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How to Answer: Behavioral Interview Questions

Written By Rachelle Enns on August 10th, 2021

In this guide, Mock Questions discusses why hiring companies ask behavioral-based questions. Then, we show you how to build a response that targets these questions' true purpose. Behavioral interview questions are among the most challenging questions to answer, so we break down a simple method to frame your responses. We give you tips for crafting memorable behavioral-based responses and discuss a few factors to avoid when preparing your interview responses.



The Purpose of Behavioral Interview Questions



Past behavior is a strong predictor of future behavior. This is the primary reason why most companies lean on behavioral questions when interviewing job candidates.



Some hiring companies conduct behavioral interviews, which are interviews dedicated solely to behavioral-based questions. Other times, a hiring manager will sprinkle behavioral questions throughout the job interview while asking a mix of different interview question types.



Regardless of the number of behavioral interview questions asked, the purpose of these questions remains the same. To better understand and evaluate how the candidate will react in situations they are likely to face when working in the role.



Different Types of Behavioral Interview Questions



Hiring companies use behavioral-based interview questions to help them uncover your behavior as it relates to various situations. Most interviewers will focus on a range of areas related to your behavior. These may include:



Communication. The interviewer wants to see that you are a clear communicator. They are also seeking evidence that your communication style is a fit for their organization. Behavioral interview questions related to communication might sound like, ‘Tell me about a time when your communication skills greatly benefitted your team.’



Leadership. The interviewer wants to see that you value leadership, whether or not you are in a formal leadership role. Behavioral interview questions related to leadership might sound like, 'Tell me about a time when you took the lead on a task or project without being asked.'



Problem-Solving. The interviewer wants to see that you are an avid problem-solver who can face challenges and develop timely, practical solutions. Behavioral interview questions related to problem-solving might sound like, ‘Tell me about the most challenging problem you have encountered in your professional career.’



Decision-Making. The interviewer wants to know if you are the type of individual capable of making decisions or if you are more the type who needs to be given tasks and told how to complete them. Behavioral interview questions related to decision-making might sound like, ‘Talk about a time when you needed to make an important decision in the absence of your leader.’



Time Management. The interviewer wants to know how you organize your work. They also want to ensure that your time and attention regularly go to the right tasks. Behavioral interview questions related to time management might sound like, ‘Tell me about a time when you nearly missed a deadline. How did you adjust your approach to successfully reach your goal?’



Teamwork. The interviewer wants to know the role you naturally take on when collaborating with others. Behavioral interview questions related to teamwork might sound like, ‘Discuss a time when you were on a team project that failed. What did you learn from the experience?’



Stress. The interviewer wants to know how you react when placed under workplace pressure, such as tight deadlines, operating in an ambiguous environment, or adapting to last-minute changes. Behavioral interview questions related to stress might sound like, ‘Tell me about a time when you performed well under immense pressure.’



When an interviewer asks various behavioral questions, they will see a pattern emerge in your responses. This pattern will show them whether your approach to particular professional situations and your overall competencies will fit their organization.



Why Behavioral Interview Questions Are So Difficult



If you struggle with answering behavioral interview questions, you are certainly not alone! Whether new to their career or with decades of work experience, most interviewees find this style of question to be intimidating at first. This may be because:



You have to talk about yourself in detail. Behavioral-based interview questions require you to deliver an answer using a specific story example from real-life experience. Most of us are not natural storytellers. Many of us don't particularly love talking about ourselves - especially to a complete stranger!



You can’t give a fluffy response. When asked a question like, 'Are you willing to work overtime?' it can be easy to quickly agree and say yes. However, when asked, 'Tell me about a time when you stayed late to help your team reach an important deadline,' and you've never been the type to stay late when needed, it's near impossible to make up a story on the fly. Behavioral-based interview answers are tough to fake (not that you would, anyway!).



You have to dedicate time to prepare. Every company will ask its own variation of behavioral questions, typically based on the key responsibilities, accountabilities, and mission of the role and organization. A job interview that includes behavioral-based interview questions requires ample preparation since it's much more than just a rapid-fire question-and-answer period.



Luckily, with some preparation and a solid framework for approaching these types of questions, you can learn to master the art of answering behavioral-based interview questions.



How to Prepare For Behavioral Based Questions



Since preparation is key to your interview success, it’s best to start by jotting down ideas of stories you could use when answering behavioral questions. Below is a list of 15 scenarios to get you started.



Think of a time when you:




  • Acted as a leader.

  • Failed and got back up again.

  • Missed a deadline.

  • Offered to help a coworker.

  • Had to defend your actions or integrity.

  • Faced a competitive situation.

  • Used self-motivation to get through a tedious task.

  • Collaborated with someone who had a difficult personality.

  • Adapted to an unexpected change.

  • Solved a significant problem for your team.

  • Made an angry customer happy again.

  • Showed great initiative.

  • Used creativity to solve a problem.

  • Had to make a tough decision.

  • Disagreed with your boss and found a middle ground.


Take some time to think about your unique experiences. If you have many years of work experience, you can lean on career-based examples. If you are newer to your career, you can utilize situations from your post-secondary education, volunteer work, or organized sports.



Once you have collected various examples from your past, you can begin to draft your responses using the STAR answer method.



Learning The STAR Answer Method



When asked a behavioral interview question, it's important to remember that the interviewer is looking for a specific story-based example that highlights your behavior in challenging situations.



