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Published: Feb 24, 2023 13 min read
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Companies and organizations use behavioral interview questions during job interviews to get to know candidates better, see how they rely on their instincts and uncover potential red flags.

Learning how to respond to these questions effectively is one of the most important interview skills you can develop. In this guide, you'll get sample behavioral interview questions and suggestions on how to respond to them so you can ace your next interview.

What are behavioral interview questions?

Behavioral interview questions are designed to find out how you might act in certain situations at work. Interviewers use them to assess how you respond to stress and use how you use your skills in a professional setting. Almost anyone can answer a question like "What's your greatest strength?" But a tougher question such as "Can you tell us about a time you dealt with a challenging client?" requires prior work experience that allows you to give an honest answer.

Why behavioral interview questions are important

Employers consider behavioral-based questions to be an effective way to get to know the person behind the resume. The questions help interviewers see how efficiently a candidate can think on their feet, as opposed to relying solely on their accomplishments listed on paper.

Additionally, common behavioral interview questions show the hiring manager how strong your soft skills are. For example, they’ll want to see things like how you deal with a stressful situation, work with a difficult team or deal with an irate customer. Behavioral questions in job interviews reveal your interpersonal skills and give insight into your future performance should the company decide to hire you.

Aside from creating a resume or using a site such as ZipRecruiter to get matched with a job, getting ready for an interview might be the most nerve-wracking part of the job hunt. More so when behavioral questions are involved since they require additional preparation than simply rattling off your previous job and academic experiences.

Luckily, you can prepare ahead of time by researching common situational interview questions and coming up with relevant examples from your work experience to answer those inquiries.

What are the top behavioral questions to prepare for?

Here are some examples of behavioral interview questions to help you prepare.

Describe a time you've had to overcome a challenging situation in your workplace.

With this question, the interviewer wants to know how you react to and deal with difficult situations that may arise at work. Think of several examples ahead of time and prepare your responses, including a step-by-step outline of what you did in your situation and why it worked. The objective is to show your adaptability and communication skills.

Here are some prompts to help you brainstorm:

  • Have you ever disagreed with a supervisor about how to complete a project? Did you do it your supervisor's way or come up with a compromise?
  • Have you ever known you wouldn't be able to meet a deadline? How did you handle this situation?
  • Have you ever had a difficult client or customer who you felt made unreasonable demands? How did you resolve the situation using your conflict resolution and customer service skills?

How did you manage to correct a mistake you've made?

When interviewers ask this question, their aim is to assess whether you are adaptable and capable of improvement. When responding, instead of focusing on the error itself, emphasize what you did to correct it. Although you want to choose a real mistake, also make sure you choose one that was minor — not one so serious that the interviewer rethinks hiring you at all.

If you have disagreed with a coworker before, how did you handle it?

This question's purpose is to evaluate your conflict-resolution skills and whether you can politely yet directly solve challenges. Try to think of a time you and a coworker had disagreements on a work-related matter but came together to find a compromise.

Emphasize what the challenge was, but don't say anything that reflects badly on your work ethic or personality. Don’t say anything negative about your coworker, either. Then explain what strategies and skills you used to overcome the challenge and reach an agreement to solve the issue.

When working on multiple long-term projects, how do you set priorities?

For this one, the interviewer wants to see how you plan for and execute bigger goals. Your answer provides insight about your planning process, and how you organize and prioritize tasks.

Here are some helpful questions to consider as you prepare your response:

  • How did you determine which tasks were most urgent and important? How did you ensure continuous progress on less urgent but still important tasks?
  • How did you manage your time? For example, perhaps you dedicated one hour of every workday to tasks related to long-term goals while making sure to complete urgent tasks first.
  • How did you collaborate with and delegate responsibilities to team members? How did you respond if one of your projects was stalled because you were waiting on something from a coworker?

How well do you perform under pressure?

This question seeks to determine whether you bend under pressure or develop strategies to overcome challenges.

Think of a high-pressure experience you've had. Lay out what caused the pressure — for instance, if a coworker was suddenly out sick right before an important team deadline, describe the actions you took to delegate their responsibilities and how this led to success.

Describe a time you've had to deal with a difficult coworker or major client.

Here, the interviewer's objective is to see how you handle interpersonal conflict. Don't emphasize the negative aspects of the situation, but instead highlight your negotiation skills and adaptability.

For example, imagine you had a coworker who had issues with how you were planning to complete a project, but they didn’t explain why. To get their feedback, perhaps you asked them out to lunch, which is how you learned that your plan would delay their ability to complete another project on time. As a result, you changed the project's schedule to ensure your colleague's full collaboration.

Describe a time you've had to work as a team.

Think of a time you cooperated with a team to do something that you couldn't have accomplished alone. Make sure you share credit with your team members, but also highlight how you demonstrated collaboration and leadership skills. This shows the hiring manager that you can get along with others and recognize others' successes as well as your own.

Talk about a time you failed at something. What went wrong, and how did you respond?

This is one of the most common behavioral interview questions, so it's wise to prepare for it ahead of time. Be truthful and show you can learn from your failures. Avoid blaming others and focus instead on the objective causes of the failure and the lessons you learned.

