If you ever interview with a Fortune 500 company or a government organization, you're almost guaranteed to encounter behavioral interviews. These are a special kind of conversation where, instead of asking you hypothetical questions to walk the interviewer through your resume, the interviewer would ask you to tell stories about your past experiences.
Answering these questions with impact doesn't come naturally to most candidates (you can trust our expertise here - we've coached over 2000 candidates). So, you must take behavioral interview preparation seriously. This guide will tell you everything there is to know about behavioral interviews, how they sound and feel, and how to prepare for them.
Part 1: Understand Behavioral Interviews
Behavioral interviews evaluate a job candidate's abilities, strengths, and personality by asking them to share real-life examples of how they have demonstrated those qualities. The questions often start with phrases like "give me an example" or "tell me about a time when." The candidate must freely talk about specific situations where they showed the relevant skills. This helps the hiring manager guess how the person will handle that role in the future.
Hiring managers often use behavioral interviews because they think how someone acted in the past predicts how they will act in the future. By learning more about how the candidate handled similar situations, the interviewer can better guess how they might perform in this new job role.
Behavioral interviews came from academia in the early 1980s, and numerous research papers have validated their superiority over traditional interview questions. Almost all Fortune 500 businesses use behavioral interview questions to interview job candidates on leadership and, sometimes, functional skills. It’s safe to say that behavioral interviews are here to stay.
Behavioral interviews are widely used to assess job candidates, particularly in large organizations and governments. These interviews focus primarily on evaluating a candidate's cultural fit within the company. Each organization has its corporate culture, defined by the employee behaviors they reward and discourage.
Cultural fit transcends functional skills; a highly qualified candidate may only be suitable for one organization but not another due to differing general behaviors, soft skills, and leadership styles. Some companies refer to these behaviors as principles or values determining how employees work together.
Recently, leading organizations have recognized the importance of organizational culture, with Peter Drucker famously saying that "culture eats strategy for dinner." Companies now understand that attracting top talent requires focusing not only on candidates' functional skills but also their ability to operate with the appropriate soft skills, attitudes, and leadership styles consistent with the organization's values.
As a result, it is almost guaranteed that candidates interviewing with large employers such as Fortune 500, FTSE 100, or government organizations will encounter behavioral interviews assessing their cultural fit to the organization.
Part 2: Prepare for the Behavioral Interview
Research the company and the role
If you suspect you will face behavioral interviews when applying to a large company, such as a Fortune 500 or FT100 business, or a government organization, it is crucial to prepare. Going into these interviews without preparation is the worst thing you can do. As experienced hiring managers and interviewers from companies like Amazon, Apple, Procter & Gamble and Diageo, we know what we are talking about.
First, to prepare for behavioral interviews, research whether the company you are interviewing for uses them and for what purposes. They may assess functional expertise, cultural fit or other areas.
Secondly, gather information about the company's values and core competencies. Large organizations usually assess cultural fit through behavioral interview questions deriving from their values. Companies want to determine your functional fit and cultural fit. Functional fit questions are hard to predict due to the diversity of job families and skills required in large organizations. However, cultural fit is more consistent across the company.
To prepare for cultural fit questions, research the company's values and consider how they translate into leadership skills and behaviors. You will be asked to share past situations demonstrating behaviors that align with these skills and values.
Finally, research both the role and the team you are applying for. This will help you anticipate functional behavioral interview questions based on valuable skills and capabilities within your role and team.
Review your own experiences
After researching the cultural and functional fit areas that your prospective employer will be testing, be ready to answer questions about specific situations from your past that demonstrate those behaviors. Since most people cannot recall multiple stories or professional situations on the spot, it is essential to identify relevant experiences and write them down.
Interviewers from Fortune 500 organizations often expect detailed answers when responding to behavioral interview questions. They want to ensure your story is genuine and you achieved tangible results. Be prepared to answer follow-up questions about your thought process behind your actions.
To effectively recall information during the interview, create a database of your experiences demonstrating the skills and values the company seeks. Store these situations as bullet points of critical points, objectives, and results rather than writing complete scripts. This approach makes it easier to memorize and provides flexibility when answering follow-up questions.
You can store these bullet points on paper or using online storage facilities like Google Docs or spreadsheets. Taking the time to review and organize your experiences will significantly improve your performance in a behavioral interview.
