Ace that Interview: How to Answer Behavioral Interview Questions

man at an interview in a restaurant

If you’ve ever gone into a job interview before, you’re probably familiar with questions such as “tell me about yourself.” These questions are referred to as behavioral interview questions, and they’re more in-depth than simply giving your education and background details. 

The trouble is, if you’re not prepared for them, they can leave you stumped in the middle of your interview. That, in turn, can cause you to flunk the process — yikes!

To get around this, it pays to know how to effectively answer these types of questions. In this article, I’ll guide you on how to structure your responses, tips, and strategies to pack a punch with your answers, preparation techniques, and common mistakes to avoid. So, grab a notepad, a cup of warm coffee perhaps, and let’s gear ourselves up to ace that interview!

What are Behavioral Interview Questions and What is Their Purpose?

Most of us can relate to having been in the interview room and being asked about a time when you resolved a conflict or met a particularly challenging deadline. This type of question is called a behavioral interview question. 

Behavioral interview questions are a type of questions used by hiring teams to understand how you’ve handled the kind of situations you might encounter in the role you’re applying for. They’re less about what you’ve achieved (those are situational questions) and more about how you achieved it.

The philosophy behind these questions is based on the premise that past behavior is a solid predictor of future performance. Instead of asking hypothetical questions about how you would act in a situation, they ask about real situations you’ve experienced, giving you a chance to demonstrate your problem-solving abilities, teamwork, initiative, and other crucial soft skills. 

How Should You Answer Behavioral Interview Questions?

When you’re faced with that all-too-familiar question, “Can you tell me about a time when…?” you might feel a bit caught off guard. 

The good news is that there’s actually a tried and true way to answer these interview questions. Let me break down some strategies to help you out. 

STAR Method

One of the best ways to answer this type of question is to use something called the STAR method. STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action, and Result, and it provides a framework to structure your responses to behavioral interview questions: 

  • Situation: Start by briefly describing the context or background of the situation. For instance, “When I was working as a project manager in my previous company, we had a high-priority client who suddenly requested changes in an ongoing project.”
  • Task: Next, summarize what your role, responsibility, or task was in that situation. You might say, “As the project manager, it was my responsibility to address our client’s concerns while also balancing project resources without impacting the project deadline.”
  • Action: Elaborate on the specific actions you took to address the task. You might elaborate, “I quickly organized a meeting with our client to understand their requirements better. I also worked with the team to reassess our plan and reallocate resources effectively.”
  • Result: Conclude your response by sharing the positive outcome. You could end with, “As a result, not only were we able to incorporate the client’s changes, but we also managed to complete the project two days before the deadline.”

The STAR method is more than just a means to an end. It’s a storytelling technique that keeps your response organized, comprehensive, and easy to follow. It helps you remember key details and keeps you from rambling. 

Grounding Examples in Actual Experience

Another important aspect of answering behavioral interview questions is to keep your examples grounded in your actual experience. Remember that no accomplishment is too small if it demonstrates your true capabilities.

For instance, you may not have experience rescuing a company from bankruptcy, but perhaps you can discuss the time you identified a surprisingly large operational expense in your old department, suggested a more cost-effective alternative, and saved the company money!

The key is to show the interviewer how you deal with real-world situations and what kind of problem-solver, leader, or team player you are. Your stories and examples are the best way to do that! Just remember to be authentic, honest, and strategic when sharing your examples.

Things to Avoid When Answering Behavioral Interview Questions

Just like how there are specific ways you want to go about answering behavioral interview questions, there are also a few things that you want to avoid. Here are a couple of pitfalls to steer clear of when you come across this style of question. 

Being Vague or Over-Generalized

If an interviewer asks you, “Describe a time when you had to handle a conflict at work”, use a response such as, “I always try to resolve conflicts by encouraging open communication and understanding the other person’s perspective,” is too vague. It’s essential to give a specific example so your answer becomes distinctive and memorable. 

Too Long or Too Short Answers

Lengthy responses that lose the key message or too brief responses that do not give enough insight into your behavior can both be detrimental. For example, if asked how you handle stressful situations, a brief response like “I just handle it” is far too short and doesn’t provide any meaningful insight. Conversely, a 15-minute monologue about your stress management journey won’t keep an interviewer engaged. 

Tips and Strategies to Answer Behavioral Interview Questions

Besides knowing how to answer behavioral interview questions, there are also a couple of tips and strategies that you can implement to ensure your delivery is a success. 

Let me go over a few of these tips to help you out.

Tip #1. Use Positive Language

It’s essential to focus on the constructive aspect of every situation, even when describing a challenging scenario or conflict. 

For example, instead of saying, “We had a team member who was not pulling his weight, which was frustrating”, you could say, “I encountered a situation where a team member had different work priorities, which was a learning opportunity for me.” 

This not only sounds more professional but also showcases your positive mindset and ability to see growth opportunities in difficult times.

Tip #2. Emphasize Learning Experiences and Problem-solving Skills

Your answers should clearly convey what you’ve learned from the experiences you share and how you solve problems in a professional setting. Remember, employers want to see how you handle real-life challenges, not hypothetical situations. 

You can say things like, “The situation taught me the value of clear communication and setting expectations early on. When I faced a similar situation later, I was able to resolve it more swiftly because of this.”

