Hint: It Starts Way Before You Get to the Interview
One cliché we’ve all heard is that past behavior predicts future behavior. That may or may not be psychologically sound, but it is the theory behind behavioral interview questions. Many recruiters believe that the best way to gain insight into how you’d handle certain situations is to ask you to tell a story about how you handled a similar situation in the past.
No matter how experienced you are, it can be tough to come up with a detailed story in the middle of an interview, so it’s important to prepare ahead of time. With that in mind, here are 10 sample behavioral interview questions and suggestions for answering them successfully.
“Describe a situation where you disagreed with a supervisor.”
- What they’re looking for: Communication skills, ability to formulate an argument, ability to compromise, and willingness to take direction.
- What to say: Don’t talk about an argument you had – especially an ongoing argument. Instead, describe a situation where you presented your arguments calmly and carefully listened to your manager’s position. The specific resolution isn’t as important as the process. If applicable, talk about how the disagreement ended up strengthening your relationship.
“Tell me about a time when you had a conflict at work.”
- What they’re looking for: Emotional intelligence and conflict-resolution skills.
- What to say: Try to avoid personal conflicts. Instead, choose a situation that allows you to talk about a professional disagreement. Talk about how you communicated your position, how you listened to learn more about your colleague’s position, how you resolved the problem, and, if appropriate, how the disagreement impacted the relationship. Be careful not to demonstrate bitterness or resentment, especially if the resolution didn’t go your way.
“Tell me about a situation where you had to solve a difficult problem.”
- What they’re looking for: Critical-thinking skills, creativity, persistence, and people skills.
- How to answer: Choose an example that you remember clearly enough to describe your thought processes as well as the specific steps you took. Your interviewer doesn’t just want to hear what you did; he wants to hear why you did it.
“Describe a project or idea that was implemented primarily because of your efforts.”
- What they’re looking for: Accountability, persistence, thoroughness, and resourcefulness.
- How to answer: If possible, choose a situation that you saw through from beginning to end. And you’ll probably get bonus points if you can include something about how you worked with other people to get it done.
“Tell me about a time when you worked well under pressure.”
- What they’re looking for: Mental and emotional toughness.
- How to answer: This is one of the trickier questions. If you set the bar too low, the interviewer is likely to think, “You call that pressure?” On the other hand, it’s important to choose a situation you handled exceptionally well. Your best bet is to go with the most stressful example you have where you still performed well.
“Tell me about a time when you had to delegate tasks during a project.”
- What they’re looking for: Emotional intelligence, critical thinking, management style, follow-up.
- How to answer: Start by describing the situation and why/how you decided to delegate. Next, explain how you decided whom to delegate to and – if they didn’t report to you – how you enlisted their help. But don’t forget to include something about what happened after you delegated. How involved were you? How did you follow up? If things weren’t moving along as they should, how did you resolve that problem?
“Give me an example of a time when you motivated others.”
- What they’re looking for: Emotional intelligence, empathy, and adaptability.
- How to answer: What you were trying to motivate people to do and exactly how you did it are less important than how you figured out what would motivate each person in the story. Focus on the process: How did you change your style for each person you were working with?
“Give me an example of a time when you demonstrated initiative and took the lead.”
- What they’re looking for: Accountability and a sense of ownership.
- How to answer: Think of a situation where the easy way would have been to just do what you were told and not worry about whether that was the right thing to do. Describe why you decided to take the initiative, how you went about it, and the outcome.
“Tell me about a time when you missed an obvious solution to a problem.”
- What they’re looking for: Critical thinking, willingness to admit error, ability to learn from mistakes.
- How to answer: If possible, talk about a situation where you had a plausible excuse for missing an obvious solution. But don’t phrase it as an excuse – just include that little tidbit when you set the stage. Then talk about how you discovered your mistake, how you reacted, and what you did to resolve the situation.
“Tell me about your proudest professional accomplishment.”
- What they’re looking for: Insight into your values.
- How to answer: Don’t make it all about yourself. It’s best to talk about something that you accomplished by leading a team. And, while it’s important to include facts and figures when you talk about the results, it’s equally important to talk about any positive impact on the people involved.
The key to acing a behavioral interview is to thoroughly understand what each question is really about and then prepare an answer that demonstrates those qualities. It’s critical to choose your examples ahead of time, or you’ll inevitably leave something out or focus on the wrong thing. If possible, choose stories that could be used to answer multiple questions.
More Interview Prep:
- Communications Coach: 3 Things to Do Before an Interview
- How to Answer “What Are Your Salary Expectations?”
- How to Look and Sound Professional in a Phone or Video Interview