Ever stumbled in a job interview and wished you had prepared more? It can be difficult to think back on your work history in the middle of an interview. But sharing an on-point story or example from your past experience communicates confidence and competence and can leave a remarkable impression on an interviewer. Prepare for your next interview by practicing responses to these behavioral questions—the type employers ask most frequently—and learn strategies for your answers.
What are behavioral questions?
Behavioral questions require you to describe how you have handled challenging work-related situations, such as conflict with co-workers, dealing with work deadlines or completing complex projects. The employer is seeking insight into your behavior, personality and character to determine how you’d likely perform in their job and whether they can rely on you.
Get started by gathering all the information you can about the position, organization and industry to determine the situations or problems likely to arise in the role you interview for. Then review the list of common questions below and identify the ones this employer is most likely to ask based on your research. While you likely won’t see a list of the employer’s questions in advance, you can develop a pretty clear idea of the scenarios the interviewer will probably bring up.
Next, thoroughly review your work history to identify experiences that may illustrate your ability to deal with the scenarios in the questions below. If you are starting your career, include experiences in classes, collaborating on class projects and participating in activities and volunteer work.
Look at these common questions to prepare stories about your experience.
Common Behavioral Interview Questions
How have you worked well with deadlines or other high-stress situations?
This kind of scenario is the most common behavioral question. Talk about a situation when you handled an intense project or major deadline pressure effectively, how you came up with your response, how others were involved and what the result was.
How did you respond when something significant went wrong on a job or when you made a mistake?
Here the interviewer acknowledges there will always be errors or issues, but they want to know you can work through challenges and use critical thinking to solve a problem. Emphasize the resolution, not the significance of the problem or error. Also, talk about the success or effectiveness of your solution.
Talk about a time you set a goal/goals and how you achieved them.
The employer wants to know how you organize your work and follow through to reach a goal. Emphasize any qualities you may have that reinforce your capability to persist through steps over time.
Tell me about a time you had an unexpected problem come up and your response.
Most jobs involve dealing with the unexpected—a shipment gets lost, projects stall, a co-worker suddenly quits, etc. The employer is looking for a sense of whether you can roll with the unexpected and find a way to bounce back and respond effectively.
What recent skill have you learned, and how did you tackle learning it?
Everyone needs to be willing to develop new skills and learn new things during their career. If you haven’t done any skills-building recently, take an online class or other training now—you can still discuss this in your interviews! Talk about something you’ve learned to improve your work performance and how it helped.
How have you handled an interaction with an especially difficult customer?
Employers in customer service depend on employees to remain professional even in the face of poor behavior by customers, so this is a crucial question for anyone applying for work with customers. Emphasize empathy, keeping calm, patience, courtesy and persistence.
What do you do to motivate your team?
Leadership success depends on relationships and communication with employees, so here emphasize how you have helped the people who report to you engage at work and achieve success.
What is a career accomplishment you are proud of and why?
Here is your chance to show what you find most meaningful in your work and how you have worked to become successful in your career. Emphasize what you learned from your accomplishment, whether others were involved and why it was meaningful.
Describe a major failure in your work life and how you worked through it.
This companion to the previous question lets the interviewer know whether you can take a hard knock and get back up and try again. Emphasize what you learned from the experience and what you did to prevent it from recurring.
Describe a time you experienced conflict with a co-worker or supervisor.
This can be tricky because while employers recognize conflict happens, they often want to see it avoided. Aim to focus on a positive result and how you were part of a solution, not the problem. If a compromise or negotiation happened, describe that as well.