Everything you need to know about behavioral interview questions (and how to answer them)

Last updated: July 17, 2024
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Kai Dickerson
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Everything you need to know about behavioral interview questions (and how to answer them)
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Have you ever been asked some interesting questions in an interview and thought the interviewer was throwing you some curveballs to trick you?

If so, they were most likely asking you behavioral interview questions to get to know you a bit better. But how do you navigate these questions, and how can you answer them well?

In this article, we’ll clear up the confusion, give you our best tips, and share some free sample behavioral interview questions and answers so you can land your dream job.

What are behavioral interview questions, and why do employers ask them?

Hiring managers and recruiters ask behavioral interview questions to find out more about how you (the interviewee) think and how you’ve handled specific situations.

The goal is to gain insight into your problem-solving abilities, as well as any abilities that are important for the specific job you’re applying for.

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Behavioral questions are usually open-ended and may start with questions like:

  • Walk us through a challenging time when...

  • Tell us about a time when…

  • Describe how you approached…

  • How would you handle...

  • Give us an example of...

For instance, if you’re applying for a customer service position, they may ask something like “how would you handle an irate customer?” or “give us an example of a time when you helped a customer solve a problem.”

Here are some other reasons employers ask behavioral interview questions.

To see how you handle teamwork

Employers want to know how you’ll react with team members. Are you a team player? Do you get along well with others? Or are you difficult to work with?

To understand your adaptability

How do you adapt to difficult situations? Do you crack under pressure? Do you resist change? Employers need to know that you’re a chameleon that can adapt to a variety of situations.

To test your competency

Answers to competency questions help employers know if you have the necessary skills to do the job they’re hiring for.

To get insight into your decision making

Employers want to know how you make decisions. Are you a thoughtful and deliberate decision maker? Do you make decisions on a whim? What’s your decision-making process?

To see if you can meet tight deadlines

Not all jobs come with strict deadlines, but all jobs have some kind of time restraint. Employers need to know that you’ll complete your work early or on time.

To test your communication skills

Can you communicate with your future team, managers, and customers well? Are you solution-focused when communicating?

What are employers looking for when asking behavioral questions?

Employers are looking for you to demonstrate that you have key soft skills needed for the role they’re trying to fill.

Some examples of key soft skills are:

  • Problem-solving

  • Integrity

  • Resilience

  • Attention to detail

  • Leadership

  • Creativity

  • Negotiation

  • Analytical skills

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In the end, employers want to know:

  • That you’re a good fit for their job description and team

  • What kind of past behavior and experiences you had

  • How you handle stressful situations

  • If you have the necessary skills for their open job position

Now that we’ve answered some essential questions, let’s explore how to prepare for a behavioral interview.

How do you prepare for a behavioral interview?

Here are our top three tips on preparing for a behavioral interview:

1. Study the company and the role

Before coming up with potential answers, it’s important to scope out your potential employer.

The more you know about the company and role, the better you'll be able to provide answers they’ll like.

For instance, if they ask you about how you solved a difficult problem and your example has nothing to do with the role or responsibilities of the job you're applying for, your answer isn't as valuable.

But, if it matches a scenario you could find yourself in as their employee, then showing them you handled it well means a lot more.

For example, if you're applying for a role that doesn’t deal with customers at all, then an example of calming down an irate customer isn't as valuable.

It’s okay to ask questions about details not covered in the job description, but make sure you know the description well. That ensures you won’t accidentally ask a question that was already covered.

2. Write down your strengths

Now that you know as much as you can about your potential employer and role, make a list of your strengths, skills, and creative ideas that prove you would be a great fit for the job.

Are you applying for a security guard position at an apartment complex? How can your skills bring value to that role? Do you have experience as a bouncer, or have you served in the military? Do you have a high attention to detail? Why should they choose you?

If any fear comes up when you’re doing this exercise, don’t worry. It’s normal to feel nervous that you might not be the most qualified candidate for a position. The trick is to focus on your strengths rather than your fears — you likely have more experience and skills than you may think.

3. Make a list of compelling stories

Make a list of both specific and common behavioral interview questions — that way, you’ll be prepared for both general and detailed questions.

