In a behavioral interview, HR managers ask about various work-related situations. For example, a situation when you experienced pressure in work, or had a conflict with one of your colleagues. They inquire about a time when you achieved a goal, or actually failed to achieve one, had to meet a tight deadline, or showed initiative at work.
The logic of behavioral interviewing is simple: managers suppose that when you approached a certain situation in a certain way in the past, you will likely approach it in a similar way anytime in the future (when working for their company). And because science has proved repeatedly that man is a creature of habits, that we typically follow a certain way of conduct in any given situation, behavioral interviewing makes sense. At least in most cases it does.
Behavioral interviewing prevails in Fortune 500 corporations
Behavioral and situational questions form a core of interviewing processes in most Fortune 500 companies, and they are becoming more popular in smaller corporations each year. Unless you apply for a simple job (waiter, lifeguard, stock operator in a small retail store, a nanny), you will always deal with at least some behavioral questions in your interview.
We have analyzed thirty most common such questions. Bear in mind that when we talk about behavioral interview, the position you apply for does not matter much. White collars, blue collars, directors of companies – they all experience pressure, meetings, conflicts, successes, and failures. Let’s have a look at the questions!
Describe a situation when you reached a goal and tell us how you achieved it.
Goals help us to feel motivated. It is easier to prepare a “to-do list”, and to understand the importance of each task on our list, if we have goals we try to achieve in work.
Interviewers try to understand if you set goals for yourself. What is more, your answer to the second part of the question (how you achieved the goal) helps them to understand your methodology of work, and your attitude to work, and whether you can give credit to your colleagues—who helped you in the process of achieving your goal.
You should clearly define the goal you set, how it related to the goals of your employer, and the steps you took to achieve it. You can also say what it meant for you, and how did achieving the goal help your employer. Such an answer will present you as someone who cares for the employer, and does not think only about their personal gains, such as excellent salary, or a bonus they get for reaching some targets.
Describe a situation when you went above and beyond with your service (for the customer, for the colleague)
Are you an average employee, who simply takes care of their duties? Or are you an exceptional one, who strives to go above and beyond for their colleagues and customers?
Companies try to hire people who do not mind going above and beyond with their service. Such employees help their employers to stand out from the crowd of the average. Try to speak with enthusiasm about the situation when you did something extraordinary for the customer, or for your colleague. They should feel it is almost natural for you to go above and beyond.
Tell us about an obstacle you overcame.
Life is not a walk in a park on Sunday afternoon. Each of us faces all kinds of obstacles in both personal and professional life. And while not all barriers can be crossed–sometimes we have to accept them and move on, or, step backwards, it’s your attitude to overcoming obstacles that interests the interviewers.
Are you ready to make sacrifices when trying to achieve something in life? Can you step out of your comfort zone when situation demands it? Do you give up easily, or do you never give up? And when you finally overcame the obstacle on your way, didn’t ten other obstacles appear in front of you?
That’s what they try to find out with this question, and the situation you narrate should demonstrate your never-give-up attitude, and readiness to face challenges the new job presents…
Special Tip: To know how to answer a question, and to come up with a great answer on a big day, are two different things. Check our eBook, Ace Your Behavioral-Based Job Interview to see multiple brilliant answers to 30 most common behavioral interview questions, including answers for people with no previous working experience. In 2 hours from now, you can be ready for each question the hiring managers may throw at you… Check the eBook page for samples.
Describe a situation when you had to motivate someone in work.
Everyone lacks motivation sometimes. Great employees can not only find an inner motivation, but they can also help the others, their colleagues, to find the motivation, and to understand it makes sense to work hard, and to try their best.
The HR managers try to understand your attitude—if you, out of your free will, try to help your colleagues with their motivation. Your answer also helps them to understand if you have some leadership skills, and if you can find some creative ways of motivating people who work under you (offering a raise, or an extra compensation, is not a creative way of motivating others).
Try to show them that you care, that you understand that unless the entire team performs well, the results won’t be good.
You should speak about the situation when you helped the colleagues to find the motivation within, which is always much better than the motivation from outside…
Describe a time when you had to deal with an angry or upset client.
Overwhelmed with their personal problems, people are often aggressive, angry, sad, or irate when they do their shopping, eat in a restaurant, talk to a sales rep on the phone. Interviewers try to understand if you count with the behavior, if you know that the client is always right (even when they are wrong), and if the bad behavior you face does affect you somehow.
Tell them that you try to stay calm and relaxed, that you keep your focus and goal on your mind, and that any inappropriate behavior won’t distract you in work (or at least you hope so). Try to show some empathy for the people, and some understanding for a golden rule in business—that the customer is always right.
Again, if you apply for your very first job, you can change the question from behavioral to situational, explaining what you would do if you had an angry customer on the phone, or faced them in a meeting.
Describe a situation when you had to meet a tight deadline.
Modern corporations have metrics and processes in place for everything. It doesn’t matter if you apply for a job of a sales representative, financial analyst, supervisor, or even a custodian. There will always be some goal you have to attain, and some deadline you have to meet in your job.
This is a part of the typical working culture–to always expect more from the employees, to keep them under pressure, in order to achieve the best level of effectiveness in the workplace. Well, the results of this approach are highly questionable. Many employees experience a burnout from a heavy workload, and many will also leave the company as a result. But it’s not something we should discuss here.