Using the STAR answer method, you can quickly form a story-based response that the interviewer can follow. STAR is an acronym for Situation, Task, Action, Result.



Situation: Set the stage with the background information the interviewer needs to make sense of your story.



Task: Continuing to set the stage, give the interviewer an idea of your role and responsibilities in this story.



Action: Next, offer a detailed description of the steps you took to resolve the situation you described.



Result: Last, talk about the specific outcomes that resulted from your actions.



Step 1: Situation



Once you have decided which story you will tell, it's time to describe the SITUATION. For this example, we will use the common behavioral interview question, ‘Tell me about a time when you worked with a difficult person.’



When setting up the SITUATION, carefully choose which details are most important to give. For instance, people's names do not matter as much as their job titles. Limit yourself to two or three sentences.



Example: “When I was a Project Manager for Company ABC, I worked cross-departmentally, collaborating with other PMs to reach the finish line on a variety of client projects. These projects often ran behind schedule since one particular PM was slower to push deliverables forward.”



Step 2: Task



TASK is sometimes overlooked, muddled, or confused with ACTION. To sum the TASK, try asking yourself why you were a part of this story in the first place. In your chosen example, why were you involved, and what was your overall objective?



Example: “Most of our team had difficulty working with this Project Manager. As the most seasoned PM, it was up to me to solve the issue.”



Step 3: Action



Now that you have provided the interviewer with clear background information, it's time to explain the ACTION you took to solve the problem or reach your goal.



It's common for candidates to give a generic answer to their actions. Be sure to offer quantifiable details to which the interviewer can picture and relate.



Example: “I approached this person one-on-one and asked them how we could better collaborate on items that required a more zealous approach. Together, we mapped out our vision for the stages of each project and discussed our strengths. We decided to leverage each of these strengths to build on each others' ideas and approaches.”



Step 4: Result



The RESULT portion of your answer is where you shine, showing the interviewer that you are highly capable of getting the right results. The more detailed you are regarding the final result, the better. If applicable to your job, introduce numbers and percentages so that the interviewer can measure your results.



Example: “In the end, not only were our open projects completed ahead of time, but our teams also appreciated the well-oiled machine our departments were becoming. Our hybrid approach to communication was well received by our clients as well. Overall, our projects closed three weeks earlier than before we implemented the change.”



Putting it All Together



Example: ‘Tell me about a time when you worked with a difficult person.’



Answer: (Situation) “When I was a Project Manager for Company ABC, I worked cross-departmentally, collaborating with other PMs to reach the finish line on a variety of client projects. These projects often ran behind schedule since one particular PM was slower to push deliverables forward. (Task) Most of our team had difficulty working with this Project Manager. As the most seasoned PM, it was up to me to solve the issue. (Action) I approached this person one-on-one and asked them how we could better collaborate on items that required a more zealous approach. Together, we mapped out our vision for the stages of each project and discussed our strengths. We decided to leverage each of these strengths to build on each others' ideas and approaches. (Result) In the end, not only were our open projects completed ahead of time, but our teams also appreciated the well-oiled machine our departments were becoming. Our hybrid approach to communication was well received by our clients as well. Overall, our projects closed three weeks earlier than before we implemented the change.”



Mistakes to Avoid When Answering Behavioral Questions



Failing to bring your point home at the end.



After providing your STAR-based example, be sure to make a verbal connection to why your story highlights the competencies required to succeed in this new opportunity. This step can be as simple as saying, 'As you can see, my ability to (recap the competency) will ensure that I succeed in (specific task or goal) when working for (company name).'



Telling stories that are difficult for your interviewer to follow.



Using too many specific details like exact dates and coworkers' full names can quickly throw your story-based response off the rails. Imagine you sidetrack your story to explain that it was a Thursday evening and the weather was cold when you and Sammi Jones worked late to reach a deadline. In that case, you'll risk losing the interviewer in unimportant details.



Giving examples that are irrelevant to the job in question.



This blunder can happen when providing scenarios from too long ago. Suppose you are interviewing for a management position. In that case, the interviewer may not find value when you describe how you took on the role of Stage Manager in your grade 9 school play. Instead, provide a story from the most recent work experience, preferably in the past 1-3 years.



Assuming the interviewer knows the details.



In an effort to be brief, we often skip details that we assume the interviewer will know. Typically, this occurs in the SITUATION and TASK portion of a STAR-based response. Once you have formed your story, ask yourself if a complete stranger would know what you’re talking about. If the answer is yes, you have likely provided enough information and detail for the interviewer to follow along.



In Conclusion



Most (but not all) behavioral-based interview questions will require you to use the STAR method. The type of behavioral interview questions that 100% need you to deploy the STAR answer approach will begin with:




  • Tell me about a time when...

  • When have you...

  • What action do you take when...

  • Describe a time...

  • Walk me through...

  • How did you...

  • Have you ever...

  • How would you...etc.


If you aren't sure if using the STAR answer method is appropriate for a particular question, remember one thing. Candidates who actively story-tell in their job interviews leave a more profound, more favorable impression.



As long as you aren't rambling and your reply remains relevant to the question, it's unlikely that a brief story-based answer could steer you wrong.



To continue practicing behavioral-based interview questions, check out Mock Questions' Q&A set with 30 behavioral questions, answer advice, and 200+ answer examples.