Prepare your answers using the STAR Method
You've prepared professional situations to answer cultural and functional-fit behavioral questions. It's essential to determine how to tell the story, as a proper response to a behavioral interview question is a story.
In a job interview, storytelling is unique. You need to share a full-length story with a beginning, middle, and end while ensuring it serves the purpose of the interview. To achieve this balance, we recommend using the STAR method: Situation, Task, Actions, and Results. This popular method provides a solid starting point for structuring your response.
The "Situation" sets the context for your story, followed by the "Task," which outlines what you need to accomplish. The "Actions" section details the steps you took towards achieving the task, and finally, "Results" describes what you accomplished in the end.
Despite its popularity and abundant resources online, many candidates struggle to structure their stories effectively. Our experience coaching over 2000 candidates for interviews with Amazon and other top employers led us to create an expanded and updated storytelling framework. This framework is available in our Amazon Interview Whizz and Job Interview Whizz courses.
If you're new to behavioral interviews or have had negative experiences, we highly recommend checking out these courses based on your target company. Each course offers a free taster option that allows you to review content before purchasing.
Here's a skeleton of a hypothetical STAR Method response to a behavioral interview question.
Situation: “In my last job, I worked at XYZ Company where I was tasked with overseeing the execution of three major projects simultaneously – namely Project Alpha, Project Beta, and Project Gamma; all 3 Projects gave an aggressive timeline.”
Task: “My task dealt with getting every project delivered on time, cost-wise within budget, and as expected by the client.” Specifically for Project Alpha, my objective was to deliver it two weeks before schedule, saving the company $50,000 in costs. For Project Beta, my objective was to complete it entirely within the allocated budget of $100 thousand. For Project Gamma, my objective was to receive high acclaim from the client, which shall land me a contract extension worth $100 thousand for the company.”
Action: “To accomplish these objectives, I developed a detailed project plan for each specific project part while prioritizing tasks and assigning responsibilities to team members based on their strengths and availability. For instance, I assigned Mr. John as a project manager for Project Alpha, responsible for coordinating daily activities. I further ensured the project timelines were realistic and accounted for possible setbacks. To track progress, I held regular progress meetings with the project teams to address challenges and adjust the plan as needed. For example, when Project Gamma faced unexpected technical issues, I worked with the development team to mitigate the risks and adjust the project plan, ensuring the project remained on track.”
Result: “Due to my proactive planning and effective time management, they all completed on time, within budget, and got positive client feedback. For example, Project A was delivered two weeks ahead of schedule, thus saving 50 thousand dollars. Also, Project B finished it within budget while C received high accolades from the client, leading to an extension worth 100 thousand dollar addendum for the company.”
Practice your answers
Having written your behavioral interview answers and created a database of your interview content, practicing your responses before the actual job interview is essential. Behavioral interviews, which have been around since the 1980s and are widely used by large organizations, can be uncomfortable for candidates due to the high-stress nature of job interviews and potential unfamiliarity with storytelling techniques.
Practicing your answers provides several benefits. First, it helps you memorize your stories through drilling techniques. Writing down and rehearsing your responses commits them to short-term memory more effectively, especially when spaced out with sleep. Avoid cramming all practice into the day before the interview for better results.
Additionally, practicing allows you to receive valuable feedback from people unfamiliar with your job experience and specific functional area. This feedback is crucial because most interviewers will not know firsthand the situations you describe. You must be well-structured, clear, concise, and focused on relevant details to convey your story effectively. Practicing in front of a mirror or computer monitor is insufficient as it does not provide an external perspective on your storytelling.
If possible, booking a coaching session with an experienced professional can give you invaluable feedback from someone who has worked with numerous candidates and conducted countless interviews. Alternatively, practicing with friends, partners, colleagues, or anyone willing to provide constructive criticism is also beneficial.
Part 3: Common Behavioral Interview Questions and Sample Answers (Summaries)
This section will address typical behavioral interview questions and provide STAR examples. While it’s important to respond appropriately to your experiences, the job you’re applying for, and the company’s values or core competencies, these examples can serve as a starting point for what you will develop into full-bodied responses during the job interview.
