Every job may be different, but there are a surprising number of questions that seem to creep up in just about every interview. Just think about your last interview and how many times your interviewer prompted you with, “Tell me about a time when…”
These recurring prompts are called behavioral interview questions, and their entire purpose is to help an interviewer decide whether your past experiences and lessons learned indicate productive behaviors for their company.
The good news — you can prepare for the majority of behavioral interview questions by looking up common interview themes and preparing a couple stories to tell in answer to each.
To ensure your answers put you in the best light possible, frame your stories using the STARR method:
- Situation. Explain the situation. Set the scene for your story.
- Task. Explain the task or goal put in front of you in your story.
- Action. Explain how you handled the situation.
- Result. Explain what happened as a result of your actions.
- Reflection. Explain what you learned from this experience, and/or what you would do differently in the future.
You may have heard of the STAR method before, but that second “R” on STARR is my own added step. And it’s completely vital. Even if your interviewer doesn’t end each question with, “And what did you learn from that?” you should always answer as though they did. This self-analysis shows you’re interested in continuing to learn and improve.
Here are nine common categories of behavioral questions that are likely to come up in your next job interview. Think all the way through the STARR method as you prepare your answers.
Common Behavioral Interview Questions:
Tell Me About a Time When…
1. You Overcame a Challenge
There isn’t a job in the world that won’t throw unexpected challenges at you. Your interviewer wants to know you’re aware of this fact and that you’re capable of recognizing, adapting to and overcoming such obstacles.
After all, overcoming a challenge shows you work well under pressure, are flexible and work hard, all of which are highly desirable soft skills, according to a Career Builder survey.
- Tell me about a time when something didn’t go your way.
- Tell me about a time when you had to solve an unforeseen problem.
- Discuss a time when a plan backfired.
- Have you ever run into a problem you couldn’t solve?
2. You Failed and Learned From It
Behind every story that involves a mistake is an opportunity to share an important lesson. Sometimes the moral of a failure story is that you learned when to ask for help. Sometimes it’s that you learned how to better manage your time or multitask. As you remember a moment of failure, dig deeper and find the lesson it taught you.
- No one can do everything right 100% of the time. Tell me about a time when you dropped the ball.
- Discuss a time when a colleague or project partner didn’t get their part of a project done.
- Think of a time when you didn’t get your work turned in on time. What caused you to miss your deadline and what have you done to prevent that same mistake since then?
- Have you ever had an idea that didn’t come to fruition?
3. You Learned to Juggle
No, not literally! Your future boss may not be interested in your performing arts skills, but they do want to know you know how to manage your time well and recognize when it’s time to delegate. Consider how you’ve balanced simultaneous tasks in the past.
- Talk about a time you had to strategize to meet your priorities.
- Tell me about a long-term project you managed. How did you move things along and remain timely?
- Sometimes, you just can’t finish everything on your to-do list. Describe one time you felt overwhelmed by your responsibilities.
- Tell me about a goal you set for yourself. How did you make sure it happened?
- Tell me about a time you were managing multiple responsibilities.
4. You Took the Lead
Even if you’re not applying for a managerial position, every boss wants to know you can step up when your team needs you. Telling a story where you took the lead shows you not only recognized that someone needed to set the pace, but also that you weren’t afraid to be that person.
- Tell me about a time when you were asked to lead your team on a task.
- Tell me about a time when you took the lead on a project without being asked.
- Have you ever given a formal presentation? If so, how did you prepare, and how did it go?
- Discuss a time when you delegated work to others.
5. You Came Through for Your Team
There are many ways to come through for your team, and taking the lead is only one of them. At other times, though, being a team player means recognizing when a colleague needs help, taking on extra work to benefit everyone or knowing when it’s simply time to step back and learn.
- Tell me about a time when a team project wasn’t going smoothly.
- Talk to me about a time when you saw someone struggling.
- What have you done in the past to help create a stronger team environment?
6. You Didn’t See Eye-To-Eye With Someone
Nobody makes it all the way through life without meeting a few people they simply don’t work well with. Employers know this, but they also want to know you can look past those differences and find ways to keep a professional work environment.
- Tell me about a time when you had to compromise.
- Discuss a time when you didn’t see eye-to-eye with someone.
- Talk about a time when two or more of your teammates had different ideas for a project.
7. You Communicated Well
Many interview questions are loosely based around the concept of communicating effectively. In fact, according to Bloomberg’s 2016 job skills report, strong communication is one of the most desired but least common job skills employers looks for.
So even if your interviewer doesn’t say the words “strong communication skills” outright, it’s up to you to find an opportunity to show yours off.
- Tell me about a time when you had to explain a complex concept to someone who wasn’t familiar with it.
- Discuss a time when you disagreed with a colleague.
- Tell me about a time when you had to deliver bad news.
8. You Went Above and Beyond for a Client
No matter how high up you are on the corporate food chain, employers absolutely want to know you work well with their most prized asset: their clients. Any company worth working for believes the client comes first, and you’ll quickly ally yourself with such companies when your stories demonstrate your dedication to providing excellent service.
- Tell me about a time when you went above and beyond for a client.
- Discuss a client you feel you’ve built a strong rapport with. How did you gain that client’s trust?
- Tell me about the first time you had to handle an angry customer.
9. You Felt Motivated by a Project
Bosses want to know what gets you motivated. When you put forth your best work. What kind of projects you’re passionate about. With luck — or, if you’ve researched your company pre-interview — your answers will show that your passions overlap with the company’s mission.
- Tell me about a project you felt passionately about.
- What has been your favorite project — in or out of the workplace — in the last few years?
- Discuss a time when you felt valued at work.
Be a STARR Interviewee
Remember, not all interview questions will be framed in exactly the same way, but many of them will fall under the same umbrella category. So, as you prepare for your next interview, do a little research about common behavioral interview categories and questions.
And no matter what questions arise in your interview, make sure you answer using all five steps of the STARR method.