A behavioral interview is a conversation between a job candidate and an employer that focuses on past job-specific situations. Asking questions about previous behavior can help illuminate a candidate’s skills and predict how they might perform in your open role. This article provides free sample behavioral interview questions and answers by topic, guiding you on what to look for in an applicant’s answers.
To help keep track of your applicants’ responses, download our free behavioral interview template.
Teamwork questions are asked to gauge how well the applicant works with others and will fit into the existing team and company culture. Depending on the role, the importance of teamwork in a specific job can vary.
Poor answers show that the applicant does not try to work with others or resolve conflict diplomatically. Good answers show that the applicant has experience working in a group setting and would work well with your existing team members, as a leader or a collaborator. They also indicate that the candidate can work through conflict constructively and knows when to escalate issues to management or human resources.
The very best answers exhibit a candidate’s willingness to work with a multitude of unique personalities, demonstrated success in working with a group, and a keen understanding of their strengths and weaknesses in a group setting.
- Can you tell me about a time when you had to work with someone whose personality was different from yours?
- Tell me about a situation where you faced conflict working with others. How did you handle it?
- Can you tell me about a time when you wish you would have handled a situation differently with a co-worker?
- Tell me about a recent success when working with a group. Why was the group successful?
- Have you had to deal with a non-responsive co-worker? What did you do?
Sample question and answers:
Describe a time when you effectively worked in a team to achieve an important goal. What was your role, and how did you contribute to the success of the team?
I once worked with a small team on a project to correlate a new website for a client’s ecommerce business. We had limited resources and time, so I took charge of delegating tasks and making sure everyone was doing their part. I also kept detailed records so we could track our progress and make sure deadlines were met. Through strong communication and collaboration, we successfully created the website on time and budget.
I worked with a team to create a website. I wasn’t really involved in the planning of the project, but I made sure I did what I was assigned.
To determine the quality of a candidate’s answer, consider the following:
- Depth and clarity of the response
- Any strategy or thoughtfulness to the response
- Whether the candidate provided clearly relevant examples
- Indication that the candidate understands the importance of the question and response
As such, a great answer should be thoughtful, include detailed examples, and showcase that the candidate has the needed skill. A good answer also showcases the necessary skill but may lack substance or an in-depth example. Lastly, a poor answer doesn’t illustrate the necessary skill or shows a lack of understanding of/lack of interest in the question.
Client & Customer-facing Skills
Client or customer-facing skills questions help you understand how the applicant will communicate with individuals who are expecting a service from them. For a salesperson, it would be the company’s client. For an operations staff member, it would be the company’s employees.
You are looking for responses that show the applicant is aware of how their work affects others and the company as a whole. Good answers show that an applicant takes pride in their responses and communication, whereas poor answers indicate a disregard for how work is accomplished or how it’s communicated to clients and customers. Poor answers also reveal that an applicant only looks at how they are personally affected by what happens with a customer or client.
- Tell me about a time when a customer or client was pleased with your service. How did you know they were pleased?
- Tell me about a time when you worked with a disgruntled client or customer. How did you attempt to remedy the situation?
- How do you prepare to make a good impression on a client?
- How do you prioritize working with a large number of customers or clients?
- Tell me about a time when you had to deal with a difficult client. Why were they difficult, and how did you handle the situation?
Example question and answers:
Describe a time when you successfully addressed an issue with a customer. What were the steps you took to resolve the situation?
I worked at an electronics store and a customer was not satisfied with their purchase. There was nothing wrong with the item; it just wasn’t what they were looking for. I stayed polite and professional, listened attentively to the customer’s concerns, and found out more details about the issue. I figured out the best solution for the customer and helped them pick out the right item for their needs. They left feeling satisfied and appreciated my attentiveness.
I had a customer that didn’t like their purchase. I tried my best to help them.
The importance of adaptability questions depends on the variability of your company. If your company is in constant change, the applicant’s ability to adapt to change will be vital to their success. Positive answers show they are able and willing to step up in a variety of different situations. Poor answers show they may be reluctant to learn new skills and techniques or voluntarily help others. However, poor answers may also reflect an inability to establish necessary boundaries with co-workers and seek help if their workload is unsustainable.
- Tell me about a time you experienced a lot of stress at work. What was the situation, and how did you get through it?
- Tell me about a time when there was change at your company that impacted you or your team. How did you deal with the situation?
- Tell me about a time when you were unsuccessful at accomplishing a goal or objective. What did you learn about yourself through the process?
- Tell me about a time when you had to learn a new process or skill. What steps did you take?
- Can you tell me about a time when you had to quickly shift job activities due to a sudden change in priorities?
Example question and answers:
Describe a time when you had to quickly adjust to a changing situation. What strategies did you use to adapt?
