Written on September 17, 2022

How to Ace a Behavioral Interview

How to Ace a Behavioral Interview

What even is a behavioral interview?

We’re glad you asked. Although you can probably do the math and safely assume that behavioral interviews hone in on an applicant’s past behavioral responses, there are a few key nuances compared with traditional interviews.

⁠In a behavioral interview, your interviewer is asking about past experiences in order to predict your success in the future. Your answer should reflect that you 1) comprehend the scenarios they’re asking you to describe — like a workplace crunch period, facing an unhappy customer, or a time when you assumed a leadership role — and 2) have internalized the outcomes of your experiences and behaviors in a way that makes you more competent.

Let’s quickly compare and contrast:

Regular Interviews

Behavioral Interviews

Will ask hypothetical and aspirational questions

Will ask questions about real situations that have already taken place

Telling, not showing, your strengths and weaknesses

Showing your strengths and weaknesses in action, via a story

Can’t be proven; your interviewer can only infer whether you’re being truthful about your shining qualities

Can be proven; not necessarily because your interviewer will cross-examine your references, but since the whole point of the question is to be objective

It’s more common than you’d think.

Many employers like to conduct behavioral interviews because they’re highly-reliable predictors of workplace performance. In fact, behavioral interviewing is said to be 55% predictive of future on-the-job behavior, while traditional interviewing is only 10% predictive.

More often than not, your interviewer is fusing behavioral interview questions with their standard evaluation. Meaning, they won’t exactly state “this is a behavioral interview” or preface certain questions with “this is a behavioral interview question.” 

In a typical 1-hour interview, you can expect about 2-6 questions pertaining to past behaviors.

For reference, companies like Amazon, Facebook, and Deloitte, among others, are known for asking behavioral interview questions, like the following:

  • Amazon Behavioral Interview Questions
    ⁠Tell me about a time when you were working on a project, and you realized that you needed to make changes to what you were doing. How did you feel about the work you had already completed?

What constitutes a strong answer? Can you “fail”?

A strong answer is one that shows you are well-rounded, self-aware in group settings and tend to behave productively and professionally in various settings. A strong answer also takes the opportunity to weave in skills that are relevant to the job description, and values which coincide with the company mission.

Like any interview, behavioral interviews are judged holistically; your success is determined by the sum of your answers. As long as you don’t drop a bomb, it’s safe to say that one answer won’t make or break your application.

If your initial answer to a behavior-related question is pretty vague, your interviewer will likely ask follow-up questions in order to paint a full picture of your place in the event.

How to Prepare for a Behavioral Interview:

  • Identify various experiences you’ve had that overlap with the job description

  • Create a pool of stories that can be adapted to each interview question: 
    ⁠Positive or negative feedback you’ve received in professional settings, plus 1-2 examples of how you’ve grown from it
    ⁠Creative pursuits and professional successes
    ⁠Challenges you’ve faced and the actions you’ve taken to persevere
    ⁠& More

  • Practice saying your answers aloud, perhaps in a mock interview

  • Share true stories that you actually identify with; interviewers can tell when you are being genuine, and it’s easy to tell stories that you actually know

  • Keep an eye on time; try and speak concisely and stay on topic

Your interviewer’s perspective is founded upon a STAR and a BAR. 

No, seriously. These acronyms represent the scales, which look a lot like grading rubrics, that your interviewer is using to measure the quality of your answers.

Situation, Task, Action, Result (STAR)
⁠The way you should format your answer in order to meet your interviewer’s criteria:

Situation: Brief context about the project or circumstances
TaskWhat was your role in the situation? Were you set to lead a presentation
Action: WhatThe behavior you did (or failed to do) in order to address the task
Result: The outcome of your actions, plus the effect they had on you

Behaviorally Anchored Rating Scale (BARS)
⁠The type of scale your interviewer will be using to rate your answers:

Far Exceeds Requirements: Perfect answer. Demonstrates competency and independence. All points relevant.
Exceeds Requirements: Demonstrates competency consistently in most situations with minimal guidance.
Meets requirements: Demonstrates competency and familiarity with procedures; needs supervisor guidance for new skills.
Below Requirements: Demonstrates competency in some but not all situations, even with repeated instruction or guidance. 
Significant Gap: Fails to demonstrate competency regardless of guidance provided.

* Definitions according to Society for Human Resource Management

The following examples of behavioral interview questions range from easy to more difficult

After each question, you’ll find a description of the qualities a weak, acceptable or strong answer might purvey.

  1. Describe your average work day, starting with when you sit down at your desk.


    ⁠- Doesn’t have a clear routine when approaching day-to-day responsibilities
    ⁠- Doesn’t regularly use tasks listed in the job description

    ⁠- Wears many hats, in no particular order, but efficiently completes tasks according to a deadline
    ⁠- Already uses some of the tasks listed in the job description

    ⁠- Systematically begins each day in an organized manner, with strong foresight about what needs to be done
    ⁠- Already uses many of the tasks listed on the job description

  2. Share a positive experience that you’ve had working with a team. What skills and ideas did you each bring to the table?

