When it comes to job hunting, one question remains relevant: How confident are you in facing the toughest job interview questions to date?
Indeed, you can’t escape behavioural interview questions that are on a different level of trickiness. Some want you to expose your vulnerabilities and flaws, while others want you to trumpet your accomplishments as the best person for the job.
This post aims to help you prepare for such questions, from understanding the goal of these questions to formulating answers for a successful job interview.
What Exactly Are Behavioural Interview Questions?
They are designed to know a candidate better, albeit deeper, based on how they acted in certain situations in a professional setting.
An interviewer only knows the candidate based on their resume, application letter, and so on. And per their countless interviews, they can pretty much anticipate the answers to the usual and out-of-this-world questions.
But when it comes to behavioural questions, the interviewer can expect the applicant to answer differently as shaped by their experiences, attitudes, and skills.
It is through this kind of probe into their past that the interviewer can catch glimpses of how this person would be like if hired for the position. In this context, previous experiences would become predictors of future performance in the workplace.
It’s a challenge to bluff one’s way into questions that are based on specific situations because responses have to be also specific and supported by facts and numbers. A question that asks one’s view about collaboration is different from asking an example of being able to demonstrate this skill in the past.
Essentially, the interviewer needs something more concrete and realistic to anchor their assessment on the candidate, and they need answers that are substantiated by experiences, skills, competencies, achievements, etc.
Are behavioural questions effective?
This approach can be effective in ferreting out information that tends to be glossed over by flowery words and sometimes incoherent ramblings.
The flow is also more spontaneous with open-ended questions, leading to more sincere and honest responses. The interviewer could pose more questions to get more details of the situation, and the candidate can provide the context or background for it.
How-did-you-act-in-such-a-situation type of questions can also demonstrate communication skills, especially in organising thoughts and synthesising information. It’s a great way to show off storytelling skills and build rapport with the listener.
How do you answer behavioural questions?
Because these interview questions are or will always be part of job interviews, you or any applicant has to be ready to answer them with the help of these tips:
- Start with the STAR method that serves as an outline for structuring your story. The framework wants you to: Describe the Situation, explain the Task and its goal, relate the Action/s taken to achieve the goal, and reveal the Result. Read more about the method here.
- Show vulnerability strategically. Questions that ask you to reveal past mistakes, failures, and challenges want to see your growth or the ability to grow in the profession. Admit a mistake, but frame your answer such that your recovery and important realisations are highlighted.
- Understand how the question is framed. Interviewers try to phrase questions such that they don’t prompt the candidate to answer in a certain way. So just be aware and study how they might rephrase commonly asked behaviour-based questions.
- Stick to the professional. “Tell me about the time when you …” questions are designed to gain insights into your past as a pro. So unless stated, your answers should dwell on your career and work experiences.
- Practice Q&A. Preparation is the best way to face the fear of a job interview. Anticipate questions, find the most suitable anecdotes, outline the main points, practise with a friend or in front of the mirror. Try not to rely on memorising because you’ll sound less authentic and it could cause you to be complacent when it’s still an interview and anything can happen.
- Be conscious of the time. As much as you are encouraged to be more detailed, try to keep your response brief, relevant, and engaging.
Without further ado, check out our example answers as a guide in crafting the best responses to behavioural interview questions.
Question #1: Tell Me About a Time You Disagreed with a Colleague
Sample answer: The content manager once asked me to work with another designer to create a logo for a client. Each of us made a design for the other to critique and improve on and then to merge our designs and present the unified logo to the client for approval.
After several deliberations and revisions, we were able to come up with a single logo that ticks the boxes of the client’s branding guideline checklist. However, my coworker was not satisfied with it and insisted that we adjust the colour and font based on his proposal.
I told him the name of the business is hardly readable, and the colours look washed out to be appealing to customers who are children and their parents (the client was in the food and beverage business). We engaged in a lot of back-and-forth, and these exchanges took away time that could have been spent polishing and perfecting the logo.
Upon my request, the manager called my coworker and me for a meeting. I again presented my points regarding his proposal. I also showed her what the logo would look like if the said details were altered.
The manager looked at both the designs (the one we put together versus the one with his proposed alterations) and provided her opinions and recommendations. In sum, she leaned towards our collaborative work, basing it on the client’s specifications and email exchanges.
