How To Answer Behavioral Interview Questions

Elizabeth Enck

Elizabeth Enck

Career Counselor

When interviewing for a job you can be expected to be asked a variety of questions. Employers want to learn more about your skills, experience, personality and how you might fit with their company. These questions fall into different categories. One type of question that is gaining popularity is called a behavioral question. These are the questions that often ask you to “Tell me about a time…” or “Give me an example….”. They ask you to talk about something you have experienced.

Why do employers use Behavioral Interview Questions?

The reason employers like to ask these questions are because often the best predictor of your future behavior is your past behavior. By learning about how you have done something in the past (like how you solve problems) they are learning about how you would likely do that while working for them.

Examples of Behavioral Interview Questions

There are many questions that fall into the category of behavioral questions. Here are a few examples:

STAR Method

Behavioral questions can feel challenging. When in an interview you can feel on the spot to think about all of your life experiences and to recall one that would be a good answer. It can be helpful to think about some scenarios before your interview. While you can’t predict the exact questions you will be asked, you should read through the job description and look for the skills and qualities listed. Then you can think of times that you did something for each of those (i.e. succeeded, faced something challenging, demonstrated leadership skills, etc.) Often these scenarios could be used for more than one question. However, don’t try to memorize exactly how you will use these answers. You don’t want to sound like a robot and you also don’t want to stress if you forget what you were going to say. Just have a general outline in your mind.

Another strategy for answering these types of questions is to use what is called the STAR Method. STAR stands for:

S – Situation

T – Task

A – Action

R – Result

Situation/Task

The first thing you want to do is begin by setting up the situation you were in or the task you were to complete. Think of this as the beginning of your story. It is important to paint a picture for the interviewer.

Action

Next, you want to talk about the action you took. It’s very important to think about what you did, especially if your story involved working with others. The interviewer is interested in hiring you, not them. Focus on what your role was and the action you took. This is a very important part of your answer and what the interviewer is most interested in. This would be the middle of your story.

Result

Finally, talk about the result. How did things turn out? What did you learn? Often people forget to talk about this part. However, the end of your story is necessary to paint a whole picture.

It’s always best to be specific versus using generalizations. Take a minute before you start to answer to think about some scenarios and choose one. Walk the interviewer through your story. Starting your answer with “In general I…” is not as strong as being specific.

Sample Behavioral Interview Question

To help you learn to answer these questions, let’s take this method and use an example of a question you could be asked to see how you might answer it.

Question:

“Tell me about a time showed leadership skills.”

Answer:

Situation: In my last job I was responsible for overseeing production and managing a 4 other employees in the warehouse. It was also my job to make sure we kept up with any production quotas.

Task: Last fall the production line was not meeting the quota for my area. I was tasked with increasing the numbers to where they needed to be and also motivating my team.

Action: First, I met with each of my employees and asked them for their thoughts and feedback on their role in the process and for suggestions of improvement. I gathered this information and used it, along with my observations to narrow down areas that could be improved. (This is where you could go into detail about what these were.) I then put together a new plan for production using the information I had gathered. (Here you can go into specifics about your new plan.)

Result: After my new plan was implemented production numbers increased for the following month by 60%. My company was very happy with this increase in performance. I also went back and talked to my team for their feedback on what seemed to be working and what needed continued improvement. Overall, things are running a lot more smoothly now. My team continues to meet its quota each month and the employees are also working better together.

Learning from the example above

As you can see, by walking the interviewer through your story using the STAR method you are giving them a concrete example of, in this case, your leadership skills. By learning about the steps you took they now have a better idea about how you would perform for them.

By putting all of these parts of your story together you will make sure you are telling a whole story. It also helps to make sure your story flows well. Once you get comfortable with this strategy you will feel more confident and begin to ace your interviews!

About The Author

Elizabeth Enck
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Elizabeth Enck

Elizabeth Enck was a career counselor at The University Of Tennessee for 6 years. She worked with undergraduate, graduate students, and alumni with their career planning and job searching. This included providing assistance with resumes and cover letters, interviewing including conducting practice interviews, and guidance through the job search process. She has a Master’s Degree in Counseling with an emphasis on career counseling.

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