How to Prepare for a Behavioral Interview

Two people in a behavioral interview.

A Guide to Navigating a Behavioral Job Interview

There are many different interview styles and methods, and one very popular one is called the behavioral interview. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, interview answers “should provide verifiable, concrete evidence as to how a candidate has dealt with issues in the past.” This guide will walk you through exactly what a behavioral interview is, what questions will be asked and how you can flawlessly prepare for it.

What is a Behavioral Interview?

So, what exactly is a behavioral interview? It's an interview dominated by questions that will get to the root of how you've performed and behaved in the past with actual results and scenarios. Behavioral questions are asked to assess if a person is a right fit for the job, team and company, and are designed to see if a job candidate’s past behavior will predict his or her future performance. And they are quite common.

In fact, you've probably sat through many behavioral interviews and never known it. For example, any time you've been asked, "Tell me about a time you had a conflict with a coworker and how you resolved it," you were being asked a behavioral query to understand how you acted in specific employment-related situations.

A behavioral interview is most effective when the interviewer already knows what he or she is looking for in a job candidate. It can help the hiring manager determine whether someone applying for a management role has displayed leadership skills, or whether a candidate applying for a fast-paced job has the ability to juggle duties.

What is a Behavioral Interview?

Common Behavioral Interview Questions

Here are five common behavioral questions employers might ask any applicant.

1. Tell me about a time you had a conflict with someone within the organization.

As you know, conflict is a part of life, and it’s extremely common within companies given people spend most of their days working side-by-side with different people and personalities. So, hiring managers ask this question to gauge how you resolve differences with other people—and figure out how you'd do it at their company too.

2. Tell me about a time you worked on a challenging team project.

Chances are you are going to have to work as part of a team, and companies want to know that you play nice when you are collaborating, which is why they will often ask this question. Companies want to learn if you are able to collaborate with others, can handle any problems that may arise and if you are generally a team player.

3. Do you prefer to work alone or with others?

Regardless of the type of business, interviewers ask this question as a way to see if the job candidate will fit into the company culture. They know their environment—and will use this question to see if you'd fit in or have big problems acclimating.

4. Tell me about a time you took a leadership role. What was the role and what was the outcome?

Suited more for senior-level job candidates, this is a behavioral question that many companies ask to see if you have leadership potential. Not only is it very hard to fake this question, but it’s a great one to use to see if you possess any leadership abilities.

5. What’s the most difficult problem you had to solve? How did you navigate it?

Problem-solving is an important skill in almost every job, which is why companies will ask job candidates to tell them about a difficult problem they had to solve. Here, a hiring manager wants to learn if you are the type to run to your manager any time there is a situation—or someone who will deal with the situation on your own.

Common Behavioral Interview Questions

How to Answer a Behavioral Interview Question

The best way to prepare for and answer behavioral questions might be the STAR Method, a technique that helps your answers really shine—bad pun intended.

Here is what the STAR Method stands for and how to apply it to behavioral queries:

S = Situation. Ask yourself, what was the problem? Be as specific as possible.

T = Task. Then, determine what the goal was—ask, what did you need to do?

A = Action. Identify the specific steps you took to reach the goal.

R = Result. Report the final outcome. This is the time to talk yourself up. Take credit for what you accomplished, and if you can highlight multiple positives, even better!

Now that you know the steps of the STAR Method, here's how you might use it in a behavioral interview: Let's say you're asked, "What's the most difficult problem you had to solve?" Using the STAR Method, here's how you would formulate a response:

S: Our team revenues were down in the last quarter of the year.

T: We had to increase our revenue by 10 percent.

A: I overhauled our outdated and ineffective processes, and worked with my teammates to develop a new, more effective approaches.

R: Thanks to processes I overhauled and the new approaches I instituted, we increased our revenue by 12 percent that quarter.

Because behavioral interview questions can be complex, write out your answers. This will help you think it through more fully. Then practice with someone whose professional opinion you trust.

When you are in the interview room, sometimes nervousness can take over and make you feel less in control than you’d like to be. The way to manage this is by training your mind and body. It will bolster your confidence when you realize that you can tackle any interview question in spite of any pressure you may initially feel.

And don’t forget to make researching the company part of your preparation! It’s one more way to stay cool, in control and ready to impress.

How to Answer a Behavioral Interview Question

Tricky Behavioral Interview Questions

We’ve all been there — pleased that an interview was going really well until the interviewer threw out a real doozy of a question that you just don’t know how to answer. But you don’t have to panic. Career coach Hallie Crawford gives advice on how to answer the most difficult questions you’ll ever be asked.

1. If a coworker had an annoying habit, and it hindered your quality of work, how would you resolve it?

This may seem like a perplexing question, but it’s “designed to get to you how you deal with others,” explains Crawford. “Draw from a real-life experience if possible. What annoyed you? How did you resolve it? Is there a more effective way to handle the situation if it would happen again? Identify the annoying habit and then outline the steps you would take to try and resolve the situation while maintaining a good relationship with your coworker.”

2. Tell me about the worst manager you ever had. How did you navigate him or her?

Before you bash your last boss, “remember that your hiring manager has your resume and knows where you have worked, so your managers won’t be completely anonymous,” warns Crawford. “However, you might explain a type of management style that wasn’t ideal for you. And if you haven’t had a bad manager, don’t make one up. Let the hiring manager know that you honestly have gotten along with your previous managers, and focus on how you are able to work with different personality and management styles.”

3. What part of the newspaper do you read first? What does this say about you?

“This kind of question is asked to get to know you better as a person,” says Crawford. And while “at first glance, this seems a fairly easy question,” she says, it’s not. So, “before you answer, think about what genre of articles appeals to you: technology, fashion, current events,” Crawford advises. “Now determine if there is a way to link the genre that appeals to you as a professional. For example, if you are drawn to articles about technology, you could explain that your love of technology means that you enjoy learning new ways of doing things, you are open to change, and look to stay on top of current trends.”

4. If your current employer had an anniversary party for you, what five words would be written on the cake to describe you?

While it may seem silly, “this question is designed to reveal how you think your manager perceives you,” Crawford says. “Before answering, ask yourself: how do your coworkers describe you? What did your manager commend you on recently?” With the answers to these questions in mind, “don’t be afraid to get a little creative with your reply,” Crawford says. But don’t be too verbose either. “You don’t want to give the impression that your anniversary cake would be too big,” she says, “so try and keep the words short and sweet.”

Tricky Behavioral Interview Questions

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