Give me an example of a time when you had to deal with a difficult co-worker
Situation: At my previous job, I was working as a Marketing Manager for TechSolutions, a mid-sized technology company. In 2020, we collaborated on a significant product launch, specifically a new project management software called “EfficientTask.”
Task: My primary objective was to develop and execute a comprehensive marketing strategy to achieve a 20% increase in website traffic and secure 5,000 new subscribers within the first two months of the launch. Additionally, I coordinated with the design and content teams to create promotional materials and social media campaigns.
Actions: During the project, I encountered a difficult co-worker, Sarah, the lead designer on our team. She was often unresponsive to emails, missed deadlines, and frequently skipped meetings without prior notice. To address this issue, I took the following steps:
- I initiated a one-on-one meeting with Sarah to discuss her concerns and any potential roadblocks she might be facing. During the conversation, I discovered she was overwhelmed with her workload and struggled to prioritize tasks.
- To help her manage her workload, I worked with Sarah to create a prioritized task list, breaking down tasks into smaller, manageable goals.
- I suggested and implemented a check-in system, where we would have brief daily stand-ups to discuss progress, obstacles, and any additional support needed.
- I also facilitated communication between Sarah and other team members, ensuring everyone was informed and aligned with project goals and expectations.
Results: As a result of these actions, Sarah’s performance improved significantly. She became more engaged, met deadlines, and contributed quality work for promotional materials. Our marketing strategy successfully achieved its objectives: website traffic increased by 23%, and we secured 5,500 new subscribers within the first two months of the product launch. The successful launch of EfficientTask also contributed to a 15% increase in overall company revenue for that quarter.
Describe a time when you had to adapt to a significant change in your work environment
Situation: In my previous role as a Marketing Manager at TechWave Inc., we experienced a major organizational shift when our company merged with another software company, SoftSolutions, in 2020. This led to overhauling our marketing strategies, combining resources, and adapting to new team dynamics.
Task: My main goal was to develop and implement a complete marketing strategy to reach a 20% increase website traffic R&D within the first two months of the launch and secure 5,000 new sub-subscribers within the first 30 days. I also collaborated with the design and content teams on promotional materials and campaigns for social media.
Actions: Throughout this project, I worked with a difficult co-worker, Sarah, the lead designer on our team. She preferred email responses that were rarely returned, missed deadlines assigned, and skipped meetings without prior notice. To solve this issue, I took these steps:
I initiated one-on-one contact with Sarah to discuss her concerns and any roadblocks she might be facing. Through this meeting and further interview process, I discovered she was overwhelmed with her workload problems and could not try before- she cried to prioritize tasks.
To help solve the workload problem for Sarah, I would work together with Sarah on creating a prioritized task list where she would break down each task into even smaller goals so they could be managed more easily.
I suggested she implement a check-in system where we would have daily periods where we would briefly stand up to discuss progress, obstacles faced, and any additional support needs.
I further facilitated communication between Sarah and other team members so they would know what was happening, transparently aligning them with the project’s goals and expected outcomes.
Results: As a result of these actions, Sarah even bought her own time after she realized how poorly she had been performing. She became highly engaged, met deadlines, and contributed quality promotional materials. The marketing strategy successfully achieved its objectives: site traffic raised by 20%, and we secured 5500 new subscribers in the first thirty days following the product launch.
Give me an example of a time when you had to use critical thinking skills to solve a problem
Situation: At my previous job, I was a Marketing Manager for XYZ Tech, a software company that develops AI-powered applications for businesses. In 2021, our company faced an erosion in new customer acquisitions, and our senior management was concerned with the impact on revenue growth.
Task: I was assigned to identify the cause of this erosion and develop a strategy for improving our customer acquisition rate. My aims were for net new customer acquisitions to increase by 15% within six months and improve our conversion from lead marketing leads to customers by 10%.
Actions: I started by analyzing our existing marketing data, looking for patterns, and identifying potential areas of optimization. While our overall lead generation is strong, the conversion rate from marketing leads to customers was significantly less than industry benchmarks. I hypothesized that our marketing message wasn’t adequately addressing our target audience’s pain points or was just as likely that our sales process was too complicated.
I used focus groups to test my hypothesis on improving our current messaging using prospective customers. I organized some focus groups with the sales team to help gather feedback while reviewing our marketing materials and process. I interviewed the sales staff for feedback on our marketing materials and processes. Perusing these opinions along with my own research findings and other insights, I proposed a three-step plan;
Revamp our marketing messaging to better address our target audience’s pain points and show off the unique benefits of our AI-powered solutions.