In the end, the coworker conceded and agreed to go with the logo that we created together with additional input from the content manager. We were able to get the client’s approval, who specifically commended the vibrancy of the colours.
What I’ve learned from this experience is to stand my ground calmly when confronting coworkers over a difficult point. When you still can’t agree, it’s best to get intervention, ideally from someone with higher authority.
Question #2: How Would You Deal with a Team Member Who Was Not Meeting Their Deadlines for an Important Project?
Sample answer: As the social media manager I was tasked to hype the launch of our app on all our socials and had to work closely with the writer and other members of the marketing team for updates and posts on our platforms.
The arrangement was okay at first: the writer was able to give me something to post on our social media accounts. But as the days went on, there was almost like a bottleneck of tasks from his end. My requests were left unnoticed, and I had to ask him directly for updates.
It was really a headache for me because I needed to schedule posts and on top of that request for graphics.
What I’ve learned from that situation that I could apply to the hypothetical situation would be:
- Ask them if they are okay. They probably have reasons for their behaviour. In my case, I did ask the writer if everything was okay from his end and he answered in affirmative.
- Run them the process. I told the coworker about my workflow just so he knew that delays have actual consequences.
- Offer help. I did some of the tasks because it was faster. I took some online courses on copywriting and knew a bit about photo editing, so these are in my skill set.
- Raise concerns. Together with other team members, we raised the issue of the delays and the writer probably needing help with the workload. The company hired an outsource writer.
I also realised that people don’t really know the impact of their actions unless you tell them upfront. And while you want to understand the reasons behind their actions and want to help, you also need to draw the line and do something when it starts to affect your work and everyone else’s.
Question #3: Tell Me About a Time You Led a Team to an Important Milestone
Sample answer: I was once brought in to lead a customer service team in a relatively new tech company. At the time of my arrival, there was no team to begin with: the chat support reps were working more as independent units than as a group.
It was clear that my main task was to build the team from scratch. I approached the challenge as a puzzle whose pieces just need to be fitted into the whole.
Here’s what I did:
- Build rapport with the team. Because we were operating 24/7, I requested for my schedule to be on the middle ground between the day shift and night shift. We had lunch or dinner (one or two had to stay to man the chat).
- Establish processes. The lack of order was confusing the agents to say the least, so creating workflows was of the highest priority. For this, I had lots of talks with the agents and tapped my previous experience as a CS manager.
- Build the FAQ section for our help desk. One of the biggest challenges was to obtain information as efficiently as possible, given that the company had people working across different time zones. We then built an online library of resources that would be useful to customers but the agents as well. We also developed a process for updating these online resources. Moreover we connected our customer-service tool with social media to keep track of queries (the social media manager previously had to ask us directly for answers).
- Measure progress. I also developed metrics for efficiency across platforms (live chat, social media, and email) and to check if all our processes are working. Our initial focus area was on the first response time, which was the main complaint of customers back then. I’m happy to announce that our first response time peaked 30 seconds versus our goal of 40 seconds.
With structure and processes and cooperative members, I definitely built a CS team when I left the company to pursue my studies.
Question #4: Can You Tell Me about a Time When Things Didn’t Work Out Well?
This question is sometimes asked as, “Tell me about the time you failed or did something wrong …”
Sample answer: I was weeks’ old into a new job, when the lead writer told me that we are going to upload our articles directly to a platform by ourselves. I did just that, copying content from an online document and pasting it to the platform.
She showed me formatting problems that made the articles look weird online. The spacing between paragraphs, for example, was too huge – I’ve always thought it was normal until she pointed it out. She said that she fixed them, but for the upcoming ones I have to do it myself.
I inwardly cried in shame for what happened and decided to spend an hour or once I’m done writing to familiarise myself with the dashboard. I also learned HTML basics and wrote some of them down, so I won’t forget. And whenever I upload an article, I edit it with the code editor to spot any formatting error.
My articles looked visually better and more friendly to a user’s eyes. The whole experience also taught me to be more circumspect with my work, and I gained additional knowledge that I still use from time to time.
Question #5: Tell Me About a Time When You Had a Task to Complete with a Tight Deadline.
Sample answer: In my previous work as an assistant to the wedding planner, I once worked with a couple who originally wanted a hundred-person affair in a grand hotel in the city.
