Interviews are less stressful if you have some idea of what questions you’ll be asked. Since behavioral interview questions have become quite popular over the years, you can expect some to be thrown your way.
Read this guide to learn more about behavioral interview questions, get a list of the most common questions employers ask, and see some sample behavioral interview questions and answers to help you visualize the process. Plus get actionable tips on how to prepare and respond when you’re asked to give examples of how you handle situations at work.
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What Are Behavioral Interview Questions?
When a recruiter or hiring manager asks questions during a job interview, it’s likely they will ask you to tell them about a time when you…
These types of questions are referred to as behavioral interview questions because they help the interviewer understand and evaluate your behavior, as well as your skills.
Imagine trying to evaluate someone’s skills without actually seeing the work being performed. That’s the challenge recruiters face when selecting candidates for a job. The next best thing is to ask you to describe how you’ve solved a problem.
Behavioral questions are designed to help interviewers learn how you would respond to a specific situation and how you solve problems to achieve successful results.
Behavioral interview questions require the candidate to explain how you resolved an issue, solved a problem or fixed something. Embedded within each answer are the human drivers or qualities that show why you took the actions you did. It’s like a small peek into what motivates you.
Here’s what you know:
You and your co-workers approached tasks differently. Imagine you were both interviewing for the same job. Your titles and work would look the same, but how you performed the job would come across differently during the job interview. Those are the subtle differences interviewers hope to discover from asking behavior interview questions. And your unique style of getting work done is exactly what you want to emphasize during the interview. Clearly and concisely.
Behavioral interview answers are the proof or evidence of your soft skills as well as your ability to do the job.
Start today by recalling situations that show future employers you have what they are looking for, especially specific examples that highlight: productivity, leadership, teamwork, initiative, planning, flexibility/adaptability and interpersonal skills.
When practicing how to answer behavioral interview questions, you don’t need to prepare thousands of possible responses. Instead, think about the skills and behaviors your future employer needs. Some of the skills and behaviors are fairly common and would apply to almost any position with any company. Just look at the job description to see which skills are being requested.
Here are common categories you can prepare for during your upcoming interview:
- Motivation/Self Awareness
- Problem Solving/Decision Making
- Follow Through
Common Behavioral Interview Questions
There are certain types of questions you can anticipate and prepare for. This list of 50 common behavioral interview questions is broken down by what skills or qualities the interviewer is evaluating.
The types of questions you are asked will vary by your role and level of seniority. In other words, if the job doesn’t require you to deliver presentations, you probably won’t be asked to talk about a time you had to deliver a presentation to a group.
During a one-hour interview, you can probably expect to be asked approximately 10-20 questions, many will be behavioral interview questions.
- Can you describe for me one of your most important accomplishments?
- Describe for me one of the biggest disappointments in your work history.
- What special aspects of your education or training have prepared you for this job?
- What specific things in your past experience that affected your present career objectives?
- How do you go about making an important decision affecting your career?
- Give an example of how you used what you learned from the last professional development course you took.
- Tell me about a difficult obstacle you have had to overcome.
- Give me an example of a time you took initiative or took the role as a self-starter.
- Provide an example of what gave you the greatest satisfaction at work?
- Give an example of a time something frustrated you at work and how you handled it.
- Describe your most significant failure in the last 2 years.
- Give me an example of an experience on the job that you felt was satisfying.
- Tell me about a time when you missed an obvious solution to a problem.
- Tell me about a time you have been told, or discovered yourself, a problem in your job performance, and what have you done?
- Tell me about how you worked effectively under pressure.
- Give me an example of the most difficult conflict situation in which you were involved?
- Tell me about a time you disagreed with a supervisor.
- Tell me about a time you had to stand up for your beliefs.
- Tell me about a time you disagreed with your manager’s leadership style or team culture.
- Tell me about a time when you were in conflict with a peer and how the situation was resolved.
- Tell me about a time you wish you’d handled a situation with a coworker differently.
- Tell me about a time you encountered pressure on the job and how you handled it.
- Give me an example of the problems you encountered in doing your last job? Which ones frustrate you the most?
- Tell me about a time you had to learn something quickly.
- Tell me about a time when you had to go above and beyond your regular job responsibilities in order to get a job done.
- Tell me about the adjustments you had to make to your schedule working virtually.
- Give me an example of how you communicate with your manager and co-workers in a remote setting.
Problem Solving/Decision Making
- Give me an example of the most difficult decision you made in the past year.
