How to answer behavioral interview questions

If you're preparing for your job interview, you should learn about behavioral interview questions. Don't know what those are? Keep reading.

The STAR technique for answering behavioral interviews

Do all job interviews have behavioral questions?

Most job interviews in America or at English-speaking companies will be a mix of general questions ("Tell me about yourself." / "Why do you want to work at our company?" / "Why are you leaving your current job?") and behavioral questions.

What are behavioral questions?

Behavioral questions are the ones that start with something like, "Give me an example of..." or "Can you tell me about a time..." 

The 10 most common behavioral questions

1. Tell me about a goal you had and how you achieved it.

2. Tell me about a time you worked on a team.

3. Share an example of how you were able to motivate an employee or a co-worker.

4. What was the last project you led and what was the outcome?

5. Describe a situation when you had to work effectively under pressure.

6. How do you handle a challenge? Give me an example.

7. Have you ever had to change the way you communicated with someone?

8. Tell me about a mistake that you made. How did you handle the situation?

9. What do you usually do when you disagree with someone at work?

10. Have you ever had to work with a difficult manager or coworker? How did you respond?

You can see that these questions require you to talk about a specific situation.

The interviewer wants examples of how you’ve handled similar issues in the past so they know what you will do if they hire you.

Use the STAR technique to answer behavioral interview questions

Many people think behavioral questions are harder than general questions, because you need to think of a story about a past experience. 

That's why the STAR technique was invented – to help you give good answers to these questions. 

What is the STAR technique?

The STAR technique is a very common system used to answer behavioral interview questions. It provides a structure for you to remember so that you include the correct data in your answers. 

These are the 4 steps of the technique:

S – Situation - background info

T – Task - what you had to do 

A – Activity - what you did - this should be the longest part of the answer

R – Result - positive; quantifiable; what you learned; what you would do differently next time

If you get asked a behavioral question, answer by going through the letters in order. First give the S part (explain the basic situation). Then give the T (what was your job/task in this situation?) Then A (show what you did). Last, give the R (outcome).

Tip: Use "I" in your answers. Don't talk about just what your team did, explain what you did. 

Sample answer – "Tell me about a goal you had and how you achieved it."

S/T – After I got promoted, I realized that we had more projects than originally pIanned and I would need more product managers to complete them. Hiring was my responsibility so I needed to decide how many to hire.

A – I charted our planned projects and then decided how many people I thought I needed. I used our records as well as my own observations. I came up with the number of people and then asked my colleagues for their opinions. Once we had a final number I worked with recruiting to interview candidates and eventually hired the right number of people.

R - Now we're adequately staffed and the work is going well. 

Tip: This is a good answer, but if possible pick an example where you can use numbers in your results. For instance, "And we made 5% more this quarter," or "My sales numbers are up 25% over last year." Numbers, particularly money, make the results more impressive.

Sample answer – "Tell me about a time you had a difficult situation with an employee." 

S/T – I recently had an employee, one of my product managers, who was not performing well. The people she worked with were complaining about her attitude and the executives were complaining about the quality of her work. They wanted me to fire her but I wasn't sure that was the right thing to do.

A – I talked to HR and the executive team, and we decided to collect the evidence about her performance in a document and then present it to her. I did this. During her review, she was very angry and blamed her problems on the company structure. In the end, we decided that we would closely together for 60 days to improve her performance. 

R – My plan was successful in that her performance did improve (as well as her attitude). I'm not happy with the amount of time I have to spend with her, but I hope that by spending the time mentoring her now I will end up with a good product manager who can work independently of me.

Tip: Don't pick a situation to talk about that doesn't have a happy ending (or at least shows improvement).

I hope this post will help you prepare for your behavioral interview. If you need help, ask me for some one-on-one interview prep. You can email me at jennifer@interviewgenie.com to schedule a consultation.

Interview Genie is an interview prep company. I specialize in coaching non-native English speakers. We'll work together on answers to questions you'll be asked in your interview. From communicating with your interviewer before the interview to greeting your interviewer and using the right body language in your interview, I'm focused on your interview success every step of the way.