It's even better if you can follow that up with another challenge you overcame because you used what you learned from the previous failure. Here are some examples:

  • You misjudged how quickly you'd be able to complete a project for a client and missed a deadline. So you explained the situation to the client and ensured that in the future, you'd manage client expectations better.
  • Management gave you new key performance indicators (KPIs) to achieve. You were overwhelmed by what it might take to meet them, so you cut corners on some of your work. Ultimately, the quality was below standard and you had to redo the work. In the future, you made sure to express concerns to your manager and ask for extra support when needed.

Describe how you've motivated others and what the result was.

Focus on your team-building and motivational skills in your answer. Be concrete and describe the specific results that followed.

For example, imagine that you had a team member who was unenthusiastic about a project and putting in minimum effort. To motivate them, you made a point of stopping by their desk every couple of days to compliment them on something you noticed about their work. Over time, they started putting in more work and participating in meetings, and the project progressed faster.

Talk about a time you had to deal with last-minute work changes. How did it go?

Select an event you could not have planned for ahead of time and show how you successfully solved the problem. Use the STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Result) framework to concisely recount what you did and the outcomes you achieved.

Here's how the STAR method works in practice:

  • Situation: Set the scene with relevant details so the interviewer can quickly grasp the background. The “who-what-when-where” approach is helpful for describing the situation. For example, what company were you working at, who were the people involved and when did this event happen in your career?
  • Task: Lay out the task you needed to complete. Be specific: What problem were you trying to solve?
  • Action: Describe the exact steps you took to complete the task or address the challenge.
  • Result: Show that your actions resulted in a positive outcome for the company. Choose a result that’s relevant to the job you’re applying for. If you can, choose a measurable result, such as sales closed or hours saved.

For example, maybe you had a client suddenly move up a deadline from one week to 24 hours. Your team needed to work overtime to complete everything, so you helped create a new project schedule to ensure no single person would get burnt out. Your team finished the project in time, and you created a standard operating procedure (SOP) for how to handle similar situations in the future.

If you can't think of a story for any of these questions, don't shoehorn an unrelated prepared answer into your response. Instead, say something like, "To be honest, I've never dealt with that before. But if I had, this is what I'd do..." Then use the STAR method to describe how you might deal with that hypothetical.

FAQs about preparing for behavioral interview questions

What should you avoid saying in an interview?


Now that you have the top behavioral interview questions, here are five things to avoid in a job interview:

1. Saying something negative about a past employer or job. Avoiding this red flag shows the interviewer that you can stay professional and contribute to the company's culture.
2. Giving short answers like "it's on my resume." If the interviewer asks something that your resume has already answered, like what software you have experience using, they're probably asking to get more information. State the software programs, and then elaborate on key projects you used them for (especially if the projects are relevant to the job you're applying for).
3. Using filler words and unprofessional language. Avoid slang, filler words and profanity in your speech by practicing ahead of time with someone else. Have them count how many times you say words like "um" and "like." Continue practicing until you see an improvement. Clear speech will demonstrate professionalism to potential employers.
4. Failing to ask questions. Think of meaningful questions ahead of time that will emphasize your interest in the job. For example: What does a typical day look like in the role you're applying for? What professional development does the company offer? How often would you be interacting with the department's entire team? How does the team manager measure success in this role?
5. Asking what the company does. You want to impress the hiring manager by showing you've done research ahead of time. Make sure you understand the company's product or service before the interview.

    What is the STAR method of interviewing?


    The STAR method stands for Situation, Task, Action and Result and is an excellent framework for responding to the most popular behavioral interview questions. It's a rubric to help you tell stories about your work experience in a concrete and concise manner that highlights your skills.

    Following the STAR method to structure your responses to behavioral questions helps you stay focused and give streamlined answers without any digressions.

    How can you succeed in a behavioral-based interview?


    Here are some steps to take to succeed when faced with behavioral questions during an interview:

    1. Review the job description. For each quality or responsibility the organization is looking for, think of a story you can tell to address it.
    2. Don't rush yourself. Instead of overusing filler speech while you think of what to say, ask for a few seconds to consider the question. Asking for what you need and being comfortable with brief silence shows confidence.
    3. Use the STAR method to structure your stories.
    4. Practice ahead of time. The goal here isn't to memorize your responses word for word but to get comfortable talking about yourself and your work history. By practicing, you can hone your body language, eye contact and speech.
    5. Time yourself. Try to keep your responses under two minutes by practicing timed responses ahead of time. When people are nervous, they tend to ramble. By doing timed practice, you help yourself avoid this pitfall.

    Summary for Behavioral Interview Questions

    While you can’t predict every single question the interviewer will ask you, it's beneficial to prepare for behavioral-based interview questions with examples from your own experience. By answering them effectively, you will show how well you think on your feet and respond to challenges.

    To help with the rest of your job hunt, here’s a list of resources to explore:

    • Learn how to write a cover letter quickly yet effectively so you stand out in a competitive market and land the interview you've been waiting for.
    • Discover the best job search sites, including the ones that are best for salary information and employee reviews, best for startup jobs, best for government jobs and best for networking.
    • Read our ZipRecruiter review and discover how its unique matching function can help you eliminate repetitive tasks and find relevant jobs more quickly.