- The last time you did not know what decision to make, what did you do?
- Tell me about a time when you had to analyze information and make a recommendation.
- Give me a specific example of a time when you used good judgment and logic in solving a problem.
- Give an example of when you took full responsibility for solving a problem only to find out that you really should have included others in the process.
- Tell me about a time when you were faced with conflicting priorities.
- Give an example of something you’ve recently scheduled.
- Tell me about how you met your objectives this year.
- Tell me about a time when you motivated others.
- Can you give me an example of your ability to manage or supervise others?
- Tell me about a time when you had to get your team together to establish a common approach to a problem.
- Tell me about a time when needed to get your team to accept your ideas or department goals.
- How would you describe your basic leadership style? Give specific examples of how you practice this.
- Tell me about a tie when you led a group who doesn’t report to you, but from whom you have to get work.
- In your work experience, what have you done that you consider truly creative?
- Can you think of a problem you have encountered when the old solutions didn’t work and when you came up with new solutions?
- What kind of problems have people recently called on you to solve? Tell me what you devised?
- Tell me about a time you had to give a presentation? How did you prepare?
- Give me an example of a time when you had to explain a complex idea or topic to people with less subject knowledge.
- Tell me about the most recent writing project you’ve worked on.
- Tell me about a time you had to build rapport with a coworker or client whose personality was different than yours?
- Give me an example of a time when you had to make sure that due dates were met for work that you delegated?
- Tell me about a time when you gathered feedback from a customer after you completed a project/task or made a delivery?
- Tell me about one of the methods you’ve used to follow up on your projects, tasks, assignments.
Sample Questions And Answers
To help you formulate your own responses, here are some sample behavioral interview questions and answers. You will notice that these sample answers follow a similar format. One of the best ways to structure your answers to behavioral interview questions is using the STAR format.
Use STAR to organize the information you include in your answer. This ensures you include just the important information the interviewer needs to hear. It also requires you to remember and discuss a specific situation, task, action, and result in your answer.
Here’s more detail on what to include in each element:
- Situation: Describe the situation. Use who, what, where, when, why and how to help you structure the information. Describe a specific event or situation, not a generalized description of what you have done in the past. This situation can be from a previous job, a volunteer experience, or any relevant event.
- Task: What goal were you working toward? What were you being asked to do?
- Action: Describe the actions you took to address the situation with an appropriate amount of detail and keep the focus on YOU. What specific steps did you take and what was your particular contribution? Use the word “I,” not “we” when describing actions.
- Result: Describe the outcome of your actions and don’t be shy about taking credit for the outcome. Be sure to mention measurable or quantifiable results. Was there an increase in performance, efficiency, profitability or impact?
Keep your answer concise and on track by including all elements in your answer using the STAR format. Be as specific as possible without rambling or including too much information.
Never use a generic answer like “I always appreciate different viewpoints from my own. When someone expresses a different opinion, I listen carefully to what the person says and utilize that feedback.” While this answer is technically good, it lacks the details and specifics. An interviewer would find it hard to evaluate your skills or believe you had experience handling the situation.
1. Can you describe for me one of your most important accomplishments?
This behavioral interview question is your opportunity to share one of the top achievements in your career. When selecting your accomplishment, be sure it is relevant to the job you are interviewing for.
Answer: When I was leading the engineering team at XYZ company, we needed to redesign a component to increase output on a printer. I gathered a team made up of sales reps, manufacturing, marketing and engineering to identify what a successful outcome would look like.
After months of meetings spent evaluating costs and timelines, we developed a component that increased the printer’s quality and quantity of printed materials. This new component was used in every new machine produced and increased sales by 25% globally.
2. Tell me about a difficult obstacle you have had to overcome.
The interviewer wants to know how you handle pressure, challenges, adversity and tenacity. Focus you answer on the steps you took to overcome the obstacle.
Answer: While working on a time-sensitive client project, I found the printer was jammed. I first reloaded the paper bins and followed the printer’s error instructions and within minutes the printer was back online.
Not only was my report in the queue but so were several other jobs. The final client report was proofed and delivered ahead of schedule. I also delivered the other print jobs to their owners to keep their workflow on track.
3. Tell me about a time you disagreed with a supervisor or co-worker.
This behavioral interview question evaluates how you view your relationships at work and how you handle conflict. It also shows how you communicate during uncomfortable and uncertain situations. Keep your opinions and emotions out of your answer and state the facts.
