, we both know we can meet their needs, and my salespeople know I don’t need to micromanage them, I’m just there for support. That's why this year my team was able to land the largest account we’ve ever had. I set up one-on-ones with all of my salespeople to learn what they had discovered about the client’s needs and goals. That’s what makes me a good manager — I don’t have an assembly-line approach to client management. Each client’s goals are unique, and I let them know I respect that. In the situation with this client, I had all the information and data ready to go and was able to answer every question and concern that they had. They signed with us because they knew we were willing to go the extra mile to meet their needs.”
Managers can have a great influence over staff morale, company culture, and employee productivity. Behavioral interview questions help the interviewer gain a clear picture of your style and leadership ability, both of which will affect your overall contribution to the company culture and are vital responsibilities of any manager.
Behavioral interview questions incorporate soft skills to determine what kind of manager the candidate might be and how well they’d handle typical situations for that company.
The purpose of behavioral interview questions is to ask the candidate to give detailed examples of past instances where they demonstrated particular proficiency or skills, which allows the hiring manager a way to predict the candidate’s future job performance.
The best method you can use to answer behavioral interview questions, is the STAR method.
Be truthful, concise, specific, and confident.
Jennifer Inglis is a freelance writer and content creator with extensive professional expertise in advertising, media analysis, teaching, writing, and literature. Prior to working for Career.io, Jennifer was a public school teacher, teaching courses in college and career readiness, writing, and public speaking. Jennifer has a master’s degree in Teaching, and is the author of two published novels.