In a previous job, I worked on a project that abruptly changed scope, which required me to rapidly change gears and take on additional and evolving tasks. This was challenging and frustrating, but I kept an open mind, listened carefully to feedback, stayed organized, and communicated with other team members to stay up to date with changes. This allowed me to successfully navigate the new challenges while meeting the project deadline.
I had to make changes to a project once. I didn’t really do anything different and still completed it on time.
Time management questions allow you to learn how an applicant prioritizes their work. You are looking to see if the applicant has a strategy that works for them and if that strategy can be replicated in this new position. You’re not looking to trip up candidates and give them unrealistic scenarios. Instead, look for strategies that show they know how to prioritize.
Good answers show that the applicant is strategic about how they spend their time and can avoid distractions. Even better answers will show that they can identify distractions and prioritize tasks due to their understanding of the department or company’s goals. On the other hand, poor answers show that they struggle to meet deadlines and are dependent on their manager to keep them on task.
- Tell me about a time when you led or managed a medium- or long-term project. How did you work to make sure all objectives of the project were completed?
- Tell me about a time when you had to handle multiple projects simultaneously. How did you work to make sure the projects were completed?
- Describe a time when you had to delegate work to others.
- Was there a time when you were unable to complete a task or had to ask for an extension? What did you do?
- How do you limit distractions at work?
Example question and answers:
Describe a time when you had to manage multiple tasks within a tight deadline. How did you stay focused and organized?
In my last job, I managed a big project with multiple tasks on a short timeline. To stay organized, I created a detailed schedule with specific milestones for each task and regularly monitored progress against the project timeline. I also minimized distractions by taking regular breaks and proactively communicating updates with my team and managers so everyone was on the same page.
I had to manage several tasks with tight deadlines during a big project. I just tried to focus on what was most important and get that done on time.
Questions about communication skills are designed to determine how an applicant interacts with others and provides information to them. This includes communication with managers, colleagues, and people the applicant may oversee. Good answers show that an applicant is aware of their communication preferences and how their communication is perceived by others and is willing to adapt if necessary. Poor answers reflect an inability or unwillingness to communicate effectively with others.
- Tell me about a time when you were the subject matter expert. How did you make sure everybody was able to understand you, especially those who do not work in your department?
- Tell me about a time when you had to rely on written communication to explain your ideas.
- Was there a time when you had to present on a topic? What did you do to prepare and how did you think it went?
- Tell me about a time you had to persuade someone of your idea or recommendation.
- Tell me about a time you had to provide negative feedback to a coworker. How did you deliver it?
Example question and answers:
Describe a time when you had to convey difficult or sensitive information to a colleague. How did you ensure that the message was clearly understood?
In my last job, I oversaw a small team of employees. I had to deliver difficult feedback to one of them during a performance review where they failed to meet several stated expectations. To make sure the message was clear about what went wrong and what they needed to do to fix it, I expressed empathy for their situation and then laid out the facts in an organized and respectful way. I listened to their responses and gave them ample time to digest and answer questions. In the end, I summarized our conversation and restated how I would help them overcome these setbacks.
I had to explain something difficult to a subordinate one time. I wrote down what I wanted to say so I was sure to hit all the points, then I met with them and just read what I wrote.
Motivation & Values
Motivation and values questions seek to give interviewers an understanding of what inspires the applicant to be the best version of themselves. This group of questions is especially important for jobs that have a robust career trajectory within the company.
Great answers show that the applicant’s motivation and values mirror or complement the company’s mission, vision, and core values. Poor answers show apathy for success and failure questions, which could show a lack of motivation for professional growth. Not every applicant will show strong signs of motivation or growth. Don’t necessarily take this as a bad sign—some people truly love what they do, do it well, and have no desire to move up.
- How did you define success at a previous job?
- Tell me about your best or proudest professional accomplishment.
- Can you share a time when you assisted someone in need?
- Tell me about a time when you had to step out of your comfort zone. What was difficult about it? What was exciting about it?
- Tell me about a professional disappointment. How did you handle it? What do you wish you would have done differently, if anything?
Example question and answers:
Describe a situation when you had to motivate or inspire your team or a colleague. What strategies did you use to achieve this?
After recent layoffs, I needed to lift my demotivated and smaller team. I decided to focus on creating an environment where everyone felt valued and appreciated, while also encouraging open communication between all of the members. By setting measurable goals and celebrating small wins, we were able to gradually increase morale and satisfaction.
I motivated my team by reminding them that they had a job to do. I also publicly congratulated them for completing work on time.
For more information on interviews in general, please visit our article on how to interview someone.
Behavioral interviews can be a very important tool in evaluating an applicant’s future success in a job. Being intentional with what questions you ask and knowing what to look for in the applicant’s answers will go a long way toward ensuring positive hiring outcomes. For more help on sample interview questions, please see our guide on the best interview questions for employers.
Hiring employees starts well before the interview process and extends after. For step-by-step instructions, check out our article on how to hire an employee.