During a job interview, the interviewer will likely ask behavioral interview questions.
This article outlines what behavioral interview questions are, why employers ask them, provides tips to prepare and answer them smoothly, a list of the common behavioral interview questions employers ask, and sample answers.
What are behavioral interview questions?
Behavioral interview questions focus on how you acted in a specific situation. They assess how you react to stressful situations, your skill level, and how you conduct yourself in a professional environment. They also give the interviewer insight into you as a person, which is why they're popular in most job interviews. Behavioral questions are also known as STAR interview questions or behavioral-based interview questions.
Unlike traditional interview questions, behavioral job interview techniques look for concrete examples of skills and experiences from your actual work experience. The idea is past behavior often predicts future behavior, so if the hiring manager understands how you reacted in the past, they can determine how you'll respond in a similar situation.
Why do employers ask behavioral questions?
Behavioral questions assess how you respond to specific workplace situations and solve problems. The interviewer isn't looking for a "yes" or "no" answer. Instead, they want specific examples of how you handled a situation in a previous role or project.
Answering behavioral and situational interview questions well is the best way to stand out in the interview process and show that you're a good fit for the job.
The best candidates use the STAR method to answer behavioral questions because it provides a structured framework for their answers. The idea is to use a brief anecdote that illustrates your strengths, skills, past behavior, and how you get along with managers and teammates in specific situations.
How to prepare for behavioral interviews
Preparing for behavioral interviews relies on research. Start by reading the job description and company website.
Make a list of the skills, qualifications, or past experiences it calls for, and then try to think of specific situations where you've demonstrated your ability in each area.
Interviewers use behavioral questions to assess how successful you'll be in the role, so the situations you choose must be specific to the job.
Once you've identified specific examples of past behaviors that map to the company's needs, it's a good idea to use the STAR method to structure your answers. The STAR method will help you present your experiences clearly in a compelling story.
How to answer behavioral interview questions with the STAR method
The STAR technique is a helpful strategy for responding to job interview questions. It provides candidates with a four-step process for organizing their answers into a coherent structure that interviewers want:
- Situation: Describe your position or the project you needed to accomplish. Use a specific event or situation, not a generalized description of what you have done in the past. Your response should provide the interviewer with enough details to understand the situation clearly. The situation can be from a previous job, volunteer role, or relevant work experience.
- Task: Explain your task, typically by outlining goals or projects.
- Action: Describe the actions you took to address the situation with an appropriate amount of detail and keep the focus on your work. Hiring managers want to know what specific steps you took and your contribution. Be careful not to describe what team members or the company did; instead, focus on your role. Use "I" rather than "we" when describing actions.
- Result: Describe the outcome of your actions, and don't be shy to take credit for your achievements. What happened? What metrics were improved? How did your customers react to the new feature? What did you learn? Make sure your story contains positive results.
Using the STAR method during behavioral interviewing can help hiring managers understand how your past work fits into the new role. But remember, the STAR approach isn't necessarily helpful for more traditional interview questions.
What are the most common behavioral interview questions?
Here are seven of the most common behavioral interview questions you will likely encounter:
- Describe a time when you disagreed with a teammate. How did you resolve the disagreement?
- Can you tell me about a time when you failed to meet a goal?
- What is a situation where you assumed the leadership of your team?
- What was the most challenging situation you have had at a previous workplace?
- Can you describe a time when you disagreed with your manager's strategy?
- How do you approach problem-solving? What's your process?
- What can you contribute to this company?
One of the most important things to know is that behavioral questions generally fall into one of the following groups:
- Client facing skills
- Time management
- Motivation and values
17 teamwork-focused behavioral interview questions
When an interviewer asks about teamwork, they usually want to know how well you work with others. Good teamwork and collaboration skills are essential to doing the job. You want to illustrate your ability to work with others in stressful or challenging situations. Be prepared to demonstrate how you have successfully been a leader and a team player.
- Tell me about a time when you had to work closely with someone who had a different personality from yours.
- Can you give me an example of a time when you had an inter-team conflict? How did you handle it?
- Describe a time when you struggled to build a relationship with your manager. How did you overcome that?
- Tell me when you said something to a colleague that you shouldn't have.
- Have you disagreed with a company policy before?
- When have you gone above and beyond your job role?
- Tell me how you convinced a team member to work on a project they didn't think was necessary.
- Have you ever had to get information from someone who wasn't very responsive?
- Describe how you handled a difficult situation with previous co-workers.
- Give me an example of how you've worked well with people on other teams.
- What do you do when you disagree with management's decision?
- Are you better at working on a team or alone?
- What role do you assume when you work within a team?
- Describe the differences between teams you worked on in the past. What was your favorite, and why?
- What do you do when you disagree with a team member?
- Tell me about a time when you failed to lead your team.
