35 Behavioral Interview Questions and How to Answer Them

Employers want to anticipate how you’ll handle ups and downs on the job. Here’s what they ask and how to prep.

Written by Tatum Hunter
35 Behavioral Interview Questions and How to Answer Them
Image: Shutterstock / Built In
UPDATED BY
Matthew Urwin | Apr 17, 2024
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During a job interview, recruiters and hiring managers won’t just be looking to see if you possess the skills necessary to get the job done. They’ll also be asking you behavioral interview questions, in which they expect you to thoughtfully reflect upon past work experiences in ways that showcase your personal strengths. This helps them determine whether you have the skills and traits needed for a specific role by assessing how you approach work, solve problems and collaborate with others.

What Are Behavioral Interview Questions?

Behavioral interview questions ask job candidates to recount examples of specific situations they’ve encountered in the past, such as how they led a project or solved a problem with a coworker. This helps interviewers assess a candidate’s fit for a role.

Behavioral interview questions can be tough to answer if you don’t prepare ahead of time. This article will give you some ideas to get started.

 

35 Behavioral Interview Questions to Expect

Teamwork and Collaboration Questions

1. Tell me about a time you had an interpersonal conflict at work.
2. In previous roles, how have you helped teammates succeed?
3. Tell me about a time you mentored a colleague or sought out a mentor.
4. Describe a time you received criticism from a colleague or supervisor.
5. Talk about a time you disagreed with a superior’s decision or approach.
6. Have you ever felt micromanaged, or been accused of micromanaging? How did you approach the issue?
7. Describe an experience that helped build camaraderie between you and your colleagues.
8. Have you ever had to teach a colleague a complex operation?

 

Communication Questions

9. Tell me about a time you had to tell someone no.
10. Have you ever had to adjust your communication preferences to accommodate a supervisor?
11. Have you ever had to deal with an irate customer or stakeholder?
12. Have you ever disagreed with a performance assessment you received? How would you react in that event?
13. How often do you think one-on-ones should occur?

 

Leadership and Management Questions

14. Tell me about a time you led a project.
15. Tell me about a project or accomplishment you’re proud of.
16. Tell me about a time you had to manage competing priorities.
17. Have you ever had to manage up? How so?
18. Have you ever had to place an employee on a performance improvement plan? Tell me about the experience and process.
19. Walk me through a time you contributed to improving company culture.

 

Problem-Solving Questions

20. How would you approach and solve this problem?
21. Recall a time when you weren’t sure how to solve an issue. Walk me through how you resolved it.
22. How have you, or would you, make meetings more productive?
23. Have you ever instituted or recommended workflow tweaks to streamline a process?

 

Personal Stress and Adaptability Questions

24. Can you recall a high-pressure job situation from your past?
25. Have you ever had to work long hours to accomplish a task? How did you feel about it?
26. Describe a time you felt stressed out by work. How did you manage it?
27. If you have worked in a remote or hybrid work environment, how have you navigated those transitions?

 

Success, Failure and Self-Reflection Questions

28. Tell me about a time when you exceeded expectations.
29. Tell me about a time your work was celebrated as a standout contribution.
30. Have you ever received too much praise or criticism for a project’s success or failure? How did you handle it?
31. Have you ever failed at something? What happened?
32. Describe a time you missed a deadline or KPI.
33. When’s a time you changed your mind or realized you were wrong about something?
34. What qualities do you most try to exhibit at work?
35. Do you have any work habits you’d like to improve?

 

Most Common Behavioral Interview Questions and How to Answer Them

Below are some of the most popular behavioral interview questions you’ll likely come across, along with sample answers. Your answers will vary based on the circumstances of each interview, so treat the following examples as mere starting points to generate ideas.
 

Tell Me About a Time You Had an Interpersonal Conflict at Work.

When responding to this prompt, explain what you learned, rather than spending time on the details of a conflict. Did you notice some room for growth in your communication style? Did you pick up a strategy for handling tough situations

“People want to know that you’re going to take accountability,” Robin Stenzel, chief people officer at candidate-experience platform Harver, said. “But then I think you’ve got the opportunity to say, ‘Here’s what I learned from that. And here’s what I did the next time, or here’s what I would do in that situation again.”

Sample answer: “One time as a consultant I failed to set expectations for a project with one of my clients, leading to miscommunication and frustration. To correct this issue, I adjusted the cadence of our communication going forward and sent out status updates once a week. This allowed us to remain on the same page and helped me regain my client’s trust.”

 

Tell Me About a Time You Led a Project.

Even if you’re not interviewing for a manager role, be ready to talk about a time you took charge.

