“Tell me about a time when…”
“How do you decide when to…”
“Walk me through a scenario in which…”
Think back to your most memorable job interviews. Chances are, you were asked at least a few questions that began similarly. These are what is known in the HR world as behavioural interview questions.
Interestingly, behavioural interview questions aren’t quite questions per se. They’re more of an invitation for you, the candidate, to explain why you should get the job – by sharing a story from your career.
Unlike other types of job interview questions, there’s actually no right or wrong answer.
Which makes behavioural interview questions notoriously tricky to tackle.
That’s why I’m here to help.
Today, I’m revealing 17 of the most thought-provoking behavioural interview questions and answers out there—followed by tips and thoughts on how best to prepare for each one.
17 Crucial Behavioural Interview Questions.
I’ve done the heavy lifting for you by compiling 17 of the most tricky (and often tough) behavioural interview questions that can get asked during the modern recruitment process.
Importantly, I’ve also provided you with mental frames and triggers that will help you develop your own unique, strong answers.
If you’re serious about knocking the socks off potential employers during your next interview, I suggest that you spend at least 60-90 minutes on this exercise.
Don’t rush. Make sure that there are no distractions. Arm yourself with a pen and a piece of paper, then methodically work through the 17 questions below, in their order.
Carefully consider your answer to each one; write down notes if necessary. Then, use the additional tips at the bottom of this article to improve the quality of your answers and work through over the entire set 1-2 more times.
To get even better results, read this guide to answering “why do you want to for us?” and consider investing in a few hours of advanced interview coaching with Arielle Executive or with our sister brand, Exceptional Interview Coaching.
To ensure that you get invited to a job interview in the first place, consider using our bespoke resume writing service.
Question #1. Tell me about a time you had to explain something very complex to a client or a member of your C-Suite.
Tip: Consider how you convey your expertise. When was your communication particularly impactful and yet sensitive to your audience in describing an area of mastery for you?
Question #2. Give an example of a presentation you made that directly influenced the financial health of your company. How did you prepare? What was the outcome?
Tip: Think of a time when your company was undergoing significant change. What about your strategy was uniquely positioned to overcome the hurdles at hand?
Question #3. Tell me about a time that you either delivered or received negative feedback. What did you learn about yourself?
Tip: Pick a circumstance where the feedback either received or delivered was a career game-changer, either for you or the person on the other end.
Question #4. Walk me through a decision-making scenario that illustrates how you pick your battles.
Tip: A great anecdote here might be a time where your team wanted to go in a direction that conflicted with your opinion, but you decided to let them run with it.
Question #5. Was there ever a time when you strongly disagreed with your boss or another authority figure? What was the situation, and how did it turn out?
Tip: Think of an event where you stood up for what you thought was right (took a risk) and your approach fostered respect, common ground and a positive business outcome.
Question #6. Share a circumstance where you saw a peer struggling and stepped in to help. How did you clarify your motives?
Tip: Choose a scenario in which your intentions were clearly pure versus coming across as someone striving to ‘look good’ at someone else’s expense.
Question #7. Describe a time when you motivated an unmotivated team.
Tip: Pick a story that highlights your ability as a leader to envision a future state and take concrete, definable steps toward creating it.
Question #8. Give me an example of when you decided it was best to postpone making a business-critical decision.
Tip: Share an anecdote that conveys the solidity of your judgement and decision-making abilities in the face of ambiguity.
Question #9. Think back to a time when you had to represent your organisation externally. How did you reflect your company’s culture and values?
Tip: Call out your employer’s values and culture and highlight how you uniquely embody them, and how you stood up for them; perhaps in the face of public hostility.
Question #10. Tell me about a time when someone brought you a new idea that had never occurred to you. How did you react?
Tip: Showcase your ability to include others’ ideas with an open mind, and without feeling threatened. Communicate how you determine which ideas are worth pursuing—what is it based upon?
Question #11. Describe in detail the most innovative idea you’ve ever had on the job.
Tip: This story can capture a moment in time. In other words, you’re not Einstein. But within the confines of certain circumstances, sometimes the simplest of ideas can be incredibly innovative.
Question #12. Describe a time when you were asked to perform a task or lead an initiative that conflicted with your values.
Tip: Can you strike a delicate balance here between what’s important to you and the needs of the business? Most cannot achieve this regularly, but the good news is you only need to have done it once.
Question #13. Think about the most uplifting aspect of your current or most recent position. What about it feeds you?
Tip: Be honest without waxing on too much about your idea of career perfection. How do you seek out those diamonds in the rough on a daily basis that keep you charged up?
Question #14. Think back to one of the most disheartening times in your career. What did you do to turn things around?
Tip: Sometimes it’s a series of smaller steps that leads up to a career turnaround, or the ability to drive positive change in a negative situation. Your answer, though succinct, might not highlight one ‘big thing’.
Question #15. Tell me about a time when you had too much to do, but not enough resources (i.e. staff, time, budget). What was your solution, and why?
Tip: If possible, share a story where you came up with a creative answer to your problem—such as sharing a resource with another leader—versus going back to ask for more budget.
Question #16. Give an example of a time you were partway through a project and realized that you were actually pushing towards the wrong goal. What did you do?
Tip: If at all possible, choose an instance where you actually hit the reset button against popular opinion because you knew it was the right thing to do.
Question #17. Share an instance where you sacrificed short-term gain for a longer-term goal when the right decision was unclear. How did you make the decision and what did you learn?
Tip: Tout your emotional intelligence here. Making grey area decisions requires a balance between logic and gut feeling. Talk about how you know which to trust, and when.
3 Tips For Effectively Answering Questions Without ‘Right’ Answers.
By now, you can see that behavioural interview questions are highly individualistic. They’re all about you and how you can spin your accomplishments.
The prep time can be steep and the amount of effort required daunting. Three tips to craft your answers:
1. Use the STAR method to outline your stories.
Remind yourself of what the acronym stands for during the interview – it will help keep you on track:
- Situation. Set the scene to your story. Where were you working and what were the dynamics at the time? What was in your control, and out of your control?
- Task. What was the business problem you were trying to solve?
- Action. Describe your solution to the problem in detail, including the key skill or accomplishment you want to highlight.
- Results. Clearly communicate the outcome – benefits, pitfalls and learnings.
2. Mine the job description.
This will help you determine the skills and behaviours your prospective employer is seeking. What experiences from your career (starting with the skills from your resume) are a good match to discuss?
3. Prepare a handful of scenarios.
Have these at the ready to help you highlight your points. Do your best not to keep coming back to the same example repeatedly.
Improve Your Interview Performance By Linking Your Past With The Present (And The Future).
For decades, psychologists have been telling us that past behaviour is the surest predictor of future behaviour, despite their admission that other factors are at stake.
So, as you’re digging around in your past, don’t forget what you’ve carried through to the present. Ask yourself:
- How have different bosses, team members, industries, cultures and resources impacted my success? When am I at my best?
- Am I the same person I was when this story took place? What did that experience teach me, and how have I changed?
Final Tips For Interview Success.
While you can’t use past external circumstances as excuses in an interview setting, you can wrap up your story with your biggest personal revelation from that time and event.
Doing so will help you come across as extremely self-aware. It will also remind your interviewer that the past is…well, past.
I hope this post has given you some guidance on how to prepare for even the toughest behavioural interview questions. However, know that you don’t have to go it alone. Our interview coaching offering will ensure you show up with confidence.
But whichever path you take to arrive, I wish you the best in your next career move. Until we meet again, I’ll leave you with this sage advice from Seneca the Younger:
“Don’t stumble over something behind you.”