If you’re new to the interview scene, behavioral interview questions are likely a big mystery. And when it comes to interviews, the unknown often makes us nervous.
In this article, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about behavioral interviews, including a list of frequently asked interview questions.
Behavioral interview questions are the most common questions asked during an interview. Once you understand what they are and how to answer them, you’ll realize fielding these questions is much easier than you might expect. And you’ll be ready for your interview in no time!
What Is a Behavioral Interview?
A behavioral interview focuses on asking questions to identify past behaviors and successes that closely relate to situations you’ll encounter in the job for which you have applied. This style of interviewing is used by most employers.
How do you recognize one of these questions?
Behavioral interview questions typically begin with statements like “tell me about a time” or “give me an example of a time.” To respond, you must dig into your background and give specific examples and details from your past experiences.
Most employers ask behavioral questions because they’re considered the most effective way to get to know the person behind the resume. The idea is that past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior, and therefore future success. These situational interview questions allow employers to gather details that will help them make a strong hiring decision.
Common Behavioral Interview Questions and Themes
Behavioral interview questions vary widely, and there’s no way to predict the exact list of questions you’ll be asked. The good news, however, is that these behavioral questions tend to relate to common themes such as teamwork, leadership, conflict, and problem-solving.
We’ve outlined these themes below, including a few sample behavioral interview questions for each. Although the exact wording may differ in an interview, the themes your interviewer wants to hear about will likely remain the same.
As you read through these themes, identify two to three success stories for each topic. And remember that there may be additional themes that pertain to the job for which you’re interviewing. Take your cues from the job description and what you know about the type of work you do.
If you’re still unsure what type of work you’re qualified to do, upload your resume to Chegg CareerMatch for a list of jobs that are a good fit for your skill set.
No matter what the job, your ability to work with others is likely a necessary component of success.
Hiring managers will look for your ability to communicate effectively and work through challenges with others. As you tell your stories, they will also be looking for context clues to understand what type of role you take in a team environment.
- Tell me about a time when you had to motivate other team members while working on a project together.
- What was the most successful team you have been a part of? Why was it so successful?
- Give me an example of a time when you had to work with a difficult coworker or team member. Were you able to resolve the issue? Why or why not?
Leadership qualities aren’t only for management positions. Because these skills show potential for future growth, hiring managers look for leadership abilities at all levels.This can include mentoring or training others, making decisions, solving problems, and taking initiative.
- Tell me about someone you have personally mentored.
- What do you feel are the most important traits of a successful leader? Give me an example of a time when you displayed those traits.
- Describe a time when you had to make an unpopular decision.
Disagreements and conflicts are part of life, so hiring managers are interested in how you handle difficult situations.
Negative situations can be hard to discuss, but keep it as positive as possible. Focus on what happened, how it was resolved, and what you learned. Your responses should indicate that you are able to manage conflict in a professional manner.
- Give me an example of a time when you had to convince someone to get on board with something that person didn’t believe in or agree with.
- Walk me through a past conflict. What strategies did you use to resolve it?
- Describe a time when you had to respond to an upset customer or coworker.
Hiring managers want to know about your ability to analyze situations, be resourceful, find solutions, and follow through. Think of a few problems you’ve successfully solved, and be prepared to share them.
- Tell me about a time when you improved a process or made something more efficient.
- Give me an example of a time when you faced an unexpected challenge. How did you handle it?
- Tell me about the last customer issue you were tasked with.
Everyone makes mistakes and experiences failure, but these situations can be difficult to talk about–especially in an interview. You must be prepared to discuss not only failures that you’ve faced, but also how you overcame them and what lessons you learned.
Hiring managers want to see how you view failure, and they’re interested in your ability to persevere.
- Tell me about a time when you failed. What happened and how did you handle it?
- Walk me through a decision you made that you regret.
- Give me an example of a time when something didn’t go according to plan. How did you respond?
Employers want to gauge how hard-working, reliable, and committed you are. Do you have what it takes to get the job done, regardless of potential obstacles? Employers want to hire someone they can trust to perform well and be a good team player.
- Tell me about a time when you went above and beyond in your role.
- What is your greatest accomplishment? Why?
- Tell me about the most uncomfortable or difficult thing you’ve had to do at work.
What You Need to Be Prepared For
To be successful at answering these situational interview questions, you must be prepared to talk about your experiences, especially those related to the job for which you’re interviewing. You need to be able to tell stories from your past that demonstrate your success and help the interviewer envision you performing well in the position.
A great place to start is with the job description. Carefully review the job description and identify any skills or traits they identify as required or preferred for the job. This will guide you in selecting stories to demonstrate your fit for the job.
If you don’t have much professional experience, don’t worry. In entry-level positions, the hiring manager will be aware of a possible lack of real-world, on-the-job experience. Think about transferrable skills from other areas of your life. Consider your classroom experience, extracurriculars, volunteer time, and any life experience that demonstrates your abilities.
And if you get stuck brainstorming relevant skills, upload your resume to Chegg CareerMatch, where we’ll provide you with a list of your marketable skills.
