When you hear the phrase “behavioral questions,” it might call up unpleasant memories of sitting outside the principal’s office, waiting anxiously while you come up with all the reasons it wasn’t your fault. But really, it’s just a type of question used by job interviewers to help suss out a candidate’s likely performance beyond the bullet points on the resume. This type of questions are among some of the hardest interview questions.
Behavioral questions are discussion topics like, “Tell me about a time you…” or “How would you handle it if X happened?” They’re an important part of the job interview because they give the interviewer a sense of what you’re like in action. These questions tend to fall into a few different categories, so let’s explore those (with some samples of each).
Communication skills are an essential part of every job, whether you’ll be connecting with clients or vendors, internal employees, or customers. Everyone and his brother lists “strong communication skills” on his resume, but you should also arm yourself with some concrete examples of how you have communicated successfully in the workplace.
“Tell me a time when you had to communicate a complex situation to someone else. What did you do, and what was the result?"
“Tell me about a time when you had to communicate bad news to a client or stakeholder. How did you handle it?”
“How would you persuade someone who doesn’t agree with your point of view?”
Time Management and Prioritization Questions
Time management is another biggie for interviewers. After all, your resume might have an amazing lineup of completed projects, but if it took you a year and a half to complete something that should have taken six months, that could be a red flag. They also want to know whether you’ll be able to prioritize tasks on the job.
“You have two deadlines on the same day. How do you decide which one to prioritize?”
“Tell me about a long-term project you managed. How did you keep your team on deadline?”
“Describe your busiest time at work. How did you juggle all of the projects that were going on?”
Personal Creativity and Accomplishment Questions
This is usually an attempt to get to know your motivations, or understand how you see yourself. It’s similar to the common “what are your strengths/weaknesses” questions that pop up in a majority of interviews.
“What has been your biggest professional accomplishment so far?”
“Describe a time when you had to be creative to get a task done.”
“Give an example of a time you had to think on your feet to overcome an obstacle.”
Problem Solving Questions
This is perhaps the most common type of behavioral question in an interview, because it helps the interviewer really fill in context for your resume. In any job, accomplishments are often the end result of problem solving, but the bullet points tell very little about what led up to that point.
“Tell me about a time when you saw a problem and took initiative to solve it.”
“Describe a situation where you faced conflict on a team. What did you do to resolve that?”
“What has been the biggest challenge in your career, and how did you deal with it?”
Ahead of interview day, if you can come up with specific examples in each of these areas, you’ll be ready to impress with your quick thinking. You don’t need to come up with every possible instance of problem solving or workplace creativity—one or two anecdotes per area should cover you, and make you a model of candidate behavior. No principal’s office necessary!
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