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Whether you are seeking your first job or a position in upper management, interview preparation is key to success. In addition to routine questions about your goals and reasons for applying, you may be asked to describe work challenges you encountered in the past. Knowing what to expect in a behavioral-based interview and preparing situational examples ahead of time can boost self-confidence and calm interview jitters.
What Are Behavioral Interview Questions?
Experienced hiring managers know from experience that an overconfident applicant who is a big talker in an interview may not be much of a doer on the job. Behavioral interview questions are based on the premise that past behavior often predicts future behavior, all things being equal. Behavioral interview questions put applicants on the spot to come up with verifiable examples of what they accomplished in previous roles.
What Type of Job Requires Behavioral Interviews?
No matter what kind of job you’re seeking, anticipate a list of behavioral-based interview questions that assess your skills, knowledge and core competencies. The technique is well known and commonly used to gauge how well an applicant may perform if offered a position. You may not immediately recognize a behavioral interview question depending on the way it’s phrased.
Example: What do you typically do when you still have important unfinished tasks to complete at the end of the workday?
Mistakes to Avoid
Vague or evasive answers could take you out of the running for a job. Boasting about your accomplishments without offering concrete examples won’t impress the hiring manager. Making something up or grossly exaggerating your achievements will ruin your chances of ever getting a job with that employer when the truth comes out during reference checks.
What Is the STAR Method When Interviewing?
The STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Results) model is an effective tool for tackling tricky behavioral interview questions. Instead of panicking, you can use pointed, probing questions to promote your skills and knowledge using the STAR method. Behavioral-based interview questions are usually a modified version of the following template:
Q. Tell me about a situation when you faced XYZ. What actions did you take, and what was the result?
The STAR method offers a template for strategically answering behavioral interview questions:
- Situation: Challenges, problems, opportunities experienced in the workplace
- Task: Tasks that needed to be completed
- Action: Actual steps taken to resolve or capitalize on the situation
- Results: Measurable outcomes
STAR Question and Answer Examples
Q. Describe an unusual situation at your last job that required familiarity with company policy.
A. I was working at the returns desk when a customer wanted a cash refund for a brand of product that our store doesn’t even sell. I recalled company policies presented at orientation. I politely explained that without tags or a receipt, I was unable to look up the item and issue a cash refund per company policy. The customer said "OK" and continued shopping.
Q. Tell me about a time that you were in a supervisory role and had to take corrective action.
A. While working at a fast food restaurant, I noticed that employees were arriving a few minutes late and leaving a little early. I spoke to offenders individually about company rules. At the next staff meeting, I reviewed attendance policies with the group and explained disciplinary steps. Consequently, the problem stopped.
How Do You Prepare for a Behavioral Interview?
Study the company’s website and ask around to get a sense of the organization’s mission, values and goals. Look for keywords in the job posting for clues to the ideal candidate. Discern what makes you a great fit, and be ready to offer quantifiable evidence to back up your assertions. If you think you’re the ambitious self-starter the company seeks, then enthusiastically describe highly successful new projects you spearheaded.
If you’re a recent college graduate with limited paid work experience, you can answer behavioral interview questions based on student experiences. Talk about what you learned and achieved through volunteer work, internship placements, campus leadership positions and research teams.
List of Behavioral Interview Questions
Preparing a list of behavioral interview questions and answers entails recalling and sharing success experiences. Loosely follow the STAR method to tell a story when answering behavioral-based interview questions. Many types of behavioral interview questions are commonly asked.
1. What did you contribute to your work team at your last job?
2. Tell me about a time when you made a big mistake at work. Explain what you did next.
3. Describe how you go about ensuring confidentiality in the workplace.
4. Tell me about a time when you observed a co-worker engage in unethical behavior. What, if anything, did you do?
5. Describe a time when you had to overhaul your priorities.
6. Think back to a time when you fixed a problem at work. What steps did you take, and how did it turn out?
7. Give an example of a time when you used data to drive critical decision making.
8. Tell me about your experience handling multiple projects with competing deadlines.
9. Think of a time when you felt ill equipped to handle a situation. What did you do?
10. Please offer an example that demonstrates your understanding and appreciation of diversity and inclusion.
11. Tell me about a product, program or project that you helped develop, implement and evaluate.
12. Describe a time when you didn’t agree with a change in the rules or company policy.
13. Tell me about a difficult interaction with a customer who was angry at you.
14. Describe a time when you were able to get classmates, co-workers or team members to work productively despite personality clashes.
15. Tell me about your experience managing stress and handling a heavy work load.
16. What methods have proven useful to you when staying on top of your work and meeting deadlines?
17. Please share a professional development goal that you achieved in the last six months.
18. Describe a time when you felt unfairly criticized in front of a group.
19. Walk me through a time when you turned around an unproductive team.
20. Describe a conflict with a co-worker and how you managed it.
Tips for Answering Behavioral Interview Questions
The best way to ace behavioral interview questions is to use a formula that describes an actual situation, problem or opportunity that you encountered. Next, briefly outline the steps and actions you took in response to those circumstances. Conclude by sharing the results you achieved.
When preparing for behavioral-based interview questions, make a list of awards, honors and recognitions that attest to your skills, knowledge and commitment to excellence. For instance, “I was awarded the Florence Nightingale nursing scholarship for perfect grades and 400 hours of community service.”
Use numbers to provide context when describing your job duties. For instance, “I supervised 10 full-time clerks and led a cross-departmental team of 20 employees.” Employers look for specifics that can be verified through phone interviews. Examples include:
- Increased sales by 10 percent
- Reduced costs by 30 percent
- Achieved 99 percent customer satisfaction
- Recruited 50 volunteers in five months
What Is the STAR Method and How Can You Use it in Your Interview?→
How to Answer "Tell Me About Something New You Learned at Work"→
20 Most Common Interview Questions→
How to Deal With Ambiguity in Interview Questions→
How to Use the STAR Technique to Ace Your Job Interview→
Behavioral Interview Questions→
- Lehigh University Career & Professional Development: S.T.A.R. Method for Behavioral Interviewing
- Wayne State University Career Services: Behavioral Interview Techniques - The STAR Approach
- Drexel University LeBow College of Business: Mastering the "STAR" Method
- Society for Human Resource Management: A Guide to Conducting Behavioral Interviews With Early Career Job Candidates
Dr. Mary Dowd brings decades of hands-on experience to her writing endeavors. Along with general knowledge of human resources, she has specialized training in affirmative action, investigations and equal opportunity. While working as a dean of students, she advised college students on emerging career trends and job seeking strategies. As director of equal opportunity, she led efforts to diversify the workforce and the student body.