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How to answer behavioral interview questions

Michael Kingston, freelancer | February 13, 2014


Behavioral interview questions focus on characteristics such as teamwork, leadership, problem solving and so on. It is essential to be prepared to explain what you did, what you said and how you felt.

The behavioral interview is increasingly used by employers as a key part of the hiring process.

A traditional interview will typically involve questions such as, “What are your strengths and weaknesses?” or “Why do you want to leave your current role?”

The behavioral interview will focus on how candidates perform in given situations. The premise for the behavioral interview is that past performance predicts future behavior — i.e., how you performed in a previous job will inform the employer of your suitability for the current role.

Behavioral interview questions are normally preceded with “Give me an example of …” or “Tell me about a time when…” The questions will focus on characteristics such as teamwork, leadership, problem solving and so on. It is essential to be prepared to explain what you did, what you said and how you felt.

Examples of behavioral interview questions

  • Customer service: Tell me about a time when you went out of your way to provide the best possible customer service. What did you do and how did the customer respond?
  • Teamwork: Give me an example of how you adjusted to a co-worker’s working style in order to achieve your performance objectives.
  • Conflict: Tell me about a time that you resolved an issue with a difficult colleague.
  • Leadership: Give me an example of a situation when you assumed a leadership role.
  • Problem solving: Describe a situation when your experience did not prepare you for a set task and how you dealt with it.

How to respond to these types of questions

A popular way of preparing responses to behavioral interview questions is the “STAR method:”

  • Situation: Review your career history for a situation which had a positive outcome
  • Task: Describe what you had to do
  • Action: Detail the actions necessary to fulfill your obligations.
  • Result: Explain the result

You may find the following helpful to prepare your answers using the STAR method:

  • Review the job description to evaluate the necessary skills.
  • Review your résumé to identify your relevant achievements and skills for the position.
  • Highlight your top three or five attributes and skills that set you apart from the competition.
  • Create your individual response. Focus on teamwork, motivation, leadership, commitment and problem-solving issues related to the job. Be prepared to give examples of where you failed and how you responded to that failure — nobody’s perfect and employers need to see examples of resilience.
  • Prepare detailed examples. Employers want specifics — not generalizations.
  • Quantify your answers with your achievements.
  • Be truthful with yourself. If the position isn’t right for you, or you lack the key skills for the role, it is important to acknowledge that.

In a behavioral interview, there are no right or wrong answers. The hiring manager is simply trying to assess whether you are a good fit for the company by understanding how you will behave in a given situation. The key is to listen carefully, provide specific answers and, above all, to be honest.

Michael Kingston is a top industry hiring manager with more than 18 years of experience. He is also the author of the best-selling Pass The Job Interview guide.