Simplify the sales process by reducing the number of touchpoints and streamlining the onboarding experience for customers of all types from marketing leads.
Implement an A/B testing framework to optimize our marketing campaigns and sales funnel continuously.
I got together with the relevant teams, particularly the sales and marketing teams, to execute this plan. Keeping a close eye on KPIs, I monitored any changes over time.
Results: Within 6 months, we increased our new customer acquisitions by 20%, surpassing our initial target set of 15%. Our conversion rate from marketing leads to customers improved by 12% from 10% to surprise us and more than we had hoped for. We impressed the senior manager so much with this win, in fact, they decided to keep sustainable growth of acquiring customers even though we are optimizing our marketing and sales processes. I am pleased to report.
Tell me about a time when you had to juggle multiple projects and prioritize your workload
Situation: As Marketing Manager at AcmeTech, I was in charge of two flagship campaigns for our company: CloudMaster and DataSaver. In March 2020, we faced a challenging period when we needed to launch the new version of CloudMaster with an extensive promotional campaign designed to penetrate a new market segment for DataSaver.
Challenge: During this time, my objectives were to get both campaigns launched successfully, increase sales by 20 percent in the first three months, plus expand into a 15% increase in the new segment within six months of the Market share. To achieve this, I had to manage two teams working on different projects while ensuring their work was allocating resources efficiently, along with ensuring all deadlines were met.
Actions: The first step was preparing by creating a project plan for each campaign. I do so according to milestones, deadlines, and required resources while holding weekly meetings between both teams that check progress, issues/challenges addressed, and ensuring everyone reported to track. With the high level of urgency, I used the Eisenhower Matrix to segment given tasks based on whether they’re most important or not; this gave me the flexibility to delegate tasks effectively as some can be delegated higher status tasks despite being less urgent.
Precise communication maintenance: Assuming programmers always collaborate using Trello, I set up a shared workspace where team members could use it and track their progress using it. Assigned regular check-ins exclusively with each team member – usually every other day – reserving average business days to offer guidance and support.
Benefit: Understand how these strategies contributed to what’s seen here through substantial implementation. This came from implementing firm strategies, outsourcing marketing, and effective management, leading to the successful launch of a new version with five times sales increment. Plus, boosting business statistics by 15% over 6 months.
Part 4: Tips for Acing the Behavioral Interview
Specific examples from your past experiences are critical when responding to behavioral interview questions. This makes it easier to explain your skills and provides better insight into how these skills might relate to the job you are interviewing for. Avoid vague or generically answered questions since vague answers often signify lesser impact not achieved through carefully crafted responses.
Use the STAR method
As mentioned earlier, the STAR method is an excellent tool for structuring your answers to behavioral interview questions. By following this format, you can provide clear, concise, and engaging responses that effectively showcase your skills and experience. For best results, supercharge your STAR stories with Job Interview Whizz.
Stay focused and relevant
When answering a behavioral interview question, it is imperative to stay focused on the particular situation, skills, or corporate value/competency asked about by the interviewer. Avoid going off on whimsical tangents or sharing irrelevant anecdotes. Instead, provide an articulate, relevant example that directly answers the question posed by the interviewer.
Show, don’t tell
Instead of just stating you have a particular capability, state or illustrate it by giving an example in which that feature occurs. This will give the interviewer concrete evidence of your abilities and make your response more convincing.
While presenting yourself in the best possible light is extremely important, you must also be honest when answering behavioral interview questions. Exaggerate your achievements or fake stories, and you will destroy your credibility and lose trust in this interviewer.
Prepare, but don’t memorize
It’s essential to practice your answers to interview behavioral questions but not memorize them word for word. Understand your response’s key points and structure, and you will be able to adapt it during the interview.
Using notes during the interview is acceptable. Behavioral interviews aren’t memory tests, so whatever type of job interview you have in-person or over a video link, you may use a memory aid.
When discussing difficult circumstances or conflicts, stay positive and work on the steps to solve the issue. This will portray your qualification to handle complex situations gracefully and professionally.
