21 Behavioral Interview Questions and Answers

Updated: July 4, 2023

After reading this article, you’ll:

  • Develop strategies to demonstrate self-awareness, adaptability, and problem-solving abilities, enabling a deeper connection with interviewers and better showcasing of relevant skills.
  • Understand how reflective responses can portray personal growth and resilience, effectively improving your ability to handle future challenges in the workplace.
  • Comprehend the significance of the interviewer’s perspective during a job interview and how to leverage this understanding to effectively respond to behavioral questions.

It’s easy enough to prepare for most interview questions. You write down your greatest strengths and weaknesses, and you think about where you’ll be in five years. Plus, if you need a refresher on common interview questions, you can check out the most common interview questions here. But then there are those other questions, the ones that start with, “Tell me about a time when …” These questions, known as behavioral questions, require you to tell a story that demonstrates what your resume only says.

In this article, we’ll go over the basics of behavioral interview questions. Then, we’ll review some essential behavioral questions and answers, so you’ll know what to expect and what to say.

How do you recognize behavioral interview questions?

Unlike typical interview questions, behavioral questions require you to respond with examples that demonstrate your past behavior. A good answer provides hard, real-life evidence of your soft skills, proving whether or not you’re a good fit for the job at hand. Let’s look at the difference:

Typical question: What’s your greatest strength?

Behavioral question: Tell me about a time when you succeeded at work.

As you can see, you can recognize common behavioral questions by how they’re structured. They begin with phrases like “tell me about a time,” or “describe a time,” or “give me an example of …” To answer them, you need to learn how to craft compelling stories that fit the internship or job.

So, why do hiring managers ask these questions? The basic idea is that past performance predicts future success. If you’ve demonstrated success in certain key areas in former roles, you’re likely to succeed in your new one. Second, by asking the same behavioral questions to each candidate, they can easily discern how different people interpret these common concepts and react to these common situations. It provides a good baseline. Finally, these questions require detailed answers, which, hopefully, speak to your specific impact. As we know, quantifying your accomplishments and focusing on the specifics is crucial to a successful cover letter, resume, and interview.

When preparing for an interview, you should assume every interviewer will ask behavioral questions. The questions can be tailored to fit any job, at any level, in any industry. And if your recruiter doesn’t use them, your stories can still be used to answer straightforward questions. By answering “What’s your greatest strength?” with a detailed story, you’ll wow them!

Sample behavioral interview questions and answers

Behavioral interview questions vary widely, and there’s no sure-fire way to predict the exact questions you’ll be asked. The good news, however, is that these questions tend to relate to common themes, such as teamwork, leadership, conflict, and problem solving.

Below, we’ve outlined these themes, including a few sample behavioral interview questions for each one. Although the exact wording may differ in your interview, the themes will likely remain the same. For each theme, we’ve provided one sample answer—and while we’ve kept our examples pretty succinct, you might want to go into more detail. Just remember to keep your responses to around two minutes each! As you read through the questions and answers, identify two or three of your own success stories for each theme.


Teamwork Questions

Pretty much every job requires you to play well with others, so you can expect a couple of teamwork-related questions in your interview. The interviewer wants to know if you work well in groups, which roles you gravitate towards, how you communicate, and how you react when faced with challenging personalities.

Example questions:

  1. What’s the most successful team project you’ve worked on?
  2. Tell me about a time when you had to work on a team and felt disappointed in the outcome.

I took an anthropology class last year, which I absolutely loved. For the final project, we broke into teams of three, with each team given a different area to research and present on. My team decided to divvy up each aspect of the project. I was responsible for writing the text for the poster, another teammate was responsible for making the images and graphs, and another for writing our speech.

I didn’t want to micromanage and was focused on my own work, so I just forged ahead. I checked in with my teammates two days before the presentation, and one had done absolutely nothing. I was furious. However, I took a deep breath, and the three of us met up. We worked all night long to make those graphs and get the poster designed. In the end, it wasn’t great, but it was something. It taught me that on a team, everyone needs to work together to ensure a great outcome. Now, I always schedule regular check-ins with team members, making sure that we’re on the same page and moving forward in a timely manner.

  1. Share a time when you had to work with a teammate who wasn’t pulling their weight on a project. What happened?


Leadership Questions

Leadership isn’t just for managers. It’s also about stepping in and stepping up when things stall, or speaking on behalf of the team when addressing your boss. Do you have the potential to train, motivate, and help others? Employers want to see that you can take the initiative and go above and beyond.