    ⁠- Overly-fixated on what they bring to the table, without mention of the group dynamic
    ⁠- Indicates preference for working alone

    ⁠- Recognizes their own contributions, as well as the contributions of team members
    ⁠- Comfortable working in a group setting

    ⁠- Shows compassion and leadership skills within group settings
    ⁠- Enthusiastic and self-aware when joining multiple points of view

  3. Looking back on your career thus far, what is an accomplishment you’re most proud of?

    ⁠- Talked about a personal achievement, rather than one pertinent to the job at hand
    ⁠- Selected story didn’t purvey any clear passion; wasn’t convincing

    ⁠- Gave a window into their personality and shared some backstory for their overarching ambitions
    ⁠- Selected story conveyed a mixture of hard and soft skills

    - Selected a professional achievement that shed light on personal values
    ⁠- Drew a common theme between their accomplishments and the industry they hope to work in

  4. Describe a time that you were able to be creative at work. What about your project or solution was creative?

    ⁠- Creative pursuits are usually limited to their free time
    ⁠- Struggles to define what sets them apart

    - Creative pursuits are limited to certain mediums (i.e., social media strategy or boosting morale), but still successful and impressive
    ⁠- Clear sense of individuality

    ⁠- Is regularly innovative and has used their creativity in impressive ways, across mediums
    ⁠- Their creativity also reflects an ability to problem solve and think critically⁠

  5. Give an example of a time that you received constructive criticism that resonated with you. Did you appreciate it right away? How did you internalize the meaning of their feedback?

    ⁠- Was offended by feedback at first, but retrospectively sees merit
    ⁠- Hasn’t necessarily taken action in order to improve

    - Open-minded when receiving constructive criticism
    ⁠- Able to describe the full scope of the situation in which they were given feedback

    ⁠- Frequently seeks out opportunities for feedback and self-improvement
    ⁠- Takes others’ input to heart in a way that can be traced to their actions (i.e., sending clearer instructions when passing work along to their colleagues

  6. Tell me about a time that you felt overwhelmed by tasks and expectations. How did you cope and move forward?

    ⁠- Struggles to identify stressful moments; has trouble finding a clear solution
    ⁠- Tries to just “move past” their own limitations

    ⁠- Able to identify their own limitations based on stress
    ⁠- Doesn’t overlook their own needs; able to take steps and ask for support when needed, in a professional manner

    ⁠- Able to identify their own limitations based on stress, and when they can push through
    ⁠- Focuses on positive actions, not negative feelings

  7. Tell me about a mistake you made in school or at work. How did you move forward and deal with that misstep?

    - Uncomfortable with describing a time they missed the mark
    ⁠- Is negative about what happened, rather than positive about how they’ve grown

    ⁠- Willing to share the scope of the event and identify where there was room for improvement 

    ⁠- Has identified where there was room for improvement and has actively taken steps to make change

  8. Walk me through an experience you’ve had adjusting to a new company. What steps did you take to connect and learn from your colleagues and supervisors?

    ⁠- Avoids change
    ⁠- Doesn’t normally participate in team-building exercises or events

    ⁠- Adjusts well to change
    ⁠- Says they were gradually immersed in their work environment
    ⁠- Able to ask questions
    ⁠- Attends team-buildi

    ⁠- Embraces change
    ⁠- Can name actual interpersonal strategies that have helped them, like introducing themself
    ⁠- Stays in touch with former colleagues; good at networking

  9. As an adult, what is an example of a time that you stood up for what you believed most ethical?

    ⁠- Not very aware of standard practices for handling conflict in a professional setting

    ⁠- Has a clear sense of right and wrong, so that they’re considerate of others’ feelings and can give helpful advice to other employees

    ⁠- Has a clear sense of right and wrong, and can express their beliefs in a direct, professional way
    ⁠- Ethics align company values but extend beyond the world

  10. Give an example of a time that you successfully persuaded someone to see things your way.

    ⁠- Chose an example in which both parties “agreed to disagree”
    ⁠- Topic of disagreement was inappropriate or not relevant to work
    ⁠- Didn’t fully comprehend or reiterate the other person’s point of view

    - Understood the other person’s perspective
    ⁠- Was passionate and therefore persuasive
    ⁠- Kept their cool
    ⁠- Succeeded in proving their point

    ⁠- Actively listened to the other person’s perspective
    ⁠- Strived to reach common ground
    ⁠- Succeeded using professional and polite verbal or written communication methods
    ⁠- Expressed gratitude for the other person’s change of heart

Like all interviews…

The fact of the matter is that behavioral interview questions are important to employers and frequently find their way into conversations with applicants (whether the applicants know it or not!).

As in all interviews, you want to be thoroughly prepared, well-versed in the job you’re applying for and ready to incorporate an array of hard and soft skills into your answers. This means being genuine, but also strategic, about the sides of yourself you are putting on display.

Behavioral interviews are nothing to be intimidated by; it’s really just a matter of preparation. In most job interviews, you go in prepared to share the hypothetical and aspirational goals you’d like to achieve and why your strengths are likely to help you succeed on their team. You can still build off of these same arguments, which articulate your best qualities, but learn to substantiate them with actual stories.

For more tips and tricks on navigating interviews, read Jackfruit’s list of 10 great questions to ask during an interview.