Behavioral interview questions have gained popularity in recent years as interviewers realized the ability to predict future performance based on a candidate's behavior in specific past experiences. These questions typically start with the phrase “tell me about a time you,” followed by a question about skills and competencies that are relevant to the job. Recently, interviewers have started to also ask the corollary of the question as a follow up to your answer. For example, after answering the question “tell me about a time you accomplished a goal”, the interviewer may ask you about a time that you did not accomplish a goal and what you learned from it.
Behavioral questions are easiest answered in the “Context, Action, Result” structure. This structure keeps you organized and helps to ensure that you cover all the relevant points in your answer. The Context, Action, Result structure breaks down as follows:
- Context: Introduce and describe the situation. This is like the exposition of a book, where you introduce people, identify the location (university, employer, etc) and describe the problem or situation.
- Action: How you addressed the situation. This part should be specific and detailed, as it is the opportunity to articulate how you handled the situation.
- Result: The end result or solution to the initial problem, perhaps a grade on a project, revenue generated from sales efforts, or an improved relationship. The more a result can be quantified, the easier it is to help your interviewer understand the magnitude and impact you had on the situation.
Below are some of the most common behavioral interview questions I’ve received or ask to young professionals, starting with the phrase, "tell me about a time you…"
…. accomplished a goal.
Purpose: An interviewer wants to know that you have a history of setting and achieving goals, because this will hopefully translate to their job.
Response: A story about achieving a quantifiable goal is best for this question. Think of a situation when you had a specific, numerical goal; maybe it was saving a certain amount of money, completing a certain number of contracts, or selling a specific number of products or revenue. The interviewer will be interested in how you went about accomplishing the goal, so take time to explain how you planned and prepared in order to meet the number along with articulating the goal and the actual amount you accomplished.
… persevered through adversity.
Purpose: The workplace is full of challenge and adversity, and an interviewer wants to know that you can effectively rise to the challenge and solve problems.
Response: This is a character question, so draw on your lifetime of experiences to find a situation where you were facing particular challenge or adversity and were successful.
… navigated through conflict with someone.
Purpose: Competing interests, miscommunication, and personality rifts are among the many things that lead to conflict. While conflict is inevitable, being a person that can confront conflict in a useful and thoughtful way is important in the work environment.
Response: Your example should show that you aren’t afraid to deal with conflict directly, while also being reasonable and collaborative in how you worked through the issue with the other person.
… led a team to complete a project.
Purpose: Good leadership means taking responsibility and holding others accountable to achieve a vision. The interviewer wants to know about your past experience to see how you would lead at their organization.
Response: The best response will involve situations where you inspired a team to accomplish a greater vision, held people accountable if they did not meet their obligations, and took responsibility while giving credit to the team.
…were managing a lot of conflicting priorities. How did you prioritize and accomplish them?
Purpose: The interviewer wants to see how you handle the stress that comes with having more to do than you can accomplish in a particular timeline.
Response: This is an opportunity to highlight your ability to delegate, align and complete priorities, and collaborate while not pawning work off on other people. The best answers I’ve heard involve the interviewee confirming what tasks are really important and when they need to be completed, as well as elements of collaboration and teamwork by involving others to help them finish everything.
…had to deliver bad news to a coworker or client. How did you deliver the message?
Purpose: Effective communication is critical in any job. The purpose of this question is to assess your ability to determine the best communication channel for bad news as well as ascertain how you delivered the information.
Response: Bad news is best delivered in person or, worst case, via phone. A great response would demonstrate how you went above and beyond what is expected to deliver bad news in person, to provide alternative solutions, and to show empathy and ownership as it relates to the problem at hand.
…persuaded someone to agree with your viewpoint.
Purpose: People respond differently to ideas based on how they process information and how this information impacts the things that are important to them. This question highlights your ability to identify what is important to another person and position an idea or viewpoint that resonates with them.
Response: It’s important to hit on the points in the “purpose” section; how you identified what was important to the other person and how you prepared for the conversation or communicated with them in a way that changed their viewpoint to one that agreed with yours.