What are behavioral interview questions?

Two HR people interviewing a woman
(Image credit: Tim Gouw / Pexels)

A job interview can be one of the most stressful work situations that people will ever experience, and there’s no doubt that good preparation can make the difference between a successful interview and an unmitigated failure.

A key part of good job interview preparation is getting yourself ready for any questions that might come up as part of the process – and that means being prepared for behavioral interview questions alongside more conventional interviewing techniques.

If you’re unsure about behavioral interview questions, then you’ve come to the right place. We’ve explained behavioral interview questions, given you some key examples, and explored why they’re so often used.

Don’t go too far if you need more recruitment help, either: we’ve rounded up eleven of the best work from home jobs and the best resume building software.

Start Your New Job Search in Minutes with ZipRecruiter 

Start Your New Job Search in Minutes with ZipRecruiter 

With over 8 million jobs, ZipRecruiter is the one of the best places to start looking for your next job. Get started for free today.

What are behavioral interview questions?

Behavioral interview questions are designed to assess how a job candidate would react to situations in the workplace – as the name suggests, they can reveal how a person would behave in a range of situations.

When interviewers try to judge whether a candidate is a good fit for a business or a particular team, their behavior and response to different scenarios can be even more important than their qualifications or career history. These responses can offer a perspective that a resume or cover letter just can’t hope to match.

Behavioral interview questions don’t just give an insight into a person’s personality. They can provide important answers about a candidate’s problem-solving ability, their critical thinking skills, their communication and their stress response.


(Image credit: Pixabay)

How should you answer behavioral interview questions?

Behavioral interview questions can be daunting and stressful for candidates, but the STAR method is the easiest way to navigate these challenges with a methodical and effective approach.

The STAR acronym stands for Situation, Task, Action and Results. That’s the structure you should use to answer all behavioral interview questions, because it can effectively demonstrate the scenario, the challenge, your response and how well it worked. It’s certainly a better option than being flustered by the question and struggling to deliver an answer that demonstrates your competency.

The first step, Situation, is pretty straightforward to answer: you’ve got to describe the scenario you faced in the example you’re going to use for your answer. The second step, Task, requires candidates to lay out how you planned to address the problem at hand.

The Action step is pretty clear-cut: you’ve got to tell the interviewers exactly what actions you took to remedy the issue. The final step, Result, is your chance to show off how well you tackled the situation, and how you were able to help your previous place of work get past a problematic scenario.

If you use the STAR approach then you won’t go far wrong – it allows candidates to explain situations, show off their successes and impress interviewers.

What kind of behavioral interview questions should you expect?

You’ll probably encounter behavioral interview questions about several different key areas of job performance.

One of the big areas will likely be teamwork – because it’s crucial for interviews to discover how well a candidate works with their colleagues. Expect to be asked about times when you had to work with people who had different personalities to yours, occasions when your team encountered conflict, or a situation where you’d made a mistake and how you rectified the issue.

It’s also common to answer questions on leadership, even if you’re not applying for a management position. Expect to be asked about times when you delegated tasks, occasions when you’ve had to motivate people or project management experiences.

Unsurprisingly, you’ll also be asked questions about your communication skills. Expect questions about dispute resolution, times when you’ve had to work with people who haven’t been very good communicators, and how you’ve handled public speaking in the past. It’s also common for interviewers to ask about times when you’ve had to rely on written communication skills, and how you’ve handled situations where you’ve had to argue your case in a professional environment.

Time management is a critical area in the office, so behavioral interview questions will be asked. Candidates should anticipate questions about getting tasks completed to tight deadlines, your reaction to overwhelming workloads, how your organization has been affected by unexpected problems, and how you responded.

Similarly, questions about adaptability are likely to come up. You’ll be asked about how you reacted to roles where you didn’t know all of the skills required, and how you reacted to sudden changes at work. Interviewers will often ask about how you’ve become acclimatized to new jobs in the past, and situations where you’ve had to think on your feet in professional situations.

If you’re in a situation where you’re being peppered with behavioral interview questions, expect to be asked about how you work with clients and customers. It’s common to be asked about how you’ve handled difficult clients, angry customers or occasions when you’ve made mistakes and had to rectify them with the customer.

Finally, you should also expect interviewers to ask questions about your levels of drive and motivation – after all, they’re going to want to employ people who will be driven in the new role. If this comes up, you should anticipate questions about your professional accomplishments, how you’ve worked creatively, ways in which you’ve addressed times when you’ve not enjoyed your work and occasions when you’ve had to motivate your co-workers.

How to prepare for a behavioral interview 

Happily, many job boards with extensive business profiles list interview questions that you’re likely to face at different companies, and the sheer popularity of behavioral interview questions means that you can be reasonably confident that you’re going to face at least some in any interview.

And, as with any other aspect of a job interview, you’ll only perform well if you do proper preparation. While it’s good to read about popular behavioral questions and make sure you’re familiar with the STAR answering method, other types of preparation will give you a greater chance of success.

Before your interview, make sure you thoroughly read the job description to remind yourself of the skills and knowledge that the company requires – so you can work those attributes into your answers. If you can show off those competencies, the interviewer will be impressed.

Take some time to think about your past workplace successes so those specific situations are fresh in your mind, and don’t just think about the good times. Also consider occasions when you’ve encountered issues and solved problems, because an interviewer will appreciate heading about times when you’ve overcome adversity, and those stories can show off your problem-solving and professionalism.

If you’ve got access to past appraisals and performance reviews, it’s worth reading those to remind yourself of successes that you may have forgotten, and consider taking notes if you find that a more effective revision method.

And, finally, it may be worth rehearsing your answers to some of the more common behavioral interview questions. That’ll help you speak confidently during the interview and allow you to do a better job of answering questions and telling stories without rambling. 

Mike has worked as a technology journalist for more than a decade and has written for most of the UK’s big technology titles alongside numerous global outlets. He loves PCs, laptops and any new hardware, and covers everything from the latest business trends to high-end gaming gear.