- Describe a situation when your team failed to deliver a project on time.
10 client-facing-focused behavioral interview questions
When hiring managers ask the questions below, they want specific examples of a time when you successfully represented your company or team or when you turned a bad customer interaction into a good one. If the role you're interviewing for works with clients, is in sales, marketing, or customer service, you need to prepare for these.
- Describe when it was essential to make a good impression on a prospective client. How did you do it?
- Give me an example of when you didn't meet a customer's expectations. What happened, and were you able to turn the bad situation into something useful?
- Describe a time when you went above and beyond to make a customer happy.
- How do you deal with demanding customers?
- Have you ever had to decide which customers to respond to first? If so, how did you prioritize them?
- Tell me about the last time a customer was upset with you.
- Describe a stressful interaction with a customer and how you handled it.
- Tell me about a time when you worked effectively under client pressure.
- How did you handle a tight customer deadline?
- Describe a situation where you disagreed with the customer's idea but implemented it anyway.
20 problem solving-focused behavioral interview questions
These questions show how you think through problems and how you can adapt. Focus on explaining, in detail, the situation and steps you took to resolve an issue or challenge in the past.
- Tell me about a time when you were under a lot of pressure at work.
- How do you handle things you don't know how to solve right away?
- How do you weigh up the risk vs. reward of a particular strategy?
- Give me an example of a goal you thought was unreachable, but you achieved.
- Tell me about a time when you missed an obvious solution to a problem.
- Give me an example of a goal you didn't reach and what you learned from it.
- Provide two examples of good and bad KPIs.
- Describe how you think about structuring OKRs.
- How do you use logic to solve a problem?
- When have you taken the initiative on a project?
- Describe how your problem-solving skills benefited your team or company.
- Are you able to tell me about a time when you used creativity to overcome a business or ethical dilemma?
- What was the best idea you had at a previous company?
- How do you decide which problems to focus on at work?
- Tell me about when someone in senior leadership asked you for help.
- Name three things you improved at your previous company.
- Give me an example of when you had to think on your feet to fix a problematic and timely issue.
- Tell me about a time when you failed. How did you deal with it?
- Describe a time when your team or company was undergoing some change. How did that impact you, and how did you adapt?
- Tell me about your first job. What did you do to get up to speed?
15 time management-focused behavioral interview questions
The interviewer wants to see how you think about time management, dealing with stress, and allocating resources. Get ready to talk about a time when you had to juggle responsibilities, work under a deadline, organize multiple projects, and keep competing stakeholders happy.
- Tell me about a time when you were under a lot of time pressure. What was going on, and how did you get through it?
- Tell me about a time when you had to be very strategic to meet a deadline.
- Describe a long-term project you managed. How did you overcome Parkinson's law?
- Share a situation where you saw a team member struggling and stepped in to help.
- Describe when you had to motivate your team to meet a tight deadline.
- Give me an example of when you decided it was best to postpone making a business-critical decision and how you explained it to your boss.
- When have your time management skills failed you?
- Tell me about a time when you had too much to do and not enough resources. What was your solution, and why?
- Give me an example of when you were partway through a project and realized that prioritizing was the wrong thing.
- Share an example of when you sacrificed short-term productivity for a longer-term goal.
- Describe a time when you anticipated potential problems and developed preventive measures.
- Sometimes you can't get to everything on your to-do list. Tell me about how you decide what to prioritize in these situations.
- Tell me about a time when you set a goal for yourself. How did you ensure you would meet your objectives on time?
- Give me an example of how you managed numerous projects at once.
- Have you ever had to handle numerous responsibilities at once?
10 communication-focused behavioral interview questions
While you probably won't have any problem thinking about a story for communication questions, remember interviewers also care about your thought process, preparation, and how you deliver bad news.
- Give me an example of when you successfully persuaded senior management that your strategy was the right approach.
- Do you prefer written or verbal communication?
- Describe a time when you were the resident expert. What did you do to make sure everyone got up to speed on the topic?
- Tell me when you had to rely on documentation to get your ideas across to a team.
- Give me an example of when you had to explain something complicated to a new employee.
- Tell me about a successful presentation you gave to a customer.
- Have you ever had to deliver negative feedback to a colleague?
- Describe a situation where you used persuasion to convince someone to see things your way.
- Was there ever a time that you verbally disagreed with your boss or another authority figure? What was the situation, and how did it turn out?
- Tell me about a time when someone brought up an opposing point of view that never occurred to you.
17 motivation and values-focused behavioral interview questions
Many of these questions seem random, but they help hiring managers understand what motivates you. Where possible, address this directly, even if the question isn't explicit about it.
- Tell me about your proudest achievement.
- Describe when you saw a problem and decided to fix it rather than waiting for someone else to do it.
- Do you prefer to manage carefully or have loose supervision?
