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Behavioral interviews are a common feature of the job application process, so it’s critical that you understand what they are, and how you can prepare for them. Traditionally, behavioral interview questions seek to ascertain how applicants have handled certain job scenarios in the past, with the goal of predicting future performance. However, the agenda is often a broader one, and what’s really at stake are questions of culture fit and work ethic. So to succeed, you need to be prepared to effectively highlight your career goals, industry knowledge, and personal strengths in a way that clearly aligns your candidacy with the mission, values, and objectives of the company where you’re applying.

Curious how to prepare for an upcoming behavioral interview? Study in advance! Review the common interview questions below, prepare responses, then rehearse those responses until you’re able to present them naturally and with confidence. Preparing in advance will help you brainstorm specific anecdotes to illustrate your many strengths, and set yourself up to exceed expectations.

Questions to Get to Know You

When a potential employer says they want to “get to know you” what they really want to know is whether you’re right for the job, so it’s critical that you focus your responses on those things that make you an excellent candidate. Don’t express objective passion, express relevant passion!

  • Tell me about yourself.
  • What motivates you at work?
  • Why should we hire you?
  • Describe what your preferred supervisor – employee relationship looks like.
  • Tell me about a personal accomplishment that has given you the most satisfaction? Why?
  • What two or three things are most important to you in your work?
  • What do you do in your spare time?
  • How long do you plan to stay with us if you get this position?

Knowledge & Interests

Questions of this kind are an attempt by your prospective employer to see whether your career goals are values-driven. They want to know that you care deeply about what the organization does, are driven by a passionate interest in the space and have a core belief in the validity and purpose of the company’s mission.

  • What do you think are the most pressing issues in this field?
  • What challenges does this position present for you?
  • What do you think it takes to be successful in this organization?
  • Why did you decide to seek a position with this company?
  • What criteria are you using to evaluate the company for which you hope to work?
  • How will your knowledge benefit the organization?

Readiness & Experience

Your mantra for these questions should be, “Clarity!” Think deeply about each question before answering, ask questions if you’re not certain about something, and answer clearly, concisely, and thoroughly. Don’t wander, don’t be vague, don’t go on tangents. Be specific! When in doubt, organize your answers using the STAR method: Situation, Task, Action, Result. With “STAR,” you describe the Situation you faced, the Task you hoped to accomplish, the Action you took to reach that goal, and the actual Result. Don’t forget to be concise! Let the interviewer ask follow-up question.

  • What is your greatest strength?
  • What is your greatest weakness?
  • Tell me about a problem have you encountered and how you dealt with it.
  • Tell me about a mistake you made and what you learned from it.
  • What types of decisions are most difficult for you?
  • How have your prior experiences and education prepared you for this job?
  • What experience do you have in this field? Or how have you prepared yourself to switch fields?
  • How have you influenced productivity in your previous work experiences?
  • How have you prepared yourself to assume the challenges of this position?
  • How do your current skills apply to this position?

Goals, Motivation & Values

At the risk of sounding old-fashioned, honesty really is the best policy when it comes to discussing your goals, motivations and values. While it’s easy to forget during a nerve-racking interview, the truth is you’re auditioning them as much as they’re auditioning you, and the match really won’t work if you’re both not honest.

  • Why are you leaving your current position/company?
  • What do you see yourself doing five years from now?
  • Why are you leaving your current field? What did you like about it? What didn’t you like?
  • Why do you think you will like this field?
  • Why are you reentering the workforce at this time?
  • Describe a time when you saw some problem and took the initiative to correct it rather than waiting for someone else to do it.
  • Tell me about a time when you worked under close supervision or extremely loose supervision. How did you handle that?
  • Give me an example of a time you were able to be creative with your work. What was exciting or difficult about it?
  • Tell me about a time you were dissatisfied in your work. What could have been done to make it better?

Teamwork

As with “Readiness” above, you should be all about clarity here; real examples, real details. The STAR method applies!

  • Describe a time when you worked closely with someone who had a very different personality than you.
  • Tell me about a time you faced a conflict while working on a team. How did you handle the conflict?
  • Describe a time when you struggled to build a relationship with someone important.
  • Tell me about a time you needed to get information from someone who wasn’t very responsive. What did you do?

