Tell me about a time… how to answer behavioral interview questions

Ever stumbled in a job interview and wished you had prepared more? It can be difficult to think back on your work history in the middle of an interview. But sharing an on-point story or example from your past experience communicates confidence and competence and can leave a great impression with an interviewer. Get ready for your next interview by practicing responses to these behavioral questions—the type employers ask most frequently—and learn strategies for your responses.

What are behavioral questions?

Behavioral questions require you to describe how you have handled challenging work-related situations, such as conflict with co-workers, dealing with work deadlines, or completing difficult projects. The employer is seeking insight into your behavior, personality, and character to determine how you’d likely perform in their job and whether they can rely on you.

While you likely won’t see a list of the employer’s questions in advance, you can develop a pretty clear idea of the types of scenarios the interviewer is likely to bring up. Get started by gathering all the information you can about the position, organization, and industry, to determine the kinds of situations or problems likely to come up in the position you interview for. Then review the below list of common questions and identify ones this employer is most likely to ask based on your research.

Next, do a thorough review of your work history to identify experiences that may illustrate your ability to deal with the scenarios in the questions below. If you are starting out in your career, include experiences you’ve had in classes, collaborating on class projects, and participating in activities and volunteer work.

Take a look at these common questions to prepare stories about your own examples.

Common behavioral interview questions

How have you worked well with deadlines or other high stress situations?
This kind of scenario is the most common behavioral question. Talk about a situation when you handled an intense project or major deadline pressure effectively, how you came up with your response, how others were involved, and what the result was.

How did you respond when something significant went wrong on a job or when you made a mistake?
Here the interviewer is acknowledging there will always be errors or issues, but they want to know you will be able to work through challenges and use critical thinking to solve a problem. Emphasize the resolution, not the significance of the problem or error. Also talk about the success or effectiveness of your solution.

Talk about a time you set a goal/goals and how you achieved them
The employer wants to know whether or how you organize your work and follow through to reach a goal. Emphasize any qualities you may have that reinforce your capability to persist through steps over time.

Tell me about a time you had an unexpected problem come up and your response
Most jobs involve dealing with the unexpected—a shipment gets lost, projects stall, a coworker suddenly quits, etc. The employer is looking for a sense of whether you can roll with the unexpected and find a way to bounce back and respond effectively.

What is a recent skill you have learned and how did you tackle learning it?
Everyone needs to be willing to develop new skills and learn new things during their career. Talk about something you’ve learned to improve your work performance and how it helped. If you haven’t done any skills-building recently, take an online class or other training starting now—you can still discuss this in your interviews!

How have you handled a time you had an especially difficult customer?
Employers in customer service roles depend on employees to remain professional even in the face of poor behavior by customers so this is a key question for anyone applying for work with customers. Emphasize empathy, keeping calm, patience, courtesy, persistence.

What do you do to motivate your team?
Leadership success depends on relationships and communication with employees, so here emphasize how you have helped the people who report to you – to engage at work and achieve success.

What is a career accomplishment you are proud of and why?
Here is your chance to show what you find most meaningful in your work, and how you have worked to become successful in your career. Emphasize what you learned from your accomplishment, whether others were involved and why it was meaningful.

Describe a major failure in your work life, and how you worked through it
This companion to the previous question lets the interviewer know whether you can take a hard knock and get back up and try again. Emphasize what you learned from the experience and what you did to try to prevent it from recurring.

Describe a time you experienced conflict with a coworker or supervisor.
This can be tricky, because while employers recognize conflict happens, they often want to see it avoided. Aim to focus on a positive result, and how you were part of a solution not the problem. If a compromise or negotiation happened, describe that as well.

Learn more about different types of interviews.

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