Example questions:

  1. Tell me about a time when you stepped up into a leadership position.

Two years ago, after the event manager of my a cappella group stepped down with little notice, I agreed to take her place. The group had a six-state tour coming up, so they needed someone to manage logistics and figure everything out. I made all the arrangements, from transportation to hotels, and put everything on a detailed spreadsheet. Our tour was a great success, and everything went off without a hitch—except for one canceled flight, which was beyond my control! At the end of the tour, I opted to step down, and we elected someone who really wanted the role. I’m glad I stepped up when we were in a pinch, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

  1. Who have you mentored or coached to achieve success?
  2. Describe a time when you led by example.


Handling Conflict Questions

It may seem strange to talk about conflict in an interview. After all, wouldn’t a perfect employee avoid it altogether? But no two people are alike, and conflict is bound to pop up from time to time. Your interviewer wants to hear you discuss conflict openly and, more importantly, they want to know how you handle it. This says a lot about whether you’ll fit into their company culture.

Example questions:

  1. Give me an example of a time when you had to respond to an angry customer.

I work at my local coffee shop in the summer, and I once had a customer get furious when I mixed up his order. I was definitely wrong—I just made the wrong drink. I spoke to him calmly, apologized profusely, and remade the drink as quickly as possible. I also gave him a coupon for a free drink when he next came in, which calmed him down. He told me he was having a bad morning, and even said, ‘Everyone makes mistakes’ as he walked out. He came back the following week to use his coupon, and he seemed much happier. He even gave me a generous tip!

  1. Tell me about a time when you had a difference of opinion with a teammate.
  2. Tell me about a time when you disagreed with your supervisor. How did you handle it?


Problem-Solving Questions

Employers are always looking for resourceful people. When you discuss your problem-solving abilities, remember that the problem doesn’t have to be big. It could be as simple as not knowing where to find something you need for a project and taking the initiative to find it. The interviewer wants to hear that you can identify obstacles and troubleshoot solutions. They’ll be listening for responses that demonstrate your creativity, determination, initiative, and ability to get results.

Example questions:

  1. Tell me about a time when you suggested a new, more efficient approach to doing something.
  2. Describe a time when you anticipated a problem and came up with options to solve it.

I was volunteering at my local food pantry last summer, working as a pantry assistant. When I was done with my shift, I saw one of our clients, an elderly woman, waiting for the bus. She had a cart filled with food and was balancing several other bags. I knew she lived nearby, so I offered to give her a ride home, and I carried in her groceries. It went so well that I spoke to the pantry manager about setting up a carpool system, with volunteers driving clients home after their shift ended. Now, more than one-third of our clients have reliable transport to and from the pantry each week. Plus, I still volunteer there once a week—and I’m good friends with that client!

  1. Give me an example of a time when you had to analyze information and make a recommendation to someone.


Failure Questions

No interview would be complete without a question asking about failure (that’s why we have a whole guide on the “greatest weakness” question). This is another area where people struggle. They don’t want to talk about failure in an interview! But everyone has failed at one time or another, and if you learned from the experience, it’s not a failure. The interviewer wants to know that you can admit to your failures, take responsibility, and learn from your mistakes.

Example questions:

  1. Tell me about a decision you regret making.
  2. What is your biggest professional mistake? How did you handle it?
  3. Tell me about a time you failed.

For me, failure is about not living up to others’ expectations, but also not meeting my own expectations for myself. In my marketing class last year, we were assigned a group project, and each person had his or her individual assignment. I had a ton of papers due, and I got behind—and I didn’t want to burden my team by giving them more work. I met the deadline, but it wasn’t my best work. If I had communicated that I was behind, my team could have worked with me to ensure everything was done well. We did fine on the project, but I knew I could have done better on my end. Now, I always communicate from day one on any project, scheduling regular check-ins and providing frequent updates.


Work Ethic Questions

Every single candidate who walks through the door will tell the employer that they’re a hard worker. You need to differentiate yourself by proving it—and you can do that by sharing stories that demonstrate your determination, initiative, and reliability.

Example questions:

  1. What are you most proud of? Why?

I previously worked as a project assistant at a leadership development firm, and the project manager had to drop out of a big engagement one week beforehand due to a family emergency. Because I’d been supporting the team closely, they asked me to take over that role and manage the engagement as the key organizer and client liaison. I flew to Texas for the delivery, and I managed the engagement from start to finish. The lead consultant was so happy that she asked me to come back for the remaining sessions. This was outside of the original scope of my job, and I was able to support the client with a successful engagement. Afterwards, my supervisor put me on track for a promotion to project manager.