Answer: My previous manager had specific ideas about what she wanted in our social media marketing campaigns. She wanted to use text dense graphics. As the lead designer, I believed that a simple call to action was more convincing.
After much discussion, we compromised, and ran each campaign for one week. We then collected the insights related to customer engagement. It turns out that my campaigns performed better so from that point forward, she allowed me to manage our social media independently.
4. Tell me about how you met your objectives this year?
Your ability to set goals and prioritize actions to meet the objectives for your own personal development shows how you structure time and manage priorities. It also evaluates your thought process and motivation.
Answer: In my role as event planner, I was accountable for coordinating events for current and potential customers. As you can imagine, this was quite challenging last year.
After meeting with my manager, we decided to take a brief pause in offering events. I developed a roadmap for monthly meetings with current customers on Zoom which was distributed through emails twice a month. I also collaborated with sales to create a four-part masterclass on selling for potential customers. Our monthly customer meetings averaged 10-30 customers per call and the masterclass enrollment was 100.
5. Tell me about a time when needed to get your team to accept your ideas or department goals.
No matter what role you hold in a company, you need to be able to “sell” your ideas to the team, your manager or a customer. Persuasion and communication are important skills.
Answer: We were rolling out a new workshop and needed the team to support it and encourage students to attend it. We knew that adding another thing to students’ schedules would be looked at as unnecessary.
My manager and I planned a launch meeting and built an agenda for maximum interactivity. The idea was to have our team actually experience what the workshop would be like. After experiencing the benefits and outcomes of the workshop, our team was enthusiastic about recommending it to students and provided first-hand testimonials.
6. Tell me about a time you had to build rapport with a coworker or client whose personality was different than yours?
This behavioral interview question evaluates your interpersonal skills. The interviewer wants to understand what steps you take to bridge differing opinions or work styles.
Answer: While working on a website redesign project, I had to collaborate with team members from across the country and even in different countries. When we launched the project, the first few minutes of each meeting, I did a mini team building exercise where we’d work on solving a light hearted problem together. Once that was completed, each member would deliver their 2 minute update.
What I found was that the exercises helped establish trust among the team and a shared sense of accountability. This made it easier to deliver tough messages or to ask people to work more quickly.
7. Tell me about a complicated problem you have had to deal with.
The interviewer wants to understand how you go about solving complicated problems. In other words, how you identified or gained more understanding of that problem and what steps you took to resolve it.
Answer: Our customer service team was receiving an increased number of complaints about items arriving late. I reviewed our delivery schedule then met with the staff involved in the customer delivery process. What we discovered was that the delay was with our shipping provider. In speaking with the vendor, we came to the realization that there was nothing we could do to reduce shipping times.
I contacted two other vendors and asked for a quote and delivery estimates. After several weeks of negotiations, I finally recommended we change vendors which would guarantee delivery within 3 days. But this would also cost 3% more. We ultimately increased our pricing but also issued a guaranteed delivery date and all customer delivery complaints have stopped.
8. Tell me about a time when you had to go above and beyond your regular job responsibilities in order to get a job done.
The answer to this behavioral interview question will show your motivation, drive and initiative.
Answer: Outside of my regular responsibilities, I took the initiative to coordinate monthly lunch and learn meetings to increase our marketing team’s knowledge of important digital marketing trends.
I invited each team member to submit a list of topics they were interested in and topics they would be interested in presenting. The monthly meetings are well-attended and have helped our team initiate new ideas, increasing our digital content output by 40%.
9. What was your most difficult decision in the past year?
This question is actually several questions – what do you perceive as difficult, what made it difficult and how did you handle it. It’s evaluating how you handle the decision making process. Answer in a way that doesn’t make you look like the victim in the situation and by no means should you criticize or disparage others.
Answer: The decision to lay employees is always difficult – personally and professionally. We had just lost three major clients and I had no choice but to let go of two employees who managed those accounts.
It was truly a financial decision based on budget reductions, but I still felt horrible for my employees. I delivered the news to these employees as empathetically as I could and made sure they all fully understood the details of their severance packages. In the end, they all walked away knowing that the decision was purely business-related.
10. Tell me about a time when you were faced with conflicting priorities.
Your time management and decision making skills are being evaluated by this question. Make sure you focus on the positive aspects of the situation. Don’t go into the negative details.