Further, providing a detailed answer to behavioral interview questions is essential, but provide only what’s required without going into unnecessary and long-winded explanations. Give an accurate but succinct response (7 minutes), ensuring all points are sufficiently covered without losing your interviewer’s interest. Again, as multiple follow-up questions will be asked by your interviewer, they will also give you more space to elaborate on some of the answers if needed.
Part 5: Conclusion
Behavioral interviews can be difficult because failing to prepare adequately and practice properly can result in an unsuccessful interview. By understanding behavioral job interview questions as the guidelines of an interviewer’s purpose, researching the company and taking an inventory of your research and experience, reviewing your own responses before using the STAR method to eliminate cognitive errors and rehearse with calm confidence, you will come out of any behavioral job interview prepared to deliver a very compelling performance that impresses hiring managers to land the dream job of your choice.
Concentrate on being relevant, concrete, honest, and genuine in your responses so you can provide verifiable examples illustrating your skills and expertise. If you follow these tips for mastering the art of the behavioral interview, you will already have magic moves stored up and quickly turn them into wins for you in the interview. Good luck!
Part 6 – Bonus: Additional Behavioral Interview Questions With Example Summary Answers
Can you describe a situation where you had to work with a difficult team member or coworker? How did you handle it?
Situation: My previous company had a large project involving coordinating multiple departments to optimize our global supply chain. One of my team members, responsible for demand forecasting, was not cooperating well with others and was consistently late with his deliverables.
Task: My goal was to improve communication and collaboration within the team and ensure the project was completed well in time. The KPIs for my objectives are 1) an improvement in forecast accuracy of 15% and 2) a 20% reduction in lead times as well as 3) a decrease of 10% in inventory carrying costs.
Actions: I began by private conversation with a difficult team member who had to be on his toes when collaborating with others. I realized he required additional training and resources to properly utilize the forecasting tool, which made him hesitant to ask for extra help. I handed him some additional training and provided him different resource materials so that he could use the forecasting tool effectively. Additionally, I set up a weekly check-in to discuss progress on things jointly and any issues that get uncovered. Finally, I gave clear expectations and deliverables deadlines and encouraged open communication regarding all aspects of the company among each team member.
Result: Resultingly, the performance level of this person has improved significantly, wherein he can consistently perform deadlines. The whole team has transformed into one where everyone acts explicitly communicative. We have achieved our KPIs, resulting in a 20% increase in forecast accuracy, a 25% cut down time to track, 12% drop in claimed inventory.
How do you handle stressful situations or tight deadlines? Can you provide an example of when you were under pressure and how you managed it?
Situation: As a senior supply chain manager, I implemented a new warehouse management system (WMS) to streamline logistics processes. However, the project faced an early hurdle when integrating the system with our ERP proved more complicated than we had anticipated.
Task: My goals were to successfully implement the WMS within my six-month timeframe while minimizing disruptions to our operations. The KPIs for my goals were: 1) a 20% improvement in warehouse efficiency, 2) a 15% cut in order processing time, and 3) a 10% decrease in order errors.
Actions: I formed a cross-functional team that included IT, operations, and supply chain experts to handle the integrative issue. We carried out a detailed analysis of the problem and identified its root cause. I coordinated the development of a customized solution and made sure during the testing and validation process, all steps were meticulously monitored by me. Along with this activity, I informed all the stakeholders about the progress so far and ensured adequate training for team members hired to complete the new system.
Results: I implemented the WMS successfully within 6 months timeline despite the initial complexities involved in both cases being integrated. Because of my actions, we achieved KPIs: warehouse efficiency improved by 22%, order processing time decreased by 18%, and order errors dropped by 12%.
Describe a situation where you had to take the initiative or be proactive to solve a problem. How did you identify the issue, and what actions did you take?
Situation: In one instance, I worked in a small organization manufacturing a critical product. Due to increased demand towards the end of our fiscal year cadence, we prepared ourselves for potential stock-out problems due to longer replenishment lead time from suppliers.
Task: My goal was to monitor whether a stock-out would occur given the long replenishment lead time without negatively impacting customer satisfaction and profitability. The goals for my set objectives were: 1) maintain a 95% customer service level, 2) reduce stock-out occurrences by 50%, and 3) maintain a 10% profit margin on the affected product.