COVID happened. Instead of cancelling the ceremony altogether, the couple decided to host the ceremony at the bride’s childhood home with just their families as guests. And for some reason (I’m not at liberty to divulge client information), we need to put together the couple’s most-awaited moment in two weeks.
I was in charge of the food, flowers, and music. But I expected the catering service to be the most difficult to negotiate, so I recalled spending half my workday on it. The vendors we usually work with don’t take small orders or have staffing and supply-chain problems. Next on my list were restaurants, but some had the same problems.
It was eight days before the wedding when I remembered this small restaurant near my apartment that served really good Italian food, which was what the couple wanted. The restaurant was also 40 minutes from the venue, which is logistically feasible. They also agreed to lend us tables and chairs, which were not really used because indoor dine-in service was not allowed.
I contacted the owner, who lives just next to the restaurant and luckily has the supply and staff to feed 20 people. We arranged to have a taste test the very next day, and the couple liked it.
As for the florist, she is a friend and her expertise is intimate backyard weddings. The band I booked was a favourite (and the couple’s too) in the local music scene and all lived within the area.
In the end, the wedding was a success. The couple, the guests, and our team were happy.
Question #6: Please Share a Time When You Set a Goal for Yourself and Achieved It
Sample answer: After graduating from college, I was determined to make a career out of my hospitality degree and got my first job as a receptionist in a small hotel. Despite my very extroverted personality, I found myself emotionally and physically drained after taking calls and complaints the whole day.
But I couldn’t just quit because I was still building my employment history and connections in the industry. Against that backdrop, I decided to create my own stress management program.
The steps to that program are:
- Work out before work. I took advantage of the hotel gym, arriving two hours before my shift to exercise and release endorphins.
- Breathe. Before I say something to the customer over the phone or directly, I take a deep breath or mentally count 1, 2, 3.
- Listen. Some guests complain about noise on the street, the room being non-smoking, and no appliances, which by the way have been disclosed prior to booking. Over time, I’ve learned that some just want a listening ear and empathy, which I gladly give along with a copy of the hotel policies. For things that the hotel was clearly at fault with, I apologise and offer complimentary services as per the manager’s instructions.
I became really efficient in handling complaints that I once received the employee of the month award. I also got an all-expense paid trip as reward for my five-year service and was promoted to assistant hotel manager.
I must say that my stress program has been effective in helping me stick to my job and get me meaningful experiences that brought me to where I am today.
Question #7: Tell Me About Your Greatest Professional Failure and How You Recovered.
What is your biggest failure or professional regret is a variation of this tough question.
Sample answer: As a member of the HR team, I was asked to hire someone for a very important role in a project. This person was supposed to hold technical knowledge and experience.
Aside from advertising the job opening online, I also went through my network and contacted some people that I thought would be eligible for the job. One is someone whom I worked with previously, and after seeing their resume and interviewing them, I recommended them for the post.
The company owner and head of the project approved hiring this former colleague. But at the stage when this person was asked to step in and provide their expertise, they apparently didn’t have it. This caused delays to the project and the company had to hire a replacement at the last minute.
It was an oversight on my part as I brought in someone who turned out to be not qualified for the position. For that, I apologised to the owner and everyone in the team affected by that hiring decision.
I also took it upon myself to review the processes for screening and vetting candidates, with the help of an experienced HR consultant. Skills assessments, interview questions, character references, practical exams, projects, social media accounts to some extent, and other methods as appropriate to the position were added or strengthened.
In all, I’ve become more careful and cautious in choosing candidates even if it takes longer to fill a position. I’ve also continuously updated myself with methods and techniques in interviewing candidates effectively.
Question #8: If You Have Five High Priority Competing Tasks That Need to Be Completed ASAP, How Would You Prioritise Which One to Start First?
This is another way of asking how you determine work priorities.
Sample answer: I always have my notepad with me to list my editing tasks for the day, on top of the project management tool that our company uses. Before logging in for the day, I would consult the online list and my notes and would work on the tasks based on their priority.
In our company, an assignment marked red is super urgent, yellow high priority, and green normal priority. With five priority tasks competing for the no. 1 position and all saying ASAP, I’d stick to that system as per usual.
However, I am also well aware that last-minute changes to priorities can change the order of the day. In fact, it’s normal for someone to rush an article because the blogger wants it right away or needs a major revision to be made.