Answer: My team and I were facing a deadline and my manager was out of the office. Our client was expecting a project to be delivered by 5:00 PM, and I could tell we weren’t going to make the deadline without making some changes.
I re-organized my own tasks so I could dedicate my entire day to focusing on this project. I took the lead and delegated tasks to the five team members in a way that would utilize everyone’s strengths best. By pitching in and reallocating work, we delivered the work to the client on-time. I also emailed our manager to let her know we had met the deadline.
How To Prepare
While you can’t know for sure which behavioral interview questions you’ll be asked during an interview, you can prepare and practice your answers to commonly asked questions.
When you have carefully selected relevant stories you want to share in an interview you’ll enter the interview feeling more confident and prepared. Plus, you’ll provide proof you possess the experience the employer is looking for.
Review the job posting carefully
You’ll want to know which stories to include during each interview. To do this, analyze the posting. Look at each requirement and ask yourself “have I ever done this or something like this?” This review will help you identify the most relevant stories so your answer will include the skills and qualities the employer is looking for.
Use the STAR format
STAR stands for situation, task, actions and result. When formatting your answers to behavioral interview questions, every answer you provide should include all four of these elements. STAR also ensures the interviewer gets the important information they are looking for from your response. The most important sections of your answer are the actions you took and the results.
Identify the top 3-5 most relevant stories
While you may be asked to tell more than 5 stories, you should absolutely identify what you think are the most relevant, relatable stories based on the job posting and what you know about the company.
Don’t memorize your answers
You don’t want your answer to sound robotic so don’t memorize your answer word for word. Instead, try remembering your answer as bullet points so your answer flows more naturally. Be sure to know what key skills or action verbs you’ll use while telling your story.
Practice out loud
Writing out your answers just isn’t the same as saying them out out loud. It’s important to practice your answers to make sure you’ll remember the flow to your answer. You want to practice it enough so it sounds natural.
Record your answers
Take your practice to the next level by recording your answers and then listen to how they sound. Just grab your phone or use your computer to record your answers and evaluate the strength of your answers.
We know that attention spans are short. This is true during interviews too. To help you deliver just the right amount of information, try and keep your answer around one minute. This means if you can’t complete your answer in under five minutes, you’ll need to cut information out. Trust me, it probably isn’t all that important to the interviewer. But if they want to know more details, guess what? They’ll ask a followup question.
Smile, relax and let your personality shine
Part of what makes you unique is your personality. Don’t be afraid to let it come out in your answers. And a smile is just icing on the cake. Research has shown that people who smile come across as more likable. And relax. The interview is just a conversation.
Not everyone’s a pro at interviewing
Keep in mind, there are many recruiters and hiring managers who have never been trained how to interview. No matter how experienced or trained they are (or aren’t) you don’t want that to impede the information you need to convey. You can always insert one of your stories to supplement your answer (even if you weren’t asked to cite an example).
Give it your all
During an interview, you have the opportunity to convince the interviewer that your experience and skills are what the employer needs for the role, so take every opportunity to make sure the interviewer knows the full extent of what makes you a good fit for the role.
Keep your answers positive
Always remember to keep your answers positive. Never blame co-workers or your manager or position them as doing something wrong. Additionally, don’t provide information about your mistakes or weaknesses that would cause the interviewer to question your abilities.
Additional Reminders About Behavioral Interviews
- Be sure each story has a beginning, middle, and an end, i.e., be ready to describe the situation, including the task at hand, your action, and the outcome or result.
- Always make sure the outcome or result reflects positively on you (even if the result itself was not favorable).
- Be honest. Don’t embellish or omit any part of the story. The interviewer will find out if your story is built on a weak foundation.
- Be specific. Don’t generalize about several events; give a detailed accounting of one event.
- Vary your examples; don’t take them all from just one area of your life.
Behavioral interview questions shouldn’t catch you by surprise. If you anticipate them and take time to plan your answers to “tell me about a time when” questions, you’ll come across as qualified, capable and compatible. Your answers, in the form of STAR stories are what make you memorable.
Hannah Morgan speaks and writes about job search and career strategies. She founded CareerSherpa.net to educate professionals on how to maneuver through today’s job search process. Hannah was nominated as a LinkedIn Top Voice in Job Search and Careers and is a regular contributor to US News & World Report. She has been quoted by media outlets, including Forbes, USA Today, Money Magazine, Huffington Post, as well as many other publications. She is also author of The Infographic Resume and co-author of Social Networking for Business Success.