- Give me an example of when you needed to be creative at work. Did you enjoy it?
- Tell me about a time when you were dissatisfied at work. What could your previous company have done to make it better?
- What do you look for in colleagues?
- Tell me about yourself.
- What would your ideal day be?
- Why do you want to work here?
- Describe a time when you faced a stressful situation and demonstrated your coping skills.
- Have you ever been in a situation where you didn't have enough work to do?
- What is your biggest regret at work?
- Do you prefer delegating tasks or doing them yourself?
- How do you handle unexpected changes or challenges?
- Describe a time when you set your sights too high (or too low).
- Have you ever made a mistake? How did you handle it?
- How do you handle stress?
10 sample behavioral interview answers
Let's run through a bunch of sample answers to common behavioral interview questions so you can see our advice in action.
1. Tell me about when you faced a conflict while working on a team. How did you handle it?
Disagreements in the workplace are common. That doesn't make it any easier to answer, and it's hard to look good in a conflict even when you did nothing wrong.
The most important thing is to focus less on the conflict and more on the process you took to find a solution.
Example answer: "In my last role, I was part of a committee that needed to improve our technical interviewing process, and there was a lot of pushback on the idea of allowing candidates to use the Internet while interviewing. There was one engineering manager who was particularly against it. It took some careful listening to understand his position. Ultimately, his team had to interview unaided. It didn't feel fair to them to make the interview 'easier.' Rather than pointing out that his team had already been hired and wouldn't need to interview again, I focused the conversation on the fact that we were trying to hire more engineers. When engineers work, they have access to the Internet. He eventually agreed to trial it for a quarter. We found that we were not only able to get more people through our interview process but that we were able to hire candidates that may have failed our previous interview process who were exceptional engineers."
2. Tell me when you needed to get information from someone who wasn't very responsive. What did you do?
Hiring managers need people who solve issues on their own. Try not to get bogged down in the details when answering this question. Focus on what you learned from the situation.
Example answer: "As a customer success manager, I've had a customer stop responding to me. It was an important account, and they seemed to like our offering by all accounts. I tried contacting them via email and phone but couldn't get to them. When I didn't get a response, I reached out to them via LinkedIn and found that they had recently accepted a new role and hadn't had time to hand over the account to another colleague. They offered to put me in touch with their replacement, and I was able to run a training program for them and retain the account."
3. Tell me about when you had to work with someone who had a different personality. How did you learn to collaborate?
No matter how easy you are to work with, there will always be someone so different from you that it's hard to work with them. Hiring managers want to know that you can put your personality aside and do what's best for the company.
Example answer: "I'm a pretty introverted person, so I often clash with more extroverted colleagues. At my previous company, I worked with a young salesperson on a big client project, and I was running him through our typical sales process. As the more senior salesperson, it was my job to get to know him and find common ground. I briefly explained our sales process, asked him if he had any feedback, and then asked him to participate in the next client meeting. By the end of the project, he surprised me with how quickly he learned and his passion for the company. I learned not to judge a person by their personality alone."
4. Tell me about a time when you worked effectively under pressure.
Most jobs have points in time when pressure is high, and the interviewer wants to know that you'll be able to handle it. It's best to answer this question by highlighting a specific situation when you rose to the occasion.
Example answer: "I had to increase our organic traffic by 40% in 60 days. My supervisor came to me and said that he had pressure from his boss to make it happen. The issue was that our traffic was very seasonal, so it was doable but improbable. I communicated that to my boss and got to work updating posts to rank better. My boss returned to me and said he could dedicate 50% of his time to helping get it done, which was great as it allowed me to teach and learn to allocate resources. At the end of the 60 days, traffic was up 30%. It wasn't exactly what we wanted, but we put together a report to explain why we didn't achieve 40% growth, and management was very impressed regardless."
5. Tell me about a time that you used your organizational skills to improve a situation at work.
Time management and organization are at the core of many roles, and the easiest way to prove you have the skills is to highlight times when you've leveraged them in the past.
Example answer: "When I started my last product manager role, we had no system for prioritizing feature requests from customers or the team. My task was to develop a way to capture feature requests, prioritize them, and notify the relevant stakeholders when they were released. I used Productboard at a previous company to capture insights and build product roadmaps, so I signed up and recorded Loom videos to teach people how to use it. Once people captured insights in Productboard, I then set up a quarterly meeting with senior management to solidify the roadmap for the coming quarter. By the time I left, we had a quarterly cadence of prioritized feature requests from product, customer success, sales, and senior management and a robust system for capturing new insights. Implementing Productboard and quarterly planning led to 90% of our sales coming from us having a better product than competitors, up from 40% when I started."
6. Tell me about a mistake that you've made. How did you handle it?
Everyone makes mistakes. When answering this question, focus less on the error and more on what you learned from it.