As mentioned above, prepare at least two to three success stories for each common behavioral interview theme, as well as other potential themes you’ve identified from the job description. If talking about yourself will put you outside of your comfort zone, practice telling these stories prior to the interview.
These can be tough interview questions, but preparation will build your confidence and make answering them much easier.
How to Come Up with Great Success Stories
A great success story should mention details like who, what, when, where, and why. At the same time, it’s important to keep your story as concise and simple as possible during the interview.
The STAR Method can help you keep track of the information to include in your story. This trick helps ensure you’re sharing all the details the hiring manager wants to hear.
STAR is an acronym:
- S- Situation- Set the scene. Who, what, when, where, and why?
- T- Task- What were you tasked to do? What was the goal?
- A- Actions- Share specific actions you took. Try to match your actions to their job needs.
- R- Results- What happened? What was the outcome? Be specific and share numbers when possible (financial, percentages, analytical).
Begin by explaining the (S)ituation. Provide all necessary context. What was going on? Set the stage for your interviewer.
Then share the (T)ask, which should always be followed by the (A)ctions you took to complete the task. End your story with the (R)esults. What happened and why?
Always think about what additional information you can include to make your success story more powerful. As long as it is relevant to the story and demonstrates your job-related ability, include it. Then cut anything that feels like “fluff” or filler. Include all the necessary details, but keep it simple.
Resist the urge to embellish your story or make something up. The best stories are authentic. Plus, it’s difficult to remember a false story that could later come back to bite you.
Focus on finding the stories that best demonstrate your ability to perform the skills the interviewer is seeking for the job. What are you most proud of? Did you learn any life lessons? What makes you different from every other person doing the same type of work or projects? These are the sweet spots you’ll want to share with the interviewer.
Let’s Look at a Sample STAR Response
It’s time to put everything we’ve learned into practice with a sample behavioral question and answer. Let’s walk through a STAR response using one of the sample conflict questions from above.
Question: Walk me through a past conflict. What strategies did you use to resolve it?
In my first semester of college, I took a job at a local radio station. I needed some extra money, and this was a great way to gain some experience in the field I wanted to work in. The role was doing general office duties. I supported three different directors with a variety of tasks.
There was an Office Manager on site who trained me. When I started, they took a few things off her plate to pass them to me, freeing her up to work on more important tasks. Things seemed to be going great the first month or so. That’s when the issue began.
One of my tasks was pulling together a packet of materials for the morning show team. It included details on promotions, announcements, news stories, and things they needed to cover. There were also reports and metrics they needed for their daily “after show” meetings.
Around the time I took complete ownership of the packet, I started getting calls that there was incomplete information. They kept sending me back to the office manager for training. I felt really bad, like I was doing something wrong. Every time we talked about it, she would laugh it off like it was no big deal.
There was always a reason the materials I had gotten were incorrect. She would tell me I had printed them before she made the final update, or I just wasn’t aware of a change. This continued happening.
Finally, I sat down with her to talk about it. I explained that I was just trying to do the job they asked me to do. While I appreciated the work she was doing and the help in fixing it, I needed to be the one to take ownership as was expected. She agreed.
When it started happening again, I brought it to her attention. Results were always the same. It was frustrating because nothing I did seemed to help. In my next one-on-one with my boss, I brought it up. I explained what was happening and our conversations. I also explained I needed some help navigating the situation because I didn’t want to overstep.
He had a conversation with her and helped make the transition to me complete. From that point on, there were no issues with the packet of information. The office manager and I were able to continue working together without any additional issues.
Let’s Break It Down
S-Situation-Set the scene. Who, what, when, where, and why?
- Freshman year of college
- Office job at the local radio station
- Transition of work from the office manager
- Issue arose within first month, incomplete information packets
T-Tasked- What were you tasked to do? What was the goal?
- Take over some of the office manager’s work
- Complete a daily morning show packet
A- Actions- Share specific actions you took. Try to match your actions to their job needs.
- Talked one-on-one with the office manager about the issue
- Took initiative to resolve the problem directly
- When those actions didn’t work, involved the boss and asked for help
R-Results- What happened? What was the outcome? Be specific and share numbers when possible (financial, percentages, analytical).
- Through the proper chain of command, the problem was resolved
- Continued professional relationship with the office manager with no additional issues
Apply this technique to any behavioral question the hiring manager asks. With practice, the STAR method makes interview preparation simple.
Final Words of Wisdom
The biggest secret to being successful in a behavioral based interview is to practice. Identify your success stories and then practice them repeatedly. Remember that the goal is for the hiring manager to envision you successfully filling the role.
If you need a little help remembering the stories (or maybe you’re afraid you will get nervous and forget), jot down some reminders of the stories you plan to tell for each theme of questioning. Take the notebook into the interview with you. It’s perfectly okay to open it up and reference it as needed. Just don’t read your responses verbatim.
Just keep practicing, and you’ll be ready for any behavioral interview question that comes your way.