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 assess how you approach work, handle stress and collaborate with others.
Top Behavioral Interview Questions
- What’s a project or accomplishment you’re proud of?
- Can you tell me about a time you disagreed with a manager’s decision? How did you handle it?
- When’s a time you changed your mind or realized you were wrong about something?
- Tell me about a time when you had competing priorities. What did you do?
- Do you have any work habits you’d like to improve?
Can you chat about past work experiences without panicking, lying or acting like a jerk? You’re already halfway there.
But really, 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. In it we cover:
- The 35 behavioral interview questions to expect.
- The four most common behavioral interview questions — and how to respond to them.
- How to prepare for behavioral interview questions.
- What to avoid when answering behavioral interview questions.
- The eight behavioral interview questions to ask your interviewer.
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?
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
TELL ME ABOUT A TIME YOU HAD AN INTERPERSONAL CONFLICT AT WORK.
You don’t have to pretend you’ve never disliked or disagreed with a coworker. 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 or competing interests?
“People want to know that you’re going to take accountability,” Robin Stenzel, chief people officer at candidate-experience platform OutMatch, said. “It’s about being honest about what went wrong, 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.”
Always share how you adjusted your behavior in response to the conflict. For example: Maybe you failed to set expectations for a project, and as a result, you and a client miscommunicated. Going forward, you adjusted the cadence of your communication and sent out status updates once every week. (Of course, sometimes a conflict isn’t your fault, and you shouldn’t have to adjust your behavior. But those stories don’t add much value during an interview.)
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. If you’re a developer, that might mean you had to tell a product manager a given timeframe wasn’t doable. If you work in customer-facing roles, maybe you had to tell a client one of their requests wasn’t included in their current contract.
As you tell these stories, 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. “When there is an imbalance of power, how do you make that an honest discussion?
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.”
Choose an example and talk about what went well, what didn’t go well and what you learned from the experience. Maybe you’ve never led an entire team or organization, but you’ve likely been responsible for certain portions of group projects, events or initiatives. Schoolwork, neighborhood groups, extracurricular activities, parenthood, volunteer work and DIY projects all create opportunities to demonstrate leadership.
HOW WOULD YOU APPROACH and Solve THIS PROBLEM?
Even if you don’t land on the correct solution immediately, the interviewer will get a glimpse into how you think.
Be aware: Some interviewers purposefully present candidates with extremely difficult or impossible technical questions. The right move is to admit when you don’t know the answer to something. The wrong move is to get mad.
“I’ve had people I was interviewing get angry with me,” Andrew Hedges, co-founder of The Collab Lab, said. “I had a person kind of complain, like in math class, ‘I’m never going to use this, right? Why would I ever use this?’ Because they didn’t know the answer. They hadn’t seen that pattern before or something. So they got a little mad in the interview, which is not the kind of person I would want on my team.”
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,” Hedges 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 situations. Have you dealt with any scenarios or used any skills that will likely come up in this new job?
- Your biggest successes. Why was this success notable? How did you contribute?
- A workplace failure. When did things not turn out as expected? What did you learn?
- Conflict with a colleague. Why did you butt heads? Did someone compromise, or did you agree to disagree? What skills did you use to resolve the conflict?
- Competing priorities. How did you decide where to focus your energy? How did you communicate about that with your team? What strategies did you use to manage your time?
- A time you went above and beyond. How did you exceed your manager’s expectations? How did your hard work lead to better results?
- Alignment with core values. Many companies post their core values publicly. If so, you should think of examples of how your behavior in the workplace reflects them.
- Your personal strengths and weaknesses. Everybody has them. What are you best at, and what’s hard for you?
Rehearse your stories out loud until you’re comfortable telling them, and trim any unnecessary details.
As you tell stories and talk through projects, help your potential new employer envision you in the role. Draw parallels between your past experiences and the role at hand. 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.
Just like in salary negotiations, 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, Stenzel advised. Then, pause, and ask your interviewer if they’d like more detail, or if your answer sufficiently addressed their question.
“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
This isn’t “Jeopardy!” — 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.
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?