Ability to Adapt

Adaptability is potentially one of the hardest things for an employer to gauge, and one of the hardest things for a candidate to authentically convey. However, it is also one of the best barometers of future success so it is vital that you succeed here. While clearly describing your stories is critical, how you deliver these stories counts as much as the story itself. This is where “rehearsal” will really pay off, because the ability to tell your story concisely and effectively will make all the difference.

  • Tell me about a time you were under a lot of pressure. What was the situation and how did you get through it?
  • Describe a time when your team or company was undergoing change. How did it impact you, and how did you adapt?
  • Tell me about your very first job. What did you do to learn the ropes?
  • Give me an example of a time when you had to think on your feet in order to remove yourself from a difficult or awkward situation.
  • Tell me about a time you failed. How did you deal with this situation?

Time Management Skills

All businesses deploy tools and strategies to manage time. Establish your fluency with both by discussing real tools you’ve used and real strategies you’ve deployed. Clearly describe a project, the tools you used to manage it, the data you inputted, the action items you were able to build, and the results you saw.

  • Tell me about a time you had to be strategic in order to meet all your top priorities.
  • Tell me about a long-term project that you managed. How did you keep organized and make sure everything was moving along as planned?
  • Describe a time your responsibilities got a little overwhelming. What did you do?
  • Tell me about a time you set a goal for yourself. How did you ensure that you would meet your objective?
  • Give me an example of a time you managed multiple responsibilities. How did you handle it?

Communication Skills

This is another instance where how you answer says as much as what you answer. After all, you’re being asked about your communication skills! So don’t tell them you’re a good communicator. Show them you are. As with “Ability To Adapt” above, practice will pay off!

  • Tell me about a time successfully persuaded someone to understand your perspective at work.
  • Describe a time when you were the primary “expert”. How did you ensure that everyone understood you?
  • Describe a time when you could only use written communication to get your ideas across to your team.

Questions to Ask Your Interviewer

As noted above, an interview is a two-way exchange. Just as the employer is evaluating your cultural fit and qualifications, you are evaluating the employer, and assessing whether the job meets your unique needs. Helpful tips include: Ask questions that clarify information relevant to the position. Avoid asking questions that you could easily find online, and be sure your questions demonstrate a basic knowledge of the position and the organization. Of course, be curious, engaged and ask questions that genuinely interest you! Below are a few samples and ideas.

  • What organizational goals are being supported by this position?
  • What would my initial assignments be?
  • How would you describe your company culture? management style?
  • What do you most enjoy about working for this company?
  • What characteristics do successful people in this organization possess?
  • What qualities do you seek in new employees?
  • How would you describe the work environment in this organization?
  • How would you describe the professional environment here?
  • What do you offer for professional development?
  • How does the department in which I would be working relate to other departments within the organization?
  • Would I have contact with outside organizations?
  • What are the plans for the future of my potential department and XYZ Corporation?
  • To whom would I report? Where would I fit in the organization?
  • How much travel might there be in the job?
  • What is the typical career path in your company for someone with my background?

Appropriate Questions to Ask in a Second Interview

  • What type of training program or on-the-job mentoring is provided?
  • Does the company have a policy of promoting from within? Would I need a further degree to be promoted?
  • What department/functional area has been the major supplier of top management people? Why?
  • How will my performance be evaluated? On what will my evaluation be based?

Other Tips for Success

  • Before the interview, think of a handful situations that illustrate your positive qualities. Focus on stories that involve leadership, teamwork, initiative, problem solving, planning/organizing, or other skills relevant to your target job.
  • Be sure each story has a beginning, middle and end. In general, keep in mind “STAR” method.
  • Be specific. Concrete details anchor your qualifications and make your interview memorable. Generalizing about several different events can make your interview feel vague and forgettable.
  • Be honest and genuine. Embellishing your experience can damage your credibility. Sharing what you learned from the situation can provide the interviewer with valuable information and will convey your authenticity.

References: Zhang, Lily. “30 Behavioral Interview Questions You Should Be Ready to Answer,” Behavioral Interview Questions,” “50 behavioral-based interview questions you might be asked.

Christopher Watkins
Christopher Watkins
Christopher Watkins is Senior Writer and Chief Words Officer at Udacity. He types on a MacBook or iPad by day, and either an Underwood, Remington, or Royal by night. He carries a Moleskine everywhere.