“Every job has a leadership component,” Stenzel said. “We work in organizations that are much flatter than what they’ve been before. We’re all expected to take leadership opportunities, even as individual contributors. So I want to understand how someone thinks about that, and how they’ve done that in the past.”

Schoolwork, neighborhood groups, extracurricular activities, parenthood, volunteer work and DIY projects all create opportunities to demonstrate leadership

Sample answer: “At my previous company, I was in charge of catering for a holiday party. While my coworkers enjoyed the food I ordered from two local restaurants, they wished there were more options. The next year, I sent a pre-event survey asking for people’s dietary preferences and ordered smaller quantities of food from five restaurants to better accommodate my coworkers’ responses and feedback.”

 

How Have You Helped Teammates Succeed in the Past?

Interviewers may ask this as a way to gauge your skills in leadership, teamwork and collaboration. While this question is more common in interviews for managerial positions, companies that value a team-first mentality may include this question in their interview process.

Sample answer: “During my time as a sales representative, I had a teammate who struggled to navigate the team’s new customer relationship management platform. I offered to set up a 30-minute meeting with him to provide a brief tutorial on the platform. Through this interaction, I helped my teammate learn how to quickly locate customer data within the platform, boosting his productivity.”

 

Tell Me About a Time You Had to Tell Someone ‘No.’

Often, interviewers will ask specifically about a time you had to tell someone no, Michael Brown, a senior software engineer at Microsoft, said. As you tell this story, emphasize how you prioritize the most important work and gracefully navigate imbalances of power. 

“You might be in a tough customer-facing role. So they’ll ask, ‘How do you deal with an irate customer asking for the world, and have a difficult conversation where there need to be compromises or some cuts to what they’re expecting?’” Brown said.

Sample answer: “As a customer service rep for a web design agency, I had to explain to a customer that their current contract didn’t allow them to add a free blog to their site due to changes in company policies. Although the customer wasn’t happy and ended their contract, I helped enforce my company’s new plan policies and ensure customers respected these changes.”

 

Tell Me About a Time You Had to Manage Competing Priorities.

Teams looking to fill jobs that demand multitasking often ask this question, although it can come up during any company interview. This question enables interviewers to understand how candidates decide which tasks to work on and when, revealing their organizational abilities. It’s also an opportunity for you to highlight your time management skills and your willingness to adapt on the fly.  

Sample answer: “As a copywriter, I was assigned a long-form article that was due in a week, on top of my regular workload. Because the piece would be published in a well-known magazine, I dedicated more time to the long-form article while leaving some time at the end of each day for my typical duties. By adjusting my priorities, I met the deadline for the long-form article and effectively managed the rest of my workload.”    

 

How Would You Approach and Solve This Problem?

An interviewer may present you with a case study or coding problem and ask how you would solve it. While this might feel like a high-stakes situation, it’s OK if you don’t know the answer. Even if you don’t land on the correct solution immediately, the interviewer will glean valuable insights into how you think and whether your approach aligns with the team’s. 

Sample Answer: “As a developer, I was tasked with building a new app using C++. Our team often relied on Java, so this was a new experience for me, and I made many errors in my code the first time around. In response, I signed up for several short online courses on C++, gaining the foundational knowledge needed to commit fewer mistakes moving forward and finish building the app three days before the six-week deadline.”  

 

Can You Recall How You Handled a Fast-Paced Environment or Tight Deadlines in the Past?

Many positions involve tight deadlines, fast-paced environments and other factors that contribute to workplace stress. Employers ask this question to see how you’ve handled stressful situations before and whether you can transition smoothly into a role that may place you in difficult positions. Treat this as a chance to show how you’ve overcome challenges. 

Sample answer: “When I was an engineer, my engineering manager informed me that the deadline to finish building a product had been moved up by two days. To adjust, I made the product my top priority and collaborated with the rest of the engineering team to reorganize our schedules around the product. Through these steps, my team and I met the new deadline while limiting the extra hours we spent working on the product.”    

 

Can You Tell Me About a Time You Failed at Something?

Things rarely go according to plan in any role, so interviewers want to know how you respond when you make a mistake or fall short in a situation. Rather than dwell on the negatives, turn your attention to what you’ve learned and how you’ve grown from your errors. Displaying resilience is something that will catch the eye of interviewers.

Sample answer: “As a product developer, I helped design a new software product for customers. When sales plummeted a month after the product’s release, my team and I reached out to buyers, who explained the software was confusing to use. Based on this feedback, we made tweaks and released another version of the software that generated twice as many profits.”  

 

How to Prepare for Behavioral Interview Questions

You can’t “prepare” your personality or style of working. But you can prepare stories that illustrate how you approach problems and opportunities. 

