When heading into an interview, candidates must prepare for any question thrown at them. Many candidates prepare to speak about their past experience and how it fits into the role, but many forget about the questions that ask them to describe how they are in the workplace, better known as behavioral interview questions.
“I have a reputation of being a tough interviewer, but I don’t actually think that’s it,” said Tara Cassady, the executive vice president of Americas Client Services at Cielo, a global recruitment process outsourcing partner. “I have structured behavioral questions that ask for specifics. I’m not having a conversation with the person, I’m interviewing the person. Overall the interview process has gotten a little lax as the market got so tight and people were generally wondering, ‘What’s their likability factor?’ Versus actually interviewing for the skills and specifics to achieve within the job.”
Targeted behavioral interview questions allow a hiring manager to test if a candidate has a specific soft skill or hard skill necessary for that job by asking them to look back on their career and draw up examples. As a result, the candidate must come prepared with stories to best answer behavioral interview questions.
“When we are spending time as an interviewer and interviewee, we should be prepared,” Cassady said. “Using behavioral interview questions makes the interviewer prepared and will identify whether the interviewee is prepared. It can absolutely make good candidates stand apart.”
In this article, you will learn:
- What a behavioral interview question is
- Why behavioral questions are used
- 25 examples of behavioral interview questions
- How you most successfully answer behavioral interview questions
- How you can practice behavioral questions before the interview
What are behavioral interview questions?
Behavioral interview questions are questions that hiring managers ask in order to get a better understanding of how you react to certain situations.
These behavioral interview questions, sometimes called anecdotal interview questions, ask candidates to tell a story about specific instances from their careers. These types of questions give hiring managers a better look into a candidate’s work style and personality, but they also allow the candidate to prove why they are the best person for the position.
When a candidate is asked a behavioral question, they should have stories prepared that highlight them in the best possible light.
Why are behavioral questions used?
Used correctly, you’ll find that it can be used to look for consistency in answers and how to identify how an employee will prove out with specific questions. Are we going to assess soft skills like problem-solving or critical thinking or their speaking skills?
The other thing that you can assess when you decide to use these kinds of interview questions is…is the candidate prepared? Is the interviewer able to compare and contrast specifics? So are they using the interview guide? So there are certain things that my interviewer is prepared to use behavioral questions because they have documented questions, it’s structured, they are looking at the answers, they can compare and contrast one interviewee to the other, and then also we look for consistencies in behaviors as interviews are answering the questions.
Examples of behavioral interview questions
Behavioral questions about decision making and problem-solving
- Q1: Describe a situation in which you used good judgment and logic to solve a problem.
- Q2: Give me an example of a time when you had to be quick in coming to a decision.
- Q3: Can you tell me about the last time you had to act and there was no formal procedure on how to do so?
- Q4: How do you approach a task that you’ve never done before?
- Q5: Can you tell me about a time when you had to deal with a customer that made unreasonable or stretched demands and how you created a win-win situation?
- Q6: We’ve all been asked on occasion to perform tasks to accomplish a goal where the instructions are really ambiguous. Can you tell me about a time that this happened to you and what you did to achieve the goal?
Behavioral questions about leadership
- Q7: Have you ever had trouble getting others to agree with your ideas? How did you deal with the situation, and were you successful?
- Q8: Describe the most challenging group from which you’ve had to gain cooperation.
- Q9: Can you tell us about a time you took initiative on a project?
- Q10: How do you manage the outcomes of your team members?
Behavioral questions about motivation
- Q11: Tell me about a time when you went above and beyond the call of duty.
- Q12: Give me an example of a situation in which you positively influenced the actions of others.
- Q13: Give an example of a goal you reached, and tell me how you achieved it.
Behavioral questions about communication
- Q14: Describe a situation in which you were able to communicate with another individual who did not personally like you (or vice versa).
- Q15: Describe a time you had to use written communication to convey an important argument or idea.
- Q16: Have you ever unintentionally offended or upset somebody? Can you describe the details?
Behavioral questions about interpersonal skills
- Q17: Give me examples of what you’ve done in the past to nurture teamwork.
- Q18: Give an example of an unpopular decision you’ve made, what the result was, and how you managed it.
- Q19: What was your relationship with the best boss you ever had?
- Q20: Can you tell me about a time that you let someone down? How did you handle it?
Behavioral questions about planning and organization
- Q21: When scheduling your time, what method do you use to decide which items are priorities?
- Q22: Describe how you’ve handled a sudden interruption to your schedule.
Behavioral questions about professional feedback
- Q23: What’s been the toughest criticism you received so far in your career? What did you do with it?
- Q24: Can you describe the details of a time you were unfairly criticized?
- Q25: When was the last time you got constructive feedback? What was it? What did you do with it?
How do you answer behavioral questions in an interview?
Many professionals, including Cassady, suggest using the STAR method to answer behavioral interview questions.
The STAR method is a procedure that can be used to provide thoughtful answers that contain fully-formed beginnings, middles, and ends. STAR stands for Situation, Task at hand, Action you took, and Result. This method allows you to tell a story that starts with the situation, moves to the task you were assigned, goes onto the action you took, and finish up with the result of what happened in this particular instance. These stories are most impressive to interviewers because they show how you actually act in the workplace.
“I can tell when I’m interviewing if somebody thought about the interview prior to showing up to the interview in terms of how specifically or thoroughly they answer questions,” Cassady said.
According to Cassady, the characteristics of a great behavioral interview answer are:
- Authenticity. While candidates must prepare in order to nail these interview questions, it shouldn’t sound like you are reading off a script when it comes time to speak with the hiring manager. Have prepared stories, but make sure not to over prepare and sound like a robot on the day of the interview.
- Specificity. Being able to provide specific details versus general ones is key to nailing behavioral interview question answers. When Cassady asks interviewers how they manage the outcomes of their team members, she doesn’t want to hear that they just take a look at data. Rather, she would prefer a story that shows how you have managed performance in the past.
- Clarity. If you tell stories that make no sense to the hiring manager, chances are you are not going to get the job. Being clear while telling your stories is important in nailing behavioral interview questions, which is why the STAR method is so helpful. “The ability to tell the story and answer the question will be an impressive answer to a behavioral interview question,” Cassady said.
How do you practice behavioral questions before an interview?
The best way to practice answering behavioral interviews before an interview is to actually tell the stories ahead of the interview.
“Preparation is always the key to an effective interview,” Cassady said.
First, you should think about situations from your career when you exhibited particular soft skills that the questions ask about.
Next, you should use the examples of the behavioral questions to make a list of which situations will be useful to discuss during interviews. You can go even further by writing down each situation using the STAR method.
Most importantly, you should actually practice telling these stories to someone. Most people don’t have a professional interview coach to practice with, so instead grab a friend or family member and provide them with a list of behavioral questions that they can ask you.