Tip #3. Practice Your Answers

One of the major mistakes I see job seekers make is to go into a behavioral interview without adequate preparation. Practice makes perfect, and this is particularly true when it comes to interviews. 

Write down your answers and rehearse them, either alone or with a friend. This can help you ensure that your responses are structured, clear, and hit all the key points you want to body.

How Can You Prepare for a Behavioral Interview?

If you already know that you’ve got a behavioral interview coming up, there are a few things you can do to prepare. 

Now, preparing for a behavioral interview involves more than merely familiarizing yourself with common interview questions. It’s also about being able to deliver truthful, articulate, and convincing answers that demonstrate your skills, experiences, and overall suitability for the role. 

One way to prep for the interview is to invest time in understanding the company, its culture, values, and vision. 

For instance, when preparing for an interview with a leading tech company, you can spend a substantial amount of time scrutinizing their website, reading articles about them, and perusing relevant social media platforms. This understanding of the company’s core values can help you tailor responses that align well with their ethos. 

In the same vein, a thorough understanding of the job description is crucial. This will help you gauge the skills, duties, and responsibilities required for the role. Once you have a grasp of the required skill set, you can anticipate potential behavioral questions. 

For instance, if the job requires strong team collaboration, a likely question may be, “Can you describe a situation where you had to resolve a conflict within your team?” Or if it requires problem-solving skills, you may be asked, “Describe a complex problem you had to solve and what steps you took to address it.”

Sample Common Behavioral Interview Questions and Good Answers

Remember, having a few practice questions up your sleeve can help you properly prepare for your upcoming interview. Here are a few questions to help you practice and prepare. 

These examples demonstrate how to navigate various behavioral situations using the STAR principle. Practice these scenarios, and remember to apply them to your personal experiences to deliver genuine, convincing responses. You’ve got this!

“Tell me about a time when you had to work under pressure”

In answering this, the interviewer is looking to see how you’ll handle stress in the job. A potential answer could be: 

“In my previous role as an event coordinator, a major vendor unexpectedly dropped out 48 hours before a big event (Situation). I had to find a last-minute replacement without compromising the quality of the event (Task). I used my professional network to quickly connect with potential replacements and maintained our rigorous vetting process despite the time crunch (Action). Ultimately, I was able to find a superior replacement within 24 hours, and the event was highly commended for its seamless execution (Result.)”

“Can you describe a time when you had a disagreement with a team member?”

For this question, the interviewer wants to see how you work in a team and how you handle conflict resolution. A potential answer could be: 

“In a former software development project, a team member and I disagreed on the coding approach to be used in our project (Situation). We needed to reach a decision quickly to stay on track with the project timeline (Task). I suggested we each independently research the benefits and drawbacks of our proposed coding approaches and then present our findings to each other (Action). After presenting our cases, we agreed to use a mix of both coding approaches. It resulted in a more robust and efficient code, and we were able to complete the project on schedule (Result).”

“Tell me about a time you disagreed with a supervisor?”

In answering this, it’s important to show that you can manage professional disagreements diplomatically. Here’s an example:

“Once, in a previous position as a graphic designer, I was given a brief by my supervisor that I thought could be approached in a more effective way. I respected my supervisor’s authority but believed I had something valuable to bring to the table. So, I constructed a detailed pitch, included mock designs, and presented it to my supervisor (Action). To my relief, my supervisor appreciated the initiative and thought my idea could work well. We implemented my design, and the campaign ended up being one of the most successful ones (Result).”

“Describe a time when a project did not go as planned?”

In this scenario, it’s vital to demonstrate resilience and problem-solving skills. Here’s a possible response:

“In a previous role as a project manager, we had a key team member resign in the middle of a critical project. The timing was challenging (Situation). I was tasked with managing the sudden transition (Task). I quickly assessed the team’s capacity, redistributed the load, and stepped in to cover some tasks while we were recruiting a replacement (Action). Though it was a frustrating experience, we managed to deliver the project on time and within budget. It also led to a team that developed stronger bonds and improved problem-solving skills for unexpected situations (Result).”

“Give me an example of when you had to persuade someone to see things your way?”

Persuasion and influence are important leadership skills. Here’s a way to answer this question:

“When working as a sales representative, I came across a stubborn client unwilling to consider our new product line (Situation). I was assigned to convince the client about the effectiveness of our product (Task). I equipped myself with ample data and testimonials to demonstrate the product’s reliability and arranged a face-to-face meeting. I patiently addressed all their concerns and objections (Action). After a week, the client agreed to try our new product line and later became one of our most valuable accounts (Result).”

Answer Behavioral Interview Questions With Ease

Behavioral interview questions can be tough, but with tricks like the STAR method up your sleeve, you’ll have no problem giving comprehensive, thoughtful, and concise answers to any behavioral question thrown your way.

Remember, your own stories and experiences are unique, and that’s what will make you stand out to interviewers. And, of course, authenticity is key. Avoid rehearsed or clichéd stories. Instead, think of instances that genuinely showcased your problem-solving, leadership, and teamwork skills, or other soft skills.

With that said, you’re now ready to head out there and ace your next job interview! Or, if you still feel you need some guidance, check out our other interviewing articles for more tips and tricks to land you a job.

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