What are behavioral interview questions?
Behavioral interview questions are designed to determine how you will handle specific situations in a work environment. They often ask you to use your experience as an example and focus more on soft skills rather than technical aspects of the job. This allows a potential employer to understand how your past work experience has prepared you for future tasks and challenges. Surely you’ve been asked to answer a question like, “Tell me about a time you had a conflict with someone on your team?”
These questions can be interview killers if you’re not prepared. Instead of reflecting on your conflict resolution skills, you could end up waxing on about a former co-worker you disliked, and before you know it, the interviewer is put off.
Why are these important now?
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of job openings in the United States is at a record high of 11.5 million. This bodes well for anyone looking to test the waters of what many are calling the hottest and most worker-friendly labor market in recent history. This is especially true for recent college graduates, the class of 2022. According to a report from the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), employers plan to hire close to one-third more new college graduates from the Class of 2022 than they hired from the Class of 2021.
With so many jobs available, workers can be more particular about where they work and employers are taking notes and adjusting their interview process to reflect the desires of workers. However, it’s not all fun and games for potential new hires. In addition to adjusting their workplaces to accommodate the desires of workers, employers are also adjusting their interview process to become more particular about who they hire, making sure they find candidates that fit their culture and will hopefully stay with the company long term.
How to prepare
The most important thing to remember is that all of these questions are about your experiences. It will be helpful if you start your preparation by thinking about what stories you can draw from to answer these questions.
Veteran career coach and hiring manager Amanda Augustine says if you don’t plan ahead you could easily be asked a question you’re not prepared for and if you try to wing it, things can get ugly. “Hiring managers won’t buy it, or worse, they may believe you intentionally avoid confrontation—neither of which will help you advance to the next interview round.”
How to answer “What is your biggest weakness?”
One of the most common behavioral interview questions is also one people stumble over most. You’ve probably been asked it before: “What is your biggest weakness?” According to Aaron Taube, a Fast Company contributor, the best response is to name a weakness that only applies to specific situations, such as, “My impatience crops up when teammates don’t deliver on their promises, as it relates to mission-critical assignments with tight deadlines.” Taube adds that “the key is to finish that thought by suggesting you’ve identified ways to do better in those moments in the future.” This is a prime example of how to implement the STAR method.
One of the easiest ways to handle behavioral interview questions is by sticking to the STAR method (Situation, Task, Action, Result).
Situation: Describe the situation where everything happened.
Task: Describe the task you had to complete to solve the problem/issue at hand.
Action: Explain what actions you took to complete the aforementioned task.
Results: Talk about the results of your actions and try to be as detailed as possible. How did your actions lead the company or organization to function better?
How to answer teamwork questions
Most jobs require you to work as part of a team, so be prepared to talk about your experiences as a team member. You’ll want a story that shows your ability to work with others under difficult circumstances. Think resolving team conflicts, dealing with project constraints, or motivating others.
- Tell me about a time when you had to work closely with someone whose personality was very different from yours.
- Describe a time when you had to step up and demonstrate leadership skills.
- Tell me about a time you needed to get information from someone who wasn’t very responsive. What did you do?
- Tell me about a time you made a mistake and wish you’d handled a situation with a colleague differently.
Teamwork questions are a great chance to point to your ability to collaborate, and your response should highlight your strengths in this area. It can be difficult to spin a conflict as a positive even if you feel you were not in the wrong. What’s essential to remember is to not focus on the conflict itself in your reply but on the process of finding a solution.
When answering teamwork questions be sure your answer shows:
- You recognize all teams can have problems
- You can work with others even under challenging circumstances
- You are a good listener
- You react and act with care and consideration for your team
How to answer questions about serving customers
If the job requires you to work with outside parties such as clients, customers, or partnered businesses, prepare for these some of these questions. Employers will want to understand how you positively represented the company and how you overcame challenges to deliver exceptional customer service.
- Describe a time when you had to interact with a difficult client or customer. What was the situation, and how did you handle it?
- When you’re working with a large number of customers, it’s tricky to deliver excellent service to them all. How do you go about prioritizing your customers’ needs?
- Tell me about a time when you went above the norm to deliver great service to a customer.
- Give me an example of a time when you didn’t meet a client’s expectations. What happened, and how did you attempt to rectify the situation?
Customer service questions will be your chance to prove you can handle difficult clients or customers. In your response be sure to explain:
- The context of your interaction
- The type of customer or client you were dealing with
- The lesson you took from this experience
Not all of your stories need a happy ending, but make sure that you highlight what you learned from the experience regardless of the outcome.
