Behavioral type interview questions (sometimes also known as “STAR” questions) are often difficult and problematic for candidates. This might be due to the pressure of the interview itself, or possibly a lack of awareness or preparation on the part of the applicant. (Be sure to read our posting on behavioral interviews and STAR; click here.)
If you don’t expect such questions will be asked or have not considered sample behavioral questions in advance, quickly searching your memory to recall a suitable experience related to the question being asked can be very challenging and intimidating. As a result, candidates tend to instead provide very general responses, rather than describing a specific situation as the interviewer is expecting. Unfortunately, no matter how slick you think your general response may be, you probably blew it.
Listen carefully to the interviewer’s question, and if you are being asked to describe a specific situation, make sure your answer in fact describes a specific situation. Suppose the question is, “Describe a time when you had to handle an irate customer. What did you do and what was the outcome?” Giving a generic, non-specific answer such as, “I often have to handle upset customers and resolve their problems. I listen carefully and try to address their concerns,” just isn’t going to cut it. Remember to formulate your answers using the STAR format discussed in the posting mentioned earlier.
Now for the good news and bad news… First, the bad news; the number of potential behavioral questions is virtually infinite, so no book, website, or other resource can ever prepare you 100% for what you will be asked. The good news is that such questions do tend to fall into only a fairly limited number of general categories, which makes them manageable. These categories might include:
- Cultural Diversity
- Customer Service
- Multitasking/Time Management
- Resourcefulness/Problem Solving
If you give serious forethought to several sample questions in each of the various categories, the situations you recall for these may be adaptable and useful in answering other (although not identical) questions which you might be asked. You will be better prepared because you will have at least a few situations remembered for each category, and these will be on the tip of your tongue.
In addition to the sample questions here, a quick search of the internet will yield hundreds more for you to consider. Practice, practice, practice!
- Describe a time when you found yourself in a situation of change and had to adapt. What were the circumstances and what did you do?
- Describe a time when you became extremely stressed. What did you do and how successful were you at overcoming the stress?
- Describe a time when you had to interact with a coworker who was angry or upset. What did you do and what was the outcome?
- Describe a time when you had to interact with supervisor/manager who you felt was unreasonable in his/her directives. What did you do and what was the outcome?
- Describe a time you had to work with a person who had a very different background from that of your own.
- Describe a time when you encountered a language or other communication barrier when working with a customer or coworker. What did you do?
- Describe a time you provided customer service which was clearly above and beyond that normally expected.
- Describe a time you had to interact with an irate or unreasonable customer. What was the situation, what did you do, and what was the outcome?
- Describe a time you made a mistake. What happened, what did you do, and what was the outcome?
- Describe a time when a project you undertook failed. What happened, why did it fail, what did you do, and what was the outcome?
- Describe a time when you were called upon to perform a task, which in your opinion, was not in the best interest of the customer or company. What did you do?
- Describe a time when you needed to make an immediate decision and a supervisor/manager was not available to consult. What did you do and what was the outcome?
- Describe the most difficult on-the-job decision you have had to make. Why was it difficult, and what was the result?
- Describe a time when you had to take charge of a bad situation or work team which was failing. What did you do and what was the outcome?
- Describe a time when you had to fire someone or issue a severe disciplinary action.
- Describe a time when you had to motivate an employee who was not producing at the expected level. What did you do and what was the outcome?
- Describe a time when you to oversee a situation where two employees, who did not like each other and could not get along, had to work together to accomplish a specific task or complete a project. How did you handle this situation and what was the outcome?
- Describe a time when you had to announce, implement, support, and enforce a management decision which was not popular with employees and with which you personally may not have agreed. What did you do?
- Describe a time when you were given multiple tasks to perform and told they were all a priority, and you knew they could not all be completed within the requested timeframe. What did you do?
- Describe a time when multiple individuals gave you multiple high-priority tasks to perform in a short amount of time. How did you prioritize them? What was the outcome?
- How do you decide the priority of assigned tasks? Give examples where you had to prioritize and describe the criteria you used.
- How do you keep yourself organized? Give specific examples.
- Describe a time when you needed to complete a task and did not have all the necessary resources. What did you do and what was the outcome?
- Describe a time when you, on your own initiative, undertook action to improve something which you knew needed to be improved or corrected. What did you do and what was the outcome?
- Describe a time you were a member of a work team. What was your role and what was the outcome?
- Describe a time you were a member of a work team and one of the members did not cooperate or participate as they should. What did you do and what was the outcome?
- Describe a time you were asked to assemble or lead a work team to accomplish an important task or work on an important project. What did you do and what was the outcome?
Attitudes about Work and Self
Questions like those below are not necessarily situational and may not need a STAR answer. The interviewer is seeking to learn your attitudes and feelings about specific work attributes which provide insight into the “real” you or predict your future behavior. When developing your answers, be sure to carefully consider how your responses might sound or be interpreted by someone who does not know you.
- Everyone brings both strengths and weaknesses to a job. What do you believe is your greatest strength as well as your greatest weakness?
- What part of your job do you find least interesting or satisfying?
- If you could change one aspect of your current job, what would it be?
- What do you feel has been the most significant accomplishment of your professional life and why?
- If you knew back then what you know now, would you still have chosen to work in this field?
- Everyone needs improvement in something. What specifically do you believe you need to improve upon?
When addressing questions which seek to identify your weaknesses or something needing improvement, too much honesty might be problematic. In such situations, you might want to soften your answer a bit by talking about something which the employer is apt to not see as a serious issue, or perhaps use the opportunity to reinforce your desire to further develop your skills.
For example, you are asked:
“Software skills with Excel are very important in the job which you are applying for, and everyone needs improvement in something. Describe an Excel skill which you think you could use improvement.”
A really bad answer:
“I have real trouble with some advanced financial functions in Excel. I never can seem to get the stupid things to work properly, and I’m never sure how to interpret the results, or if the output is even right. I guess I need improvement in that area.”
A much better answer:
“Although I am very comfortable with and use many of Excel’s advanced financial functions, I feel there is always room to learn additional ones and enhance my skills with these useful spreadsheet tools.”
This answer lets you toot your own horn about the fact that you already know and use several advanced functions, but at the same time allows you to humbly acknowledge that you do not know them all. You end by indicating that would like to learn more functions, which most people might agree is a positive attribute.