What are behavioral interview questions?
Behavioral questions ask you to provide a concrete example of something you’ve done in your career (or, sometimes, outside it), usually to test whether you can display a certain skill that the interviewer thinks you’ll need in the job. For example, let’s say the interviewer wants to test your decision-making skills. They might ask, “Can you tell me about a time when you had to make a particularly difficult decision?”
The best way to answer these questions is through the ‘STAR’ method, which stands for ‘Situation’, ‘Task’, ‘Action’, and ‘Result’. So for this question, you could answer as follows:
“In my current role there was a period when several members of our team were off sick, including the lead partner – I was the most senior partner remaining so I had to take on some of the lead partner’s duties (the Situation). As we were short-staffed, I had to ensure the team was able to cope with their current workload, and I was faced with decisions about taking on new clients (the Task).
I arranged brief one-on-one catch-ups with each team member to check on their capacity and had new client queries redirected to me so that I could coordinate them and ensure they were responded to as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, I had to turn down a couple of new clients as I didn’t want to compromise the quality of our existing service and risk one of the team members making a serious mistake from being overworked (Action). However, we managed to make it through this difficult period successfully and our lead partner was happy with my decisions upon her return (Result).”
Not everyone likes behavioral questions – but one advantage from an interviewee’s point of view is that they can be answered according to this fairly straightforward formula. They also force you to focus on a specific accomplishment with a concrete result (reducing the risk you’ll give vague answers).
Examples of behavioral interview questions
What behavioral questions are you likely to face? Skills commonly tested for include communication, client relations, problem-solving, decision-making, teamwork, time management, resilience, leadership, ethics, drive, initiative, and more. Here are 20 common examples, along with the skills they are designed to test.
- Has a client ever asked you a question that you do not know the answer to? (Client relations, communication, problem-solving)
- Have you ever gone the extra mile to help a client? What did you do? (Drive, client relations)
- Describe a setback you have suffered. How did you react? (Problem-solving, resilience)
- What’s the hardest decision you’ve had to make in your career? How did you go about it? (Decision-making)
- Have you ever made a mistake at work? How did you deal with the situation? (Decision-making, problem-solving, resilience)
- Can you tell me about a time when you have had to motivate a colleague? (Teamwork, leadership)
- Can you describe a time you’ve had more work than you were able to do to deal with? (Time management, teamwork)
- Can you tell me about a time you had to speak to a difficult client? (Communication)
- Have you ever had to raise a difficult issue with a manager? (Teamwork, communication)
- Describe a time when you have set yourself an ambitious target. (Drive)
- Describe a time you have failed to achieve a goal. (Drive, resilience, problem-solving)
- Have you ever had to make a decision very quickly? (Decision-making)
- Have you ever faced an ethically difficult situation at work? (Problem-solving, ethics)
- Can you describe a project that you have led? (Leadership)
- Can you tell me a time when you’ve had to work under serious pressure? (Time management)
- Tell me about a time you had to explain a complicated issue in simple terms. (Communication)
- Tell me about a time when you disagreed with a manager. What did you do? (Teamwork, communication)
- Have you ever had a colleague you did not get along with? How did you deal with the situation? (Teamwork, communication)
- Have you ever made a decision that was unpopular with your team? (Decision-making, teamwork)
- Can you describe a time you initiated a change to your workplace’s procedures? (Initiative, leadership)
The good news is that preparing an answer for one question will probably provide you with answers for several, as long as you can slightly adapt your example to make it relevant.
Go to your interview fully prepared by thinking over your achievements in your career in advance, and working out what skills they show – and hopefully, you’ll be strolling out of your interview with a smile!