How to answer time management questions
Time management is important no matter what kind of work you do, so prepare to answer some of these questions. Most employers will want to hear how you balanced multiple things at once, prioritized, remained organized throughout, and got the job done by the deadline.
- Tell me about a time your responsibilities got a little overwhelming. What did you do?
- Tell me about a time an unexpected problem derailed your planning. How did you recover?
- Describe a time when you were managing multiple responsibilities. How did you handle that?
- Tell me about a time you set a goal for yourself. How did you go about ensuring that you would meet your objective?
Take advantage of this opportunity to:
- Highlight any industry-specific tools you used to stay on track
- Emphasize how you communicated throughout the process
- IF it was necessary, that you can delegate efficiently and effectively
How to answer questions about how well you communicate
Like time management, most jobs will prioritize communication. You must be able to articulate your thoughts clearly and with respect. Most people will be able to come up with examples of communication, but the key here is to tell a story that highlights thoughtful preparation and logical thought process.
- Tell me about a successful presentation you gave and why you think it was a hit.
- Tell me about a time when you had to rely on written communication to explain your ideas to your team.
- Can you describe how you manage to communicate across numerous different mediums?
- Give me an example of a time when you were able to successfully persuade someone at work to see things your way.
Communication questions are also a chance to highlight the different methods of communication you use and excel at. So if you’re a fantastic writer, tell a story about a time you used written communication, if you’re a great salesperson highlight your persuasiveness, and if you struggle with communication, don’t shy away from it. Emphasize this isn’t your natural strength and tell a story that shows you’re working on improving in an area of weakness.
How to answer questions about your ability to adapt to different situations
Tough times don’t last, but tough people do. Most people have had to overcome some sort of adversity in the workplace, so don’t be afraid to get vulnerable, and be sure to emphasize how you successfully navigated that adversity. Even if the resolution was less than ideal, find a lesson you took from the experience and showcase how you turned a negative into a positive.
- Tell me about a time you were under a lot of pressure at work or school. What was going on, and how did you get through it?
- Tell me about settling into your last job. What did you do to learn the ropes?
- Tell me about a time you failed. How did you deal with the situation?
- Describe a time when your team or company was undergoing some major change. How did you adapt, and how did it impact you?
Use adaptability questions to talk about:
- How you set and stick to goals
- Specific methods of dealing with stress that are healthy and promote long-term success
No one wants to hire someone who will burn out every six months. We all know someone who insists that don’t feel pressure at work, this is not the flex you think it is. Employers want to know you have self-awareness and can control your emotions. One easy way to show this is through emotive words. Talk about how you felt during these moments and what you did with those feelings, what worked and didn’t, and don’t forget to share the results! Highlight how you emerged from these situations more resilient and better able to handle unexpected change in the future.
How to answer questions about motivation and values
Sometimes, interview questions can seem random or personal. A lot of these types of interview questions are attempts to learn more about what motivates you. Your response should ideally address values and motivations directly even if the question didn’t explicitly ask about them.
- Tell me about your proudest professional accomplishment.
- Tell me about a time when you worked under either extremely close supervision or extremely loose supervision. How did you handle that?
- Give me an example of a time you were able to be creative with your work. What was exciting or difficult about it?
- Tell me about a time you were dissatisfied with your role. What could have been done to make it better?
Motivation and values questions are a fantastic opportunity to:
- Highlight any special skills or passions you have that you haven’t talked about yet
- Talk about what keeps you excited about your job
- Share where you see yourself in the future
- Describe how driven you are and what steps you’ll take to get there
A great place to start is by highlighting and professional development you’ve done previously. These types of programs are an easy way to show that you are not only motivated to improve but that you’re actively working on improving.
There are endless ways to answer behavioral interview questions. The most important things to remember are:
- Be honest
- Research potential questions ahead of time
- Write down rough outlines of stories you think would be good in response to questions
- Write down the skills you want to highlight within each story
- Practice, practice, practice
Recruit friends to do mock interviews with, have them cycle through a few different questions, and try your answers out.
Finally, remember that employers interview lots of candidates and are likely to hear some similar responses, so avoid generic buzzwords. Amanda Augustine, resident career expert for Talent Inc.’s suite of brands: TopResume, TopInterview, Resume.io, and TopCV, says, “Stuffing your résumé and LinkedIn profile with generic buzzwords can be off-putting to potential employers; it’s far worse when you recite them during an interview. Instead, practice describing your skills with terms a potential hiring manager can appreciate with anecdotes that demonstrate your qualifications and value.”