How to Answer Popular Behavioral Questions in the Job Interview
Published: May 08, 2018
A growing number of employers are asking “behavioral questions” in the job interview, so if you’re currently on the job market or considering putting yourself out there, you should spend some time researching the most likely behavioral questions you’ll be asked in your next interview, how you can prepare for these questions, and the best answers to give.
So, what exactly are behavioral interview questions? Unlike traditional interview questions where you’re asked how you might behave or act in a hypothetical workplace scenario or even to list your skills and strengths directly, behavioral questions prompt you to discuss a time in your past when you were faced with a real-life situation and explain how you handled it, hopefully highlighting your relevant skills along the way.
Behavioral interview questions typically start with the interviewer asking something like, “Tell me about a time in your past when...” followed by “how did you deal with it?” By getting a sense of how you’ve handled tough situations in the past or how you’ve achieved your goals, an employer will gain a better understanding of how you’ll perform in their organization.
As such, your answers to behavioral questions should be well-prepared and thought-out so that they highlight your richest professional experiences and your best skills and character traits.
Here are a few of the most popular behavioral questions you’re likely to be asked in a job interview:
“Tell me about a time when you had to deal with conflict and what you did to resolve it.”
- Here’s your chance to showcase your problem-solving skills. Make sure your answer doesn’t dwell too long on the problem or conflict, but instead spend most of your answer explaining the solutions you brought and the positive impact this had on your organization, team, or project.
“Tell me about a big mistake you’ve made at work and how you fixed it.”
- This is the behavioral question’s version of the traditional job interview question “what is your greatest weakness?” So, again, focus most of your answer here on the solution you provided that came after the mistake. Don't linger on the mistake itself. Also, be prepared to reveal a mistake you’ve made that is authentic and true and that gives you an opportunity to talk about your ability to problem solve, adapt, and improve, but one that isn’t so grave or worrisome that it raises a great big red flag to a potential employer.
“Have you ever had a difficult relationship with a coworker or boss, and how did you address it?”
- This question is essentially designed to figure out how well you play with others and how you handle inevitable workplace conflicts. It’s an attempt to assess your interpersonal skills and whether or not you’ll be an instigator or a calming presence on the job, and it's also a great way to find out if you're an effective communicator. It’s not simply enough here to say you resolved a difficult relationship by looking for a new job (even if that’s true too). Be sure to give an example of a workplace relationship that clearly improved as a direct result of your conflict resolution or communication skills.
“Tell me about a time you achieved a difficult goal. What did you do to achieve it?”
- This is your chance to really shine. Give some thought before the interview about the most important skills or traits you’d like to convey to the interviewer, and make sure that whatever scenario you reference, you’re able to make a connection between a singular past accomplishment and the future successes that you will bring to this new position.
“Have you ever had to adapt to a big change at work, and how did you deal with it?”
- This question evaluates your ability to think on your feet, react, and re-strategize in a fast-paced environment. Are you able to quickly re-prioritize and set new goals, remaining calm in times of crisis? Do you get uncomfortable with uncertainty or change and buckle under the pressure? Or are you an agile thinker who is constantly learning, innovating, and evolving even in times of instability? Of course, you want to be seen as the latter, so be sure to highlight a situation where you demonstrated adaptability and positivity in response to change or uncertainty.