Behavioral interview questions are a little like the dreaded story questions in 10th-grade algebra. “Tell me about a time…”. They are formatted by presenting a situation, asking about what action you have taken to respond to something similar in the past and the result. Dr. Travis Bradbury writes on LinkedIn:
Most people’s biggest job-hunting fear is being put on the spot by oddball interview questions such as these (which are real):
“Describe the color yellow to someone who’s blind.” – Spirit Airlines
“If you were asked to unload a 747 full of jelly beans, what would you do?” – Bose
“Who would win in a fight between Spiderman and Batman?” – Stanford University
Employers don’t usually use questions like the ones above, but there are three common behavioral interview questions you can prepare for in advance. Employers are trying to find out more about how you problem-solve and handle interpersonal relationships with these questions. If you have a few concrete examples and a story to tell around them from your past work experience, you will feel much more prepared.
Behavioral Interview Question – Type 1 – Handling Pressure, Deadlines, and Stress
With this type of question, a potential employer wants to know how you might react when things don’t go smoothly with your workload. Focus on a concrete example from your past work history where you resolved a challenging situation.
Question: Describe a time you handled a challenging deadline.
Sample Answer: Our department had a presentation due for a potential new sponsor, and my supervisor had an out-of-town family emergency. I was able to pull together a presentation from my supervisor’s notes. Our whole team pitched in with copy editing and graphic design, and I laid it out in PowerPoint with a two-business day turn-around. The presentation was successful, and we got the sponsorship. Both my supervisor and the management team commended me (and our team) for our work.
Behavioral Interview Question Type 2 – Conflict, Personalities, Interpersonal Skills
At some point in your work life, you likely disagreed with a manager or coworker. To answer this type of question, find an example you can frame in a positive light. Maybe the difference of opinion led to a more efficient compromise. Share how you communicated in the situation and keep the focus on the positive outcome. Potential employers want to know that you can be open to both giving and receiving feedback.
Question: What do you do if you disagree with someone at work?
Sample Answer: When I worked for XYZ Company, management wanted to find a way to outsource our departmental work. I presented a strong case for the efficiency of having regular staff in several key positions, and we came up with a compromise plan that included a combination of in-house staff and outsourcing.
Behavioral Interview Question Type 3 – Leadership, Teamwork, and Successes
These can be easier to answer but can also feel a little like you are bragging. But your potential employer wants to know how you motivate yourself and others, and what success looks like to you. Come up with a concrete example of a win and share specific tactics you used.
Question: Give an example of a time you displayed leadership in a team setting.
Sample Answer: During my last semester in college, I worked as a teaching assistant in the English department. The professor leading the teaching assistants was writing a book on language development in the Middle Ages. We were assigned different sectors to research, and I suggested that we meet as a group once a week to discuss our progress and help each other out. The professor appreciated the way we worked together. My suggestion and our teamwork helped streamline his book timeline. He was able to start his final copy weeks ahead of schedule.
Behavioral interview questions can feel intimidating and awkward. The examples above show that employers are simply trying to get a better sense of how you step up and handle tough situations that can arise in the workplace. Taking the time before your big interview to come up with at least three short examples from your past work life will set you up for success.
Want some more practice and tips? LinkedIn has an interview practice section that lists common interview questions with some additional suggestions about how to best answer them. Bonus – you can even interview yourself responding to them and see how you do. That way, you will feel calmer, practiced, and prepared when you are in an actual interview situation.
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