Example answer: "When I first became an engineering manager, I tried to do everything myself, from the day-to-day operations of the team to coding all of the core features. I quickly learned that this wasn't realistic. I read management books like High Output Management and discovered that the best managers delegate to their team. Since then, I've focused on learning how to manage a remote team by running effective one-on-ones and staff meetings rather than coding."
7. Give me a specific example of a time when you sold your supervisor on an idea or concept
The best employees are self-starters who take the initiative to drive new ideas forward. When answering this question, focus on situations when you successfully sold an idea that had a significant impact.
Example answer: "In my previous product manager role, I had the idea of dedicating one day of our two-week sprints to design improvements. The engineering team was excellent at implementing new features and bug fixes. Still, we weren't doing an excellent job of keeping the visual design of the platform up-to-date with industry standards. I showed my manager an article from Mixpanel that outlined how UX improvements improved their core metrics, and he understood the value. I worked with the design team to make improvements in each sprint. After a quarter of this work, the UX and UI of the platform looked much better, and we heard from 20 customers that it had positively impacted their desire to use the product."
8. Explain a situation in which you would have handled things differently
Chances are you've done something at work that you wish you handled differently. Interviewers want to know about a specific situation and how you've grown from it.
Example answer: "Early in my career, I had the opportunity to lead the growth function. I felt I was unprepared in terms of my management skills and declined. I wish I had been open to challenging myself more and learning on the job. To ensure I never felt this way again, I've always made sure to put my hand up for any initiatives that need a lead. I've also invested time developing my managerial skills by reading books like High Output Management and Good to Great."
9. Give me an example of a time when you created a goal and achieved it
As you climb the corporate ladder, more and more of your time is spent on your plans and projects to drive them forward. Hiring managers want to know that you determine what's essential on your own.
Example answer: "When I first started as a software engineer, I had a lot of technical knowledge but struggled to implement the designs our product designers did. The poorly executed design resulted in many back-and-forths and slowed our time to release. I thought that I'd pick it up while working in the industry, but after about two years in the field, I realized I needed to invest real time into learning design if I wanted to fix the issue. I decided to learn the basics of product design. I spoke to some of the designers at my last company and asked them how to learn it. They suggested that I recreate five of my favorite products in Figma screen-by-screen over a few months. I set up a schedule and dedicated an hour a day thanks to this goal. Once I finished a design, I asked the designers to critique it and see what I missed. Over six months, I completed the five projects and now feel like I have an excellent grasp of the process and miss far fewer details when implementing design at work. Understanding the design process made our feature release cadence faster. It also made the designers respect the engineering team more. They could see we were putting in the effort to get their designs into production."
10. Share an example of how you motivated employees or co-workers.
If you're applying to a management position, a big part of your role will be motivating your staff and fellow managers. The interviewer asks this question to determine if you're up to the task.
"In my last role, one of my employees was disengaged from work. Her performance was slipping, but I knew she was a competent person. She'd been my top performer in the previous quarter. I spoke with her privately and asked her what was wrong. It turned out that her dog had recently died, but she didn't want to let the team down, so she kept coming to work. I told her to take a week off. She returned focused, refreshed, and thanked me for being there for her. She received a promotion during our next performance review cycle and continues to excel."
Tips for answering behavioral interview questions
We've got a complete guide on how to answer behavioral interview questions. Below is the TLDR:
- Prepare ahead of time: This one seems obvious, but coming up with a story on the spot will generally lead to rambling. Have a few go-to stories demonstrating a wide range of expected behaviors hiring managers want.
- Use storytelling: Preparing detailed anecdotes means you have time to develop a story before the interview (using the STAR method, for example) that you can use.
- Answer the question: If the interviewer asks you a question and you can't think of a situation that applies, tell them. Being honest allows you to change the subject and answer with, "but if I had encountered a situation like that, this is what I'd do."
- Rehearsed, not robotic: While you should prepare, don't read from a script. Remember, a job interview is a conversation, not an interrogation.
- Focus on successes: Avoid telling stories where you failed and learned nothing if you need to tell a story that didn't have a positive outcome, anchor on what you learned, and how that made you a better operator.
- Take your time: It's okay to take a moment before answering the question. Hiring managers want to give you the best shot at the job.
- Be positive: While behavioral interview questions often focus on times of stress or failure, don't focus too much on the negatives of the situation. Focus on what you did to solve the problem and the positive results.
- Know yourself: Remember behavioral and situational interview questions highlight your strengths and weaknesses. The best candidates create responses that show how they lean on their strengths and, where necessary, fix mistakes.
- Focus on results: Results is the last part of the STAR acronym and is one of the most overlooked. Remember to emphasize the positive outcomes of your actions in the interview process and use numbers where you can.