Most hiring managers ask behavioral interview questions as part of their interview process, so it's essential to know how to answer them. Behavioral job interviews focus on questions about your thought process or what you've done in a specific situation.
Employers who use a behavioral interview approach expect answers that focus on specific situations. Focusing your response on an example from your work experience is best to show your strengths and why you're the ideal job candidate. For example, you might get a question like, "Tell me about a time you made a mistake."
Behavioral questions assume past behavior is a good indicator of future behavior, so it's best to stick to examples from your past when answering.
Keep reading to learn what behavioral interview questions are and how to prepare for and answer them. We've also included example answers and tips.
What are behavioral interview questions?
Behavioral interview questions focus on how you acted in a specific situation to gauge how you react to stressful situations, your skill level, and how you conduct yourself in a work environment. They also allow the interviewer insight into your personality.
- 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?
In general, you can spot a behavioral interview question by looking out for the following phrases:
- "Tell me about a time..."
- "Describe a time..."
- "How did you handle [a situation]?"
- "Give me an example of..."
Employers are looking for a detailed explanation of a specific situation from your past. They want to know the problem, task, actions you took, and the results of your actions.
How to prepare for a behavioral job interview
You can't prepare for every behavioral interview question before an interview. Many questions will be specific to the job and company. However, you can follow tactics to ensure you provide a good answer.
For more tips, read our guide to preparing for behavioral job interviews.
Prepare for common behavioral interview questions
If you review the most common behavioral interview questions, you'll be ready for the most common questions.
Tailor your answer to the job description
When answering behavioral questions, you need to target your answer to the job. You can do this by reading and re-reading the job listing in full before your interview. The job post contains the duties and responsibilities associated with the position and hints about what the interviewer wants to assess.
Look out for skills, responsibilities, and expectations that the hiring manager needs, and write down your relevant experience. Once you've got your list, try to think of specific examples from your prior experience where you've applied the skills or been in a similar situation.
For example, if you're applying for a remote operations manager position and the job description mentions time management and needing someone who can think on their feet, try to think about situations that demonstrate your ability to manage tight or changing deadlines.
Research the company
It always helps to research the company. As with the job description, research gives you an idea of what qualities and abilities the hiring manager is looking for in an ideal job candidate.
If you're starting your career or trying to move to a new role, reach out to professionals in the field to get an idea of in-demand skills, knowledge, and strengths they think are essential for the job. Your research is another source for potential questions.
Develop and practice your answers before the interview
Once you've got an idea of the interviewer's questions, the next step is to come up with specific situations from your career that help you demonstrate that you have the skills and qualities needed for the role.
Create a list of five to ten situations that make you an ideal candidate, and then develop stories using the STAR method that demonstrate your contribution. These could be situations from your time as an employee, student, volunteer, or intern.
Be ready for "what if" questions
Situational interview questions are similar to behavioral questions but ask how you handle a particular circumstance. In general, they'll come in the form of a "tell me about a time when..." but occasionally, they'll be "what if" type questions.
"What if" questions can be hard to answer if you've never experienced the situation before, as you'll need to think on your feet and describe your hypothetical actions. For example, answering "What would you do if you had a conflict with a key client?" is going to be hard to answer if you haven't experienced that situation before.
If this happens, tell the interviewer that you haven't experienced this situation before, but you're happy to talk through what you'd do and your thought process. You can still use components of the STAR technique to structure your answer.
How to answer behavioral interview questions
The best way to answer behavioral questions is to use the STAR interview response technique. It's a four-step process that makes answering questions about your past work behavior a breeze:
- Tell them the situation you were in where you demonstrated the desired skills or strength. What was the problem, need, or concern? Include any obstacles you had to overcome.
- Explain your task, typically by outlining goals or projects.
- Outline the actions you took to address the situation. Keep the focus on your work. Interviewers want to hear what you did, so assume ownership for your accomplishments.
- Describe the results and positive outcomes you achieved. Always quantify the results and relate your skills, action, and results to potential employers' needs.
Keep your responses clear and concise, ideally under two minutes.
Related: How to create a STAR method resume
Example answer to a behavioral interview question using the STAR method
Imagine an employer asks you the following behavioral interview question, "Tell me about a time that you used your organizational skills to improve a situation at work."
A possible answer that leverages the STAR technique would be as follows:
- Situation: "When I started my last product manager role, we had no system for prioritizing feature requests from customers or the team."
- Task: "My task was to develop a way for us to capture feature requests, prioritize them, and notify the relevant stakeholders when they were released."
- Actions: "I had used Productboard at a previous company to capture insights and build product roadmaps, so I signed up for that and recorded a bunch of Loom videos to teach people how to use it. Once people were capturing insights in Productboard, I then set up a quarterly meeting with senior management to solidify the roadmap for the coming quarter."
- Results: "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."
Tips for responding to behavioral interview questions
- Take a moment before answering: These are open-ended questions. If you need to take a moment, your interviewer will understand.
- Be succinct: You don't need to go into every detail or dot point on your resume. Use the STAR technique to create an answer that takes no longer than a few minutes to explain. That'll make it easy for your interviewer to follow and remember.
- Quantify results: If your actions resulted in quantifiable results–such as improved metrics or reduced issues–be sure to explain what they are and why they were important. Quantifying your impact shows you know how to explain the value of your work.
- Focus on storytelling: While it's vital to provide quantifiable results where possible, humans love stories, so do your best to tell a compelling one.
- Prepare ahead of time: You don't need to memorize answers, but practicing a few stories will help you feel more confident when a behavioral interview question you haven't heard before comes up. Practice will also help you develop STAR answers on the fly.
- Don't just have good stories: Some behavioral interview questions ask you to recall a difficult situation you've had at work. Like when you disagree with your boss or a colleague. It's best to have a few challenging circumstances ready to answer these questions.
- Keep your body language in mind: The way you look is as important as your answer. Practice sitting up straight and smiling while answering questions. If you're nervous, take a few deep breathes before you start answering.