5 Common Behavioral Interview Questions and How to Handle Them

by Sharon Elber

Behavioral Interview Questions

What are behavioral interview questions and why are they used?

Behavioral interview questions generally fall into two categories. The first is to ask you to identify and describe a past situation in your work history, and the second is to ask you to imagine a scenario that could happen in the future and detail how you would handle a specific problem.

Both types of behavioral interview questions are designed to give the interviewer an opportunity to envision your problem solving skills, work ethic, teamwork and other intangible qualities that are difficult to assess with other interview tools such as skill assessments or direct questions about your qualifications.

Of course, there are infinite ways to ask behavioral interview questions. However, key to succeeding at answering them is using the tried and true STAR method. In addition, preparing some examples of previous work experiences that will touch on the most common areas covered by behavioral questions can also go a long way to helping you ace these types of questions.

1. Describe a time when you had to work with someone with a very different approach to problem solving than yourself.

This question is just one example of a set of common behavioral interview questions that are designed to assess your capability at resolving conflict and working well as a member of a team. Preparing a detailed example from your past work experiences to answer this question should be a part of preparing for any job interview.

Your goal in choosing a good example for this kind of question is to find an example where the conflict and your actions to resolve it are clear and easy to visualize. In addition, be on the lookout for an example that allows you to demonstrate clear positive results for the interview team.

S(Situation): Be sure to use the situation portion of your answer to this question to clearly identify a time when you and another team member had a different approach to solving a problem. It is important you choose an example where this difference is clear and easy to understand.

T(Task): What was the task that was at the root of the conflict in approach? If possible, note any differences in terms of how your approach may have prioritized different metrics of success. For example, your problem solving approach may have prioritized sales conversions while your colleague’s approach may have prioritized customer experience.

A(Action): What specific action did you take to resolve the conflict in this situation? If possible, emphasize how you listened to and respected the other team member’s point of view while creating a compromise that took both perspectives into consideration.

R(Result): This part of your answer should focus on the end result of your efforts to find a solution that respected both points of view while leveraging data, if possible, to show that the compromise was effective. For example, if you can demonstrate that your solution boosted both sales revenue and customer satisfaction ratings, this would be the perfect time to do so.

2. Describe a time when you helped a particularly difficult customer.

This behavioral interview question is just one of many types of customer facing questions that are designed to show the interviewer that you know how to handle tricky situations with the lifeblood of any business: customers.

If you are applying for a job in any service industry, you can pretty much bank on a question of this type during your job interview. Prepare a few strong examples using the STAR method to be sure you check all of the boxes.

S(Situation): Make sure that you describe the problem from the customer’s point of view in a way that demonstrates that you are empathetic to their plight rather than as a hassle or problem on your end.

T(Task): In most customer types of behavioral questions the task is already clear: How to turn a potentially negative customer experience into a positive one. One tip here is to present the difficult customer as an opportunity to improve your services while representing the mission and brand of the company you were working for at the time.

A(Action): Be clear about the action you took to resolve the customer’s problem. If you were not able to fix the problem, you may have gone out of your way to show the customer that you were doing your best or were able to identify a low cost solution by providing a complimentary service of another type to offer the customer real value.

R(Results): How did you know for sure that you were able to bring the situation to a positive conclusion? If possible, use something tangible that represents success in this case such as a positive Yelp review, a customer survey, or returning business from the same customer.

3. Describe a situation in which you received negative feedback on your performance and what you did to address it.

Many employers want to know how you will respond to being asked to adapt to the procedures and company policies or thrive in dynamic workplace environments. Being able to show that you can adapt to negative feedback assures potential employers that you are flexible enough to succeed during periods of change.

Other behavioral questions of this type may ask you to acknowledge past failures, demonstrate how you learned from a mistake, or show that you can take constructive criticism and move forward with a positive attitude.

S(Situation): This is a good time for honesty about a situation where you were on the wrong track and quickly adapted. Don’t give into the temptation to minimize your mistake…this can be read as the inability to acknowledge that you can be wrong, a red flag for employers on this type of question.

T(Task): In this case, the task should describe both what you were doing prior to any correction as well as the feedback you received and by whom.

A(Action): Be clear about the actions that you took to rectify your behavior in light of the guidance from your supervisor. Emphasize that you took prompt and clear actions to change your work habits.

R(Result): The key result on this type of question should be that you learned from your mistake. If you can also describe how the experience broadened your perspective in terms of the company’s mission or brand priorities, then that is a bonus.

4. Describe a time when you were working under competing deadlines and multiple priorities.

In occupations where working under pressure is highly valued, this type of behavioral interview question is common for job interviews. It is always a good idea to prepare a few examples of times when you had to work under stress or manage multiple projects at one time to demonstrate your strong time management skills.

S(Situation): Clearly describe your role relative to each of the competing projects or tasks as well as the other people involved who may have been stakeholders in the work that you were doing.

T(Task): Use just enough detail as needed to describe the different tasks that were competing for your attention.

A(Action): For questions of this type, the employer is looking for how you prioritized your work efforts under pressure. The actions should focus on setting priorities, balancing your time, staying focused in chaos, identifying efficiency measures, and/or stress management strategies.

R(Results): Be sure to choose an example for this type of question that allows you to show your success at managing multiple deadlines. Look to leverage metrics that demonstrate your success such as beating your deadlines or meeting (or exceeding) project goals.

5. Tell us about a time when you went above and beyond on the job.

Finally, many behavioral type interview questions are designed to assess your overall work ethic. The example you choose should give the interview team a glimpse into some of your strongest qualities relative to the kind of work that you do.

These kinds of behavioral questions tend to be very open ended, giving you a lot of latitude to choose the scenario you wish to emphasize. Being strategic in your answer is about choosing examples from your previous work that match up to the likely priorities of the job position you are applying for. So, start by thinking about what characteristics are likely to be most valued by your employer, and choose an example to help you show that you have that quality in spades.

S(Situation): Be sure to choose an example that will show your future employer something that is going to be important for someone in the exact position you are applying for.

T(Task): Detail the job responsibilities that you were expected to do relative to your example. That is, what were the minimum requirements in the job before you took action?

A(Action): In this case, the action is defined by what you did to go above and beyond. Be sure to choose an example where the contrast between minimum expectations and the actions you took to go beyond them are clear.

R(Results): Extra work does not always translate into extra results. It is critical with this kind of question to demonstrate changes to the bottom line relative to the extra effort you brought to the table.

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