Behavioral interviewing is based on the premise that past behavior is the best predictor of future success. Therefore, how someone has behaved or performed in the past will probably be a good indicator of how they will behave or perform in the future. Behavioral interview questions usually begin with, “Tell me about…” or “Describe a situation…” You will be asked to describe specific situations that demonstrate your abilities in a specific competency (e.g., analytical skills, leadership, motivation).

Here are some examples of typical behavioral questions and the competencies they demonstrate:

  • Describe a difficult problem that you tried to solve. How did you identify the problem? How did you go about trying to solve it? (Demonstrates problem solving)
  • Describe a time when you tried to persuade another person to do something that he/she was not very willing to do. (Demonstrates leadership)
  • Describe a time when you decided on your own that something needed to be done, and you took on the task to get it done. (Demonstrates initiative)

Behavioral questions are very difficult to answer spontaneously. So, you need to be prepared in order to effectively answer these questions!

  1. Using the job description and organizational research, determine the competencies that are required for success on the job. These may include: leadership, business acumen, creativity, communication, teamwork, problem solving, analysis, etc. Remember that different companies and industries may require different c ompetencies, even for the same position. For example, “self-managing” can mean one thing to a dot com and something very different to a traditional Fortune 500 firm.
  2. Know your résumé. This might seem obvious, but your résumé is often the basis for many questions. Identify the competencies that your résumé demonstrates.
  3. Decide which of your experiences best exemplify your abilities in the competencies the company is seeking. Be able to draw from a variety of experiences that demonstrate your skills and abilities (e.g., work, school,volunteer work).
  4. Use the STAR (Situation/Task, Action, Results) method to formulate your answers to the behavioral interview question:
ST: Situation or Task – Describe the context in which the behavior or action took place
A: Action – Logically take the interviewer through the steps you took and skills you used (the
competency/ies they are seeking to assess) to handle the situation or resolve the problem. Keep
your answer clear and concise.
R: Results – Explain your results. Even if you weren’t as sucessful as you’d hoped, it’s important to make it clear that you understand the implications of the outcome and why it happened.

Common Competencies and Behavioral Interview Questions:

Problem Solving
When was the last time you solved a difficult problem? What was the situation? How did you go about analyzing the problem? What additional information did you gather? What alternative solutions did you consider? Tell me how you implemented your solution. What was the outcome?
Decision Making
What was the most difficult decision you have made in the last six months? What was the situation? What made it difficult? What factors or variables did you consider? What did you decide? What was the result?
Describe your best example of taking the initiative to do something that needed to be done, even though it wasn’t really your responsibility. What was the situation? What circumstances required you to act? What actions did you take? What impact did your initiative have on thesituation?
Describe a situation in which you believe you were effective in achieving an aggressive goal. What caused you to work hard to meet this objective? What methods or skills did you use to meet your goal? What were the results? What feedback did you receive?
Handling Details
Tell me about the most significant project you have worked on in which it was crucial to keep track of details while still managing the “big picture.” What was the project? What skills did you utilize in managing it? How did you make sure the work got done? How did you keep focused on the overall goal of the project while still managing all of the specific parts? How did the project turn out? What feedback did you receive on your management of the task?
Give me an example of a time when you were able to successfully communicate with another person even when that individual may not have personally liked you (or vice versa). What was the situation? What message were you trying to convey? What did you do to facilitate effective dialogue? What was the outcome?
Conflict Management
Tell me about a time when you voiced a concern or disagreement to a co-worker, supervisor, or professor. Where did the disagreement originate? What did you say to the other person? What was his/her reaction? What was the outcome of the disagreement?
Coordinating/Leading Others
Tell me about a situation in which you had to coordinate several people to achieve a goal. What prompted you to take the lead? How did you go about coordinating and leading the group? How did they respond? What tools did you use to measure the progress of the group? What was the outcome?
Technical Expertise
What is an example of one of the more complex projects you’ve worked on? How did you approach it? In what ways did you draw upon your technical knowledge to complete it? What was the outcome?