You’ve aced “Tell me about yourself.” You’re cool as a cucumber when asked, “Why do you want to work here?” And you laugh in the face of “What are your biggest strengths and weaknesses?” You’re way past Interviewing 101, but there's a tricky subset of questions that you may not have mastered yet: behavioral questions.
Behavioral interview questions require you to pull a specific moment from your work history to explain and expand on, and they can be one of the hardest ones to tackle — interview questions are tough enough, but coming up with an example on the spot makes it all the more difficult.
To give you a head start, we pulled out a handful of behavioral interview questions from our list of the top 50 most common interview questions. Get ahead of the game by learning how to answer them and preparing anecdotes in advance!
1. Tell me about an accomplishment you are most proud of.
Resist the urge to talk about that time you won your office softball league playoffs or how you got a 4.0 in your hardest class in college. To really nail this question, you should “share a story that is as close as possible to the job you are interviewing for, and that best showcases your strengths and approach to work,” says Aurora Meneghello, career coach and founder of Repurpose Your Purpose.
“Describe an instance where there was a problem, state the impact of that problem, and how you were able to solve it. Share the results beyond your immediate solution. For example, if you created a new onboarding system for new hires, share why the company needed one, what was the impact of not having an onboarding system, how you went about creating one, and how, one year later, there is less churn, employees are more efficient, etc.,” Meneghello says.
2. Tell me about a time you made a mistake.
One of the oldest tricks in the book is for candidates to respond to this answer by sharing a ‘mistake’ that’s actually a positive attribute, such as “I work too hard’ or “I care too much.” But be warned: recruiters can usually see right through that.
At the same time, though, “you should avoid talking about a colossal failure. The mistake most people make is that they either try to dodge the question, or they give an example that is detrimental to them; you are still there to sell yourself and prove yourself as a valuable asset, after all,” says Steve Pritchard, HR Consultant for giffgaff.
Instead, “try to think of something that happened a long time ago. More importantly, focus on the lessons you learned and how you carried these lessons forward to ensure you didn’t repeat the mistake,” Pritchard recommends.
3. Tell me how you handled a difficult situation.
When answering this question, make sure not to cast blame on others for whatever predicament you ended up in. Even if they had a hand in it, you don’t want to sound like you’re not a team player or don’t take responsibility for yourself.
“Keep your focus on what you did, and describe the circumstances in a neutral manner. Stay away from examples of difficult bosses or coworkers: although all of us have experienced something like that, an interviewer has no idea whether you are correct in your assessment, or merely projecting your own faults onto others,” Meneghello cautions.
“For example, you could talk about having to build a project with a fraction of the budget your competitors have, and how you were able to use grassroots techniques to overcome that obstacle. For your story to make the biggest impact, make sure to describe vividly why it was so difficult: the bigger the problem you solved, the bigger your impact!” she says.
4. Give a time when you went above and beyond the requirements for a project.
Before you get caught up in sharing your accomplishments, take a step back. Because in order to convey to an interviewer how you went above and beyond, you need to first define above and beyond.
“Candidates often botch this question by failing to give a brief backstory. Before you can showcase how you went beyond the role, you have to first set the parameters of the job,” says Executive Coach Tim Toterhi. Try to describe what the context of the task was, the goals, and what was specifically expected of you.
“It is best to pick a project which paid off for the company; perhaps you stayed for two extra hours on several occasions to make sure everything was completed well ahead of schedule and to a high quality, or maybe you volunteered to pick up the work left over by a colleague who resigned,” Pritchard says. “Whatever the example, it should demonstrate a can-do attitude and a willingness to get involved and go the extra mile for your company.
5. Tell me about a time when you disagreed with your boss.
Again, in this situation, blaming or bad-mouthing someone isn’t the right route to take. It will only make you look deflective or petty. Who knows? You may even be unknowingly disparaging your boss to someone who knows him or her.
“Especially if you’re interviewing within your current industry: the world is very small. The person you complain to, might attend church services with, or be married to a relation of your boss,” says success strategist Carlota Zimmerman. Rather, “the emphasis here is how disagreeing with your boss forced you to take initiative and to put the company first, ahead of your frustration and disappointment.”
“Ideally, you want to make it clear that you and your boss maintain a civil, respectful, maybe even close relationship. You want to demonstrate your empathy for your boss… and your belief in achieving the company’s mission statement," Zimmerman adds.
6. What are some of your leadership experiences?
Don’t get caught up in just listing every leadership role you’ve ever had — think about the ones where you truly made a difference. “Anyone can rattle off the manager positions they’ve held or the volunteer work they performed, but the leadership is measured on impact,” Toterhi says. “People should be changed (for the better) for having interacted with you. And, if you’re lucky, you should be changed as well.” And if those experiences are related to the work you’ll be doing, all the better.
In addition, you’ll want to make sure that your experiences as a leader demonstrate proactivity.
“Never give examples of a time leadership was thrust upon you; this sounds like you are reluctant to take on responsibility and have to be made to do so,” Pritchard says. “You should demonstrate your ability to build a harmonious team and create a positive working relationship with the people you lead.”
And, of course, that teamwork should ideally lead to results.
“Someone who is a leader is able to demonstrate the ability to get others to want to get on board with the direction the team is going. Think of an example when you were able to get coworkers or direct reports on board with an idea that had a successful outcome,” advises April Klimkiewicz, career coach and owner of bliss evolution.