  1. Tell me about a time when you went above and beyond to get the job done.
  2. Share a time when you had to juggle multiple important projects at the same time. How did you deal with that?


Computer Questions

In today’s world, computer skills aren’t preferred—they’re required. Many times, employers want to hear you talk about your experience versus just asking if you’ve worked with a certain program. It helps them to understand whether you’re more of a beginner or an advanced user.

Example questions:

  1. Tell me about the most complex spreadsheet you’ve built in Excel.
  2. This role will require you to create presentations in PowerPoint. Tell me about your experience with PowerPoint.

As a copy editor in my last job, I reviewed all the PowerPoint presentations before they actually went out the door. I often had a very short turnaround time, so I just ran through the presentation, ensuring everything looked how it should, checking for typos and sense-making and basic formatting. While I didn’t create presentations from scratch, I’ve reviewed literally hundreds of them, and I know what a great presentation looks—and sounds—like.

  1. When was the last time you used HTML coding in a project? Tell me about it.

How do you answer behavioral interview questions?

Now that you know how to spot behavioral questions, let’s discuss how to craft your own compelling responses.  

Always start by reviewing the job description. It holds the secrets to the types of questions you’ll be asked. Read it carefully and note any skills or experiences a candidate would need to do the job well.

For example, let’s say you’re interviewing for an internship in marketing. As you read the internship description, ask yourself: Is it creative, analytical, or social media marketing? Does it mention any specific software or systems? Does the internship require independent work, teamwork, or both? Are there external or internal customers? Do they mention preferred experience in anything?

Okay, now look at all the areas you wrote down. You need to come up with personal success stories for each of these areas. These stories should highlight your skills and value-add. Once you have a solid repertoire of stories, you can adjust them to fit a variety of behavioral interview questions. You’ll feel great knowing that each and every one of your responses is addressing a definitive need for the role.

As for how you tell those stories: that’s what the STAR method is for. We’ve looked at the STAR method before, so if you need a refresher, we’ll wait. Basically, STAR gives structure to your stories, ensuring your interviewer has everything they need to visualize you in the job. STAR ensures that you provide those juicy, specific details that interviewers look for.

STAR stands for:

  • S– Situation: Who, what, where, when, why?
  • T– Task: What was your role, assignment or goal?
  • A– Action: What did you do?
  • R– Result: What happened? How did it end?

Piece together your success stories by answering each of the questions above. Remember to be concise, stay positive, and always tell the truth. You can review specific examples in our STAR guide. After a little practice, it will become second nature.

Understanding the Interviewer’s Perspective

Interviewers ask behavioral questions to understand how you have performed in the past and to predict how you might perform in the future. They’re seeking concrete examples of your skills, experiences, and how you handle different situations. Their aim is to assess if you are a good fit for the role and the organization.

From the interviewer’s perspective, your responses provide a glimpse into your thinking process, work ethics, problem-solving skills, and how you handle setbacks. Your stories should illustrate your resilience, adaptability, and most importantly, your ability to learn from past experiences. It’s important to keep in mind that interviewers are not trying to trip you up or make you uncomfortable. They are just trying to get a deeper understanding of who you are and how you work.

For instance, when an interviewer asks a question about handling conflict, they’re not necessarily interested in the conflict itself but more in your approach to resolving it. They want to see if you are able to communicate effectively, listen to others, empathize, and devise a constructive solution. Similarly, a question about failure isn’t designed to embarrass you, but to understand how you manage difficult situations, accept responsibility, and learn from your mistakes.

An interviewer is also keen to understand if you are self-aware, and your capacity for personal growth. A reflective response to a question about failure or a weakness, for instance, demonstrates that you can objectively evaluate your actions and continuously seek to improve yourself.

Remember, the interviewer is on your side. They want you to succeed. The interview is an opportunity for both parties to see if the match is right. Approach it as a conversation where you’re as much in the process of discovering if the organization is right for you as they are of determining if you’re right for the role.

If you bear this perspective in mind, it can help you approach behavioral questions with a clear, focused strategy and minimize any interview anxiety.

Now, it’s time to practice.

Once you’ve got the basics down, you need to practice telling your stories. Write them down, read them over, and practicing sharing them out loud. Repetition helps you remember all the important pieces to complete your STAR response.

Practice also ensures that you sound confident and relaxed. You don’t want to sound stilted or anxious; rather, you want your stories to sound conversational.

So there you have it: the secret formula to creating the best response to any behavioral interview question you’re asked.

Keep practicing. Keep sharing. You’ll be ready for that interview in no time!