I leave room for such surprises by maintaining a pace that allows me to finish one job as soon as I reasonably can and then move on to the next. But I always make it a point to set expectations: in my line of work, content pieces vary from writer to writer, and they are not equally easy or difficult to edit.
For rush work, I discuss the urgency of the task and the possibility of an extension with the person involved and our manager, in connection with my workload. Then we work out a plan of action, like extending the deadlines for others.
At the end of the day, communication is key. Each of us has our priorities but we can negotiate and compromise to complete what needs to be done first.
Question #9: Give Me an Example of a Time You Managed Numerous Responsibilities. How Did You Handle That?
Sample answer: I was originally hired by a start-up company to create and edit videos for its YouTube and other social media channels. Our manager found out that I was also into photo editing, so she asked if I could help out with that as well while they look for a dedicated designer.
It took them a few months to get the person for the job so in the meantime I was doing video editing tasks and creating infographics and the like. Despite juggling two positions I found my workload manageable and had little time to be bored as I get to do what I love. There was even a time that I became the go-to person for anything Photoshop-related.
One time we had to do a series of tutorials to help the customers navigate and use our platform. The project would understandably take up most of my time. And while everyone in the company knows that I’m first and foremost the video editor, I still have to do design-related requests.
What I did was I dedicated the first three hours of my workday for video editing. Then I would spend the next two hours doing priority design requests, and then go back to the video assignment for the rest of the day.
I was able to submit the videos on time as well as my other tasks. When the graphic designer came along two months later, I was the one who onboarded him to the relevant processes.
Question #10: Tell Me About a Time When You Worked Under Either Extremely Close Supervision or Extremely Loose Supervision. How Did You Handle That?
Sample answer: I joined a non-government organisation for my internship. The director, who was my immediate boss, was extremely busy, having to attend meetings and conferences in and out of the country, and she needed help with admin work and stuff.
Thus my job description included responding to emails, organising files, writing proposals, and attending events or helping out organise events for the organisation’s beneficiaries.
Because I was on my own most of the time, I felt less pressured doing my tasks. I was free to structure my day for as long as I accomplish my to-dos. Moreover I had to trust my judgement when fielding emails that needed the director’s attention and which ones I can answer.
On days when my boss was in the office, she still let me be and had a laid-back management style. My boss had also kept the communication lines open for me, wherever she may be, and I made sure to utilise our weekly check-ins over Skype to discuss wins and difficulties at work.
I once read an article about the microfinance project for women she led and it became one of my inspirations as a social worker. Thus, I took advantage of our weekly talks to gain insights, like challenges and conditions in our field.
During times when I still had a few hours on the clock and had finished work, I often approached the office admin to help out with the chores. One time it was buying office supplies and another to repair the printer.
In all, the experience taught me to be self-reliant and assertive in seeking help from the director or anyone. Seeing how remote working and video conferencing are huge now, those times in a way prepared me to work with minimal supervision.
Question #11: Tell Me About a Time You Needed to Get Information from Someone Who Wasn’t Very Responsive. What Did You Do?
Sample answer: One time I was asked to produce a report regarding the outcome of a project. It was to be very detailed, documenting the inception up to the execution of the product. More importantly, it was to compare what was on paper and what actually happened.
I had key people as resource persons for the assessment, and I emailed each of them for interviews. I also forwarded a set of questions. All were responsive and some started to give the information I requested, except for one manager. While I understood how busy this person was, I had to be mindful of the deadline of the report.
After a week of not responding to my initial email and three days of follow-up email, I messaged him to meet for a convenient time for an interview. During the interview I also asked him if he needed help with answering the questionnaires I emailed, like maybe a team member could do it on his behalf. And he referred me to one who was able to send me the answers within the day.
Long story short, I got the information I needed from the manager and was able to finish my report before the deadline. What I’ve learned is to be proactive and communicative.
Question #12: Describe a Time When Your Team or Company Was Undergoing Some Change. How Did That Impact You, and How Did You Adapt?
Sample answer: The company was shifting its focus and in effect scaling down its operations. The changes bode two things for me: more responsibilities and adjustments that accompany a work-from-home setup.
