How to Answer Behavioral Interview Questions

Business executive conducting a behavioral interview.

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Most hiring managers include at least a few behavioral questions in each job interview they conduct. What can you expect when you're asked these types of questions? In a behavioral job interview, the interviewer asks questions about your past work experiences. For example, he or she might say, “Tell me about a time that you had to multitask at work” or “Give me an example of a conflict you had with an employee. How did you resolve it?”

Employers who use this approach are seeking concrete evidence that proves the candidate has the skills and abilities needed for the job. The idea behind a behavioral interview question is that past behavior is an indicator of future behavior. Therefore, examples from your past give the employer an idea of how you would handle a similar situation if you were to be hired.

What You Could Be Asked

Interviewers might pose a variety of behavioral questions. Examples of interview questions include, "Can you give me an example of how you motivated an underperforming subordinate to increase productivity?" and "Describe a time when you implemented a new program which was successful."

Employers are looking for a detailed explanation of an experience from your past. They want to know what the experience was and how you dealt with it. Your responses will give the interviewer an indication of how you handle projects and issues at work.

How to Prepare

It's impossible for candidates to anticipate all possible questions you'll be asked prior to an interview. Many will be specific to the job for which you're being considered. However, by carefully reviewing the job listing and reviewing lists of common behavioral interview questions, you can prepare for the most likely questions.

Before going into an interview, take the time to identify the qualities of the ideal candidate for that position. Look through the job listing for a list of qualifications and scan for any keywords that give you a hint as to what the employer wants in a job candidate. Then match your qualifications to the job, so you're prepared with examples related to the experience and qualifications the employer is seeking.

In addition to looking for any cues within the job advertisement, if time permits, conduct informational interviews with professional contacts in the field to get input regarding the preferred skills, knowledge bases, and personal qualities of successful employees in that type of job.

Once you get a sense of the questions you might be asked, the next step will be to come up with examples from past experiences that have helped you develop the skills and qualities needed for a job. Create a list of seven to 10 key assets that make you a strong candidate for your target job. For each asset, think of an anecdote or story of how you have used that strength to add value in some situation. You can use anecdotes from your roles as an employee, student, volunteer, or intern.

How to Answer Behavioral Interview Questions

When practicing answers for behavioral interview questions, consider following what is called the STAR interview response technique. It is a four-step technique for answering questions about past behaviors at work:

  • Situation. Describe the situation or set the scene. Explain the place you were working for or the task you were given.
  • Task. Describe the issue or problem you were confronted with.
  • Action. Describe the action you took to intervene in the situation or solve the problem. This should introduce the key asset you would like to illustrate.
  • Results. Describe the results your action generated. Explain how you helped solve the problem or improve the company in some way.

Imagine an employer asks you the behavioral interview question, “Tell me about a time that you used your organizational skills to improve a situation at work.” A possible answer using the STAR technique would be as follows:

When I took on the job as an assistant at Marketing Solutions, I soon learned that there was no easily accessible system for retrieving information on past campaigns. Each of the five consultants had their own computer files. I suggested to the director that we set up a shared online filing system with past campaign materials that would be accessed by all staff. I interviewed each of the staff to get input about how to categorize the files and proposed a system that was implemented. The system was a success; it is still in place four years later. My supervisor mentioned this accomplishment as one of the reasons for my raise at my recent performance review.