Then, write down answers to your list of questions in the form of compelling stories. To help you write stories, spend some time reminiscing about your previous work experiences.

Draw on various memories, awards, recognitions, and even mistakes, such as:

  • What did you learn from those experiences?

  • How did those experiences shape you?

  • What skills did you gain from those experiences?

  • How did you solve problems? What were you entrusted with?

  • How did you overcome crises and obstacles?

  • How did you make the company more successful?

  • In hindsight, what would you have done differently?

  • How did you handle disagreements with a manager or coworker?

Make sure to compose several stories that you can share in a couple of minutes.

Demonstrate plenty of soft skills like the ones we covered in the previous section, and be prepared to think on your feet if they ask you a question you didn’t consider.

4 Behavioral interview questions and sample answers

Here are some behavioral interview questions and sample answers to help you prepare for your future interviews:

1. Problem-solving example

**Question: **Can you give us a specific example of when you had to solve a difficult problem at work?

**Answer: **Last winter, a storm caused us to lose power, and we were still open, so I grabbed the power outage emergency response plan that was taped under my cash register. In training, we were taught to grab our plan and follow it step-by-step.

The first thing I did was add caution tape to our elevators so customers wouldn’t try to use them. My manager was busy reporting the power outage and disconnecting equipment, so I tried to be as helpful as possible.

I also passed out emergency kits to our customers which had emergency water, snacks, flashlights, first aid supplies, and other basic items.

2. Teamwork example

**Question: **How would you handle a disagreement with a coworker?

**Answer: **If it’s a severe situation, I would ask my manager for help. If it wasn’t a severe situation, I’d approach it directly and try to come to a verbal agreement that would benefit both of us.

I would try my hardest to focus on a win-win solution versus a win-lose solution. In the end, what’s most important to me is being kind and respectful.

3. Stress example

Question: When was the last time you experienced stress at work, and how did you cope?

Answer: I had a long line of customers, and we were short-staffed. After the initial feeling of stress hit me, I decided to take some deep breaths and focus on my customers instead of my stress.

I worked as quickly and carefully as I could without sacrificing quality. I still said “hello” and “thank you” to my customers to be polite, but I didn’t chit-chat with them like I do when we’re not busy.

4. Self-knowledge example

Question: How would you describe your emotional intelligence?

Answer: I like to look at my emotions as teachers. If I’m frustrated, I ask myself, what am I supposed to learn from this? If I’m sad, I ask myself, how can I make this better? I enjoy using my emotions as tools so I can guide my thoughts and actions in a positive and empowering way.

Note: Different types of interviews may have different types of questions. For example, if a company holds two interviews per applicant, the first one may have introductory and common questions, and the second one may go more in-depth.

Can you use the STAR technique to answer behavioral interview questions?

Yes! You can use the STAR technique to help you answer behavioral interview questions.

STAR is short for Situation, Task, Action, Results. The STAR interview response method helps you answer how you handled specific work situations.

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Let’s take a look at how to use the STAR method to help you answer questions:

  • Situation: Explain the context and relevant details of the situation, story, or challenge.

  • **Task: **Describe how you handled and overcame the situation.

  • Action: Share what action you specifically took to solve the problem.

  • Results: Share the outcome of your effort and provide detailed or quantifiable results whenever possible.

For example, if the interviewer asked: How did you handle a previous disagreement with a manager?

Using the STAR technique, you could say:

I was talking to one of my regular customers about our new sandwiches when my manager interrupted to ask me to go clean the bathroom.

I felt embarrassed that I was interrupted while speaking, so I asked my manager if we could sit down to talk about the situation.

I explained that the person was one of my regular customers and that he loves trying our new menu items. She apologized for interrupting and agreed to give me some space when talking to my customers in the future.

After our talk, I went to my customer and apologized to him for the interruption. I also said that I’d be happy to give him some recommendations on what to order. He decided to try one of our new sandwiches, and to this day, it’s one of his favorite items to order.

After that situation, I never had another incident like that with my manager, and we actually became good friends and I eventually I transitioned to another position.

Time to ace your next interview

Ready to use these tips to ace your next interview? With some preparation, techniques, and thoughtful responses, you’ll be on your way to impressing your future boss.

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