First, I had to take on the data-entry workload of the person who was deemed redundant. My daily expected output also doubled. I also have to build lists based on demographics to be sent out to the sales team.
Processing leads consumes most of my time so I do it first thing in the morning. After some research I’ve found useful hacks in the tool that would allow me to sort the leads quickly.
The second part of the changes proved to be more difficult because my house was not exactly built for work. My children were attending classes online and we had no extra space for a home office. It was really a challenge to keep up with work and personal life as they
With the help of my partner, we agreed to take turns looking after the kids. I also asked for more flexible hours that would still overlap with the shift of my other teammates. I also found the window seat in my room with its natural light and a laptop tray the most conducive spot for working.
It was the fourth week of the new arrangement that I was able to figure out the best routine and setting for me. As far as my work is concerned, I consistently hit my targets and timely at that.
Question #13: How Would You Deal with a Critical Piece of Feedback from Your Supervisor?
Sample answer: I had this previous experience where a supervisor told me to calibrate because the sales pitches were not working. In her words, the response was a deafening silence.
After the meeting, I thought really hard about the feedback and looked at some of the pitches I wrote. They looked OK to me but I wasn’t the intended recipient of them anyway. The next day I was still bothered by the comment that I emailed the manager and asked for further details regarding the feedback.
She opted to meet me the next day and we went through some statistics like email click-to-open rates. There were pitches more viewed than the others, otherwise most of them did not really fare.
The discussion gave me numbers to work with, which helped me come up with concrete actions. For starters, I researched how to craft a compelling message for emails and looked at real-world samples. I also took online classes on email marketing and sales.
After doing some AB testing, we were able to figure out the style and content of emails that recipients wanted to open. Also we used data to establish goals and make improvements.
I would probably do what I did in a similar situation, and as much as possible I would never never let my emotions get the best of me.
Interview Question #14: Tell Me About [Role Y on Your Resume] and What Your Biggest Accomplishment In That Role Was.
Sample answer: I worked as a project manager in an IT company. The pay was good, as well as perks like gym membership, wellness programs, and company trips. Everyone seems to be doing fine, or so I thought.
One time a really talented and valuable individual quit. She acted as technical lead in numerous successful projects, and one such project earned the team awards for being a useful tool for customers with reading problems. Also other members in the team looked up to her as a leader and mentor.
While it was not my place to stop her from leaving (in fact I was happy with her finally landing her dream job), I was more motivated than ever to keep my team members engaged and satisfied with their work.
- One is to pay close attention to any visible signs of struggles or unhappiness. I’ve been with the team long enough to detect unusual or erratic behaviour, and I would talk it out with them.
- Second is to be clear. This is very important because discontent can arise from confusing instructions and mixed signals over time. As someone coordinating with a relatively big team, I need everyone to move in the same direction.
- Lastly is to help them in their career advancement. The company already had career paths, and it was a matter of guiding the team members in their desired direction.
My biggest achievement was proactively encouraging my team members to stay and at least have a meaningful time while working with the team. We were able to do more projects together, all revenue-earning and award-winning.
Interview Question #15: Tell Me About a Time When You Made a Mistake. How Did You Handle This Experience?
Sample answer: I almost missed an important deadline for a project if it weren’t for a nudge from a coworker. While I was able to send in my part, the leader of the project had to put in extra time and work to edit and submit the proposal. That was a close call.
One thing that I assessed was my focus and whether it was on the right tasks. I also diligently plotted my schedule and identified the importance and level of difficulty for each task. For example, I found that checking emails took a lot of time and attention from other things, so I designated times for responding to them.
Also, I learned to say no to some requests from coworkers, which did add to my workload. I did so honestly and firmly but still politely. I was well aware that some wouldn’t like to be said no to, so I always contextualised my answer by recounting the incident above as a negative consequence.
Since then, I was able to focus more on my tasks and got great feedback on my work. The experience also helped me build a more honest relationship with coworkers.
Here are key points in handling behavioural interview questions:
- Use the STAR framework.
- Go big when it comes to your achievements
- Remember that everyone makes mistakes, but not every mistake is worth sharing, especially to future employers.
- In talking about failures, make the story succinct and focus on the result and lessons you have learned.
- Ask insightful questions too. That will show that you are interested in the job and the company.
It’s your story to tell, so decide the beginning, pauses, and the ending. Go ace that job interview.