Actions: Having recently taken over as the department head, I quickly created a task force that included procurement, logistics, and sales representatives. We identified alternative suppliers through interaction with those we had ongoing relationships with and negotiated expedited shipments to replenish inventory. Additionally, I implemented some inventory reallocation strategies such that high-value customers get priority. I also submitted an awareness communication drafted, which communicated the situation to my sales team so they proactively managed customer expectations.
Results: As a result of my actions, we have replenished the inventory promptly, averting a complete stock-out. We have maintained our KPIs where we maintain a 96% customer service level, reduce stock-out occurrences to 60%, and maintain an 11% profit margin on the affected product.
Can you give an example of when you had to communicate complex information to a non-expert? How did you ensure they understood the message?
Situation: One single-source supplier had failed to meet our demand consistently, resulting in recurring supply disruptions. This was causing production delays and affecting customer satisfaction negatively.
Task: Specific KPIs for my objectives included a) A 25% reduction in supply disruption incidents, b) A 10% improvement in supplier’s on-time delivery performance, c) An increase of 15% overall since we have flexibility in the supply chain.
Actions: For this task, I analyzed our entire supplier network. In addition, I applied specifics, including identifying potential alternative suppliers. I contacted these suppliers via phone or email to initiate contact with them, evaluated their capabilities against the pricing they provide, and presented my findings to senior management. I indicated that I would execute a dual-sourcing strategy (the supplier network will help solve future interruptions) once finally approved by top management. Early next week, my actions involved onboarding the latest suppliers and integrating them into our processes to create consistency.
Results: Because of my actions, we significantly reduced our dependence and realized other benefits. We achieved a 30% reduction in supply disturbance incidents and enhanced 12% total while performing 20% overall, increasing flexibility in the supply chain.
Tell me about a time when you had to adapt to a significant change in your work environment or job role. How did you adjust, and what strategies did you use?
Situation: During a company-wide initiative to reduce costs, I was asked to present the potential savings from implementing a demand-driven supply chain approach to the executive team, who were not supply chain experts.
Task: To present the potential savings from implementing a demand-driven supply chain in front of an executive team – who were not experts on the supply chain – and to secure their backing for its implementation. My KPIs are 1) a 20% reduction in overall supply chain costs, 2) a 15% improvement in order fulfillment lead time, and 3) a 10% increase in forecast accuracy.
Actions: Therefore, I developed a succinct yet clear presentation focused on the key benefits demand-driven will deliver, using relatable examples and visual aids where applicable. I further developed answers to possible questions that my presentation may raise, stressing the need for deploying it at our organizations as it will have a significant bottom-line impact.
Results: Upon successful execution of these actions, my audience fully understood the potential savings linked with their proposed implementation of the demand-driven approach and secured executive executives’ green signal for deploying it at the company level. We can deliver 22% overall supply cost reductions, 17% less time in fulfillment orders, and 12% higher forecasts.
Tell me about a time when you had to adapt to a significant change in your work environment or job role. How did you adjust and what strategies did you use?
Situation: Since this was a company with a different operating model and IT infrastructure, my senior supply chain manager role expanded to include supervision of the newly acquired company’s supply chain operations after the merger.
Task: My goal was to ensure a smooth integration of the two supply chain operations while sustaining high-performance levels. The KPIs for the completion of tasks that I needed to achieve my goals included: 1) a 20% reduction in combined supply chain costs, 2) a 15% improvement in combined on-time delivery performance, and 3) an increase in combined inventory turnover equal to 10% (with all figures indicated as sequential against time frames of 6 months).
Actions: From the outset, I identified and extensively studied the new company’s operating model before exploring its IT infrastructure; this helped me identify synergies and opportunities for improvement. I developed a holistic integration plan based on clearly identifying and eliminating specific barriers to integration across our respective organizations. Of course, I also set up a cross-functional team to oversee the integration process since we are unlikely to attain our objectives without proper alignment by both companies. Additionally, I provided training and support to both my team and the supply chain teams from both companies to ensure a smooth transition.
Results: Successfully integrating the two supply chains ensured we attained our KPIs with a 23% cut in supply chain costs, 17% on-time delivery performance improvement, and a 12% increase in combined inventory turnovers.
Part 7: Behavioral Interview Guides For Specific Employers, Functions and Skills
This section offers targeted behavioral interview question guides for specific employers, functions, and skills.