Job Interview Tips

How to Answer Behavioral Interview Questions

behavioral interview questions
Written by Kate Lopaze

Behavioral interview questions (questions about how you’ve reacted to things in the past, or would react to hypothetical situations) are really popular with job interviewers. They can push job candidates out of their comfort zone, and give a glimpse of what the person is really like underneath the polished interview suit. They can also identify potential dealbreakers. That’s what makes it so dangerous for job seekers, who may only be prepared to talk about what’s on their resume and the job description.

Once you learn the patterns and the “whys” behind these questions, you can prep for interviews in a meaningful way. Here are five strategies for dealing with behavioral interview questions.

DON’T panic.

Even if you get a curve ball you weren’t expecting (what do you mean, “what kind of cat would I be?), don’t show fear. (Interviewers and dogs can both smell fear.) If you need a second to gather your thoughts, do that, and then calmly answer the question to the best of your ability.

DO come up with a general list of professional examples and anecdotes you can turn to.

Focus on things like problem solving (what did you do at a challenging time) and teamwork, because many behavioral questions hinge on how you would react if things went wrong, or how you would interact with your colleagues. Also have in your pocket a story about a time that things went wrong, and how you resolved it/learned from it for next time. And definitely come up with (true) stories about times you showed leadership or negotiated a challenging time with team members.

DON’T stay negative, even if the question is asking you to talk about a negative event.

This would be questions like, “is there anything you’ve failed at doing in your career?” or “tell me about your weaknesses.” Those are textbook Interview Traps 101. It’s not a confessional, and you’re not obligated to tell them about every weakness you have. Instead, turn to that list of examples you have

DO tell a story.

Short answers don’t help you here, because what the interviewer is looking for is process and context information. You want to be articulate and seem candid. Practice in the mirror ahead of the interview, but don’t memorize speeches so that it doesn’t feel like you’re giving canned answers.

DON’T be afraid to talk about your challenges.

No candidate (or employee) is perfect, and everyone has faced highly challenging times at some point in their careers. The important thing is that when you do mention challenges, emphasize how you worked through them, and how that has made you a stronger professional.

The best way to prep for behavioral interview questions is to practice, practice, practice. If you have a friend or family member around who’s willing to ask sample questions and listen to your spiel, great! Even if you don’t, you can practice by yourself in the mirror to make sure everything flows conversationally. As with anything else, a little advance thought goes a long way, and can make you seem like the suave A+ candidate you are when you walk into the interview, no matter what questions come your way.

About the author

Kate Lopaze

Kate Lopaze is a writer, editor, and digital publishing professional based in New York City. A graduate of the University of Connecticut and Emerson College with degrees in English and publishing, she is passionate about books, baseball, and pop culture (though not necessarily in that order), and lives in Brooklyn with her dog.