Regardless of whether you eventually met the deadline or failed to meet it, you should show the interviewers that you tried. That’s the most important thing for them. As long as they see that you didn’t mind staying overtime, or changing something in your routine, in order to work more efficiently, they will be satisfied with your answer.
And remember that humility can do wonders for you in the interviews. Admitting that you made some mistakes, or underestimated something, and eventually failed to meet a deadline as a result, can often be more powerful answer than boasting about your time management skills, and explaining how you eventually managed to meet the dreaded tight deadline…
Special Tip: Download the list of ten questions in a simple one-page long PDF, and practice your interview answers anytime later, even when offline. You can do a mock interview with a friend, for example:
Describe a time when you struggled to communicate something to your boss, colleague, or to a customer. How did you manage to get your message over?
Interviewers try to find out if you know how to talk to people from other departments of the company, those who do not understand your professional jargon. They try to see if you can explain difficult things in a simple way, in the language your customer will understand.
Try to mention that you are always patient when explaining things to other people, that you use pictures, charts and practical examples, or demonstration, to make things easier for them.
Describe a difficult decision you had to make in your professional career. How did making this decision affect you?
This is a common question in all levels of managerial interviews. The most difficult decisions (in work) are typically related to the people we manage. To dismiss a colleague, or to relocate someone we like, is not an easy thing to do for anyone.
The interviewers try to understand if your emotions and your personal preferences interfere with your decisions in work. Try to show them that you consider the goals of the company as your first priority, and that you make decisions accordingly…
What’s the best project you’ve ever worked on?
You’ve experienced your fair share of successes and failures in life. You’ve worked on great projects and belonged to excellent teams, but you have also failed in some of your endeavors–just like any other person in the world, including the billionaires. But what exactly are the hiring managers referring to, when they ask about the best project?
Are they inquiring about the most successful one? Or about a project that you enjoyed the most, because you had a great team? Do they perhaps want to hear about the project that failed, but you learned a crucial lesson while working on it, and that’s why you consider it the best one, or the most important one for your professional career?
The answer isn’t obvious. Actually it doesn’t matter much whether you talk about a successful project, or about one that ended up a failure. As long as you can demonstrate right attitude to work, and to life in your answer, they will be satisfied with your words. Because employees with the right mindset do not fail. They either succeed, or learn.
Do not forget to include some numbers in your narrative. They give your words some credibility, and it is also easier for the interviewers to imagine things when you quantify them.
Describe a time when you struggled to build a relationship with someone important. How did you eventually overcome that?
Relationships matter everywhere—in school, in our personal life, in business, at work. Interviewers try to see if you can build a good connection with your boss, your colleagues, the clients, or the stakeholders in general, simply someone “important”, whatever the expression may indicate in the context. .
They also try to understand whether you take the initiative and try to strengthen the relationships, without waiting for the other person to make the first step. That’s not something people easily do, in the age of social media, and in the crisis of authentic relationships we experience today.
Anyway, you should speak about the situation with a good outcome, and you should stress that you took the initiative. If this is your first job application, you can speak about building relationship with your teacher, principal, or other person who played an important role in your education, or in your life…
Other common behavioral questions
- Give an example of a time you showed initiative at work.
- Give an example of an occasion when you used logic to solve a problem.
- What is the most difficult situation you’ve ever faced at work?
- Describe the situation in which you were able to use persuasion to successfully convince someone.
- When you worked on multiple projects, how did you prioritize?
- Tell me about a time when you had to make a decision without all information you needed.
- Describe a time when you faced an ethical dilemma.
- Describe a time when you experienced a conflict of your personal and professional interests. How did you get over it?
- Describe a situation when you faced a particularly demanding problem or challenge in your personal life. How did that affect you in your job?
Conclusion, final ideas, sample answers to all questions
A rule of thumb is that you should always try to narrate a situation that had a positive outcome (when you handled the stress, solved the conflict, achieved the goal, etc). Another important thing is to avoid negativity when you speak about your former colleagues and bosses.
And when you talk about a negative experience (failing to achieve a goal, struggling to meet a deadline, etc), you should always try to point out the lesson you learned in the situation, and how it helped you to become a better worker (manager, designer, nurse, teacher, programmer, etc).
Bearing in mind everything you learned so far, I know it is far from easy to come up with good answers. It is especially difficult when you apply for your very first job, or experience anxiety in the interview.
To help you with this challenge, I put together a list of 30 behavioral questions they commonly use while interviewing applicants in Fortune 500 companies, and three to seven sample answers to each question, including answers for people with no previous working experience. You will find them in our eBook – Ace Your Behavioral-Based Job Interview. If you want to have a competitive edge in your interview, and be ready for each difficult question you may face, you should check it out. Thank you, and good luck!
Your personal interview coach
May also interest you:
- Body language in an interview – Do you know how to send positive signals with your body language? We will show you how…
- Teamwork interview questions – Teamwork is crucial for many jobs. Learn more about the questions the interviewers use to understand your ability to work in a team (and to lead a team).
- Salary negotiation tips – Learn how to as much as you deserve (or even more).