“When I interview people, what I try to do is have them give me a concrete story,” Andrew Hedges, co-founder of The Collab Lab, said. “So instead of talking in the abstract, like, ‘Oh, I would do this,’ tell me about an actual thing that happened.”

Go into your interview with three to five-minute-long stories ready to tell. Think back on your past roles, and look for examples of:

  • Transferable skills
  • Your biggest successes
  • A workplace failure
  • Conflict with a colleague
  • Competing priorities
  • A time you went above and beyond
  • Alignment with core values
  • Your personal strengths and weaknesses

Once you have your examples, study the STAR method and organize your stories accordingly to clarify your role in resolving issues and the positive impact of your actions. As you tell stories and talk through projects, draw parallels between your past experiences and the role at hand to help your potential employer envision you in the role as well. And — as long as you don’t act as if you’ve already been hired — feel free to talk about the team as if you’re part of it.

 

What to Avoid When Answering Behavioral Interview Questions

Rattling Off a Memorized Answer

If your answer came verbatim from a guide like this one — abort mission. It’s very evident when you’re presenting a canned answer, rather than something honest and unique to your experience. 

 

Overtalking

Talking too much during an interview puts you at a disadvantage. At worst, hiring managers dismiss overly chatty candidates out of fear they won’t work well with others. Respond to behavioral questions in two or three sentences. Then, pause and ask your interviewer if they’d like more detail, or if your answer sufficiently addressed their question.

 

Oversharing

“Professionalism” is a tricky standard: Different companies have different expectations for workplace decorum, and the rules don’t always apply to everyone equally

This can make sharing personal details during your interview a tough decision to navigate. Some interviewers ask questions like, “Tell me about an obstacle you’ve overcome” — that seems to call for some candor. But sharing too much or getting too chummy with interviewers could hurt your chances.

Keep your answers as short, honest and to the point as possible. But know that the vibe during your interview will likely reflect the vibe at the company more broadly.

 

Responding Too Quickly

Feel free to take a second to think before you answer. 

“It’s totally fair in an interview to just say, ‘Wait, let me think about that for a second.’ And just take a second to compose yourself and take a couple deep breaths,” Hedges said. “What happens in interviews a lot is that people are so stressed, they forget all the things that they know.” 

Silence is OK. So is pausing to ask a clarifying question or contextualize your answer. 

 

Not Sharing Credit

Failing to mention your collaborators when you talk about successful projects can come off as arrogant. While it’s important that candidates acknowledge their strengths and take responsibility for their careers, Hedges said, it’s a red flag if employees care so much about getting ahead they overlook the success of the people around them. 

Read More18 Common Phone Interview Questions and How to Answer Them

 

Behavioral interview tips for software development jobs. | Video: Keep On Coding

Good Behavioral Questions to Ask Your Interviewer

The interviewer is trying to decide if they want to work with you, but you’re also evaluating whether you want to work with them.

Seize the opportunity to learn about the person who may become your manager, or, if you’re speaking with a recruiter, about the company culture. Asking plenty of questions also helps you cross-check the claims your interviewer makes.

Here are some behavioral questions to ask your interviewer:

  • What are the external pressures on this team?
  • From the company’s perspective, does this team cost money or earn money?
  • When this team has a new project to tackle, how do you start? How do you know when it’s finished?
  • Is this role a backfill? Why did the last person leave?
  • Why is this role necessary or important?
  • How much support would I receive in this position, and from whom? What would that look like? 
  • Can you tell me about a moment you were particularly excited about this company’s culture?
  • Can you tell me about a time something didn’t fit this company’s culture? What happened next?

 

Frequently Asked Questions

It’s best to prepare a set of stories for various behavioral interview questions and organize each story according to the STAR method. Reflect on past roles to find examples of experiencing success and failure, managing competing priorities and resolving workplace conflicts, among other scenarios.

“Tell me about a time you had to tell someone ‘no,’” “Tell me about a time you experienced a workplace conflict and how you handled it” and “How would you approach and solve this problem?” are a few typical questions asked during behavioral interviews.

Don’t deflect behavioral interview questions by saying you never make mistakes, experience pressure or fail tasks. And while many behavioral interview questions relate to workplace conflicts, don’t portray a customer, client or coworker in a negative light when telling a story about conflict resolution.

Yes, it is possible to fail a behavioral interview. Poor approaches could include reciting memorized answers, talking too much or sharing too much information, side-stepping questions about failures and weaknesses and refusing to give coworkers and other contributors credit when discussing workplace successes.

Stephen Gossett and Rose Velazquez contributed reporting to this story.

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