behavioral Q&A 101.

  • interviews
  • September 05, 2018

Behavioral interview questions — questions about how you handled various work situations in the past — are so common today that you’re unlikely to sit through an entire interview without fielding at least one. Questions like: How have you overcome obstacles? How have you dealt with conflict in team settings? How have you prioritized your workload to meet deadlines?

If you’re drawing a blank, don’t panic. Below, Randstad breaks down five of the most common behavioral interview questions you’ll hear — so your answers can be as prepared as the offer letter.

describe a stressful work situation — and what you did about it.

As with the rest of these questions, it’s good to be candid — but only to a point. You don’t actually need to describe the worst thing that ever happened to you at work. But you do need to make it clear that the situation you’re describing, however stressful it was, wasn’t stressful because of lack of preparation on your part. One safe bet is to talk about a presentation you had to give. You could talk about how you prepared for it, how it went and what you learned — with the takeaway that you’re now a much better, more confident public speaker as a consequence. Telling the story of how you turned a challenge into an opportunity should be your goal in all of your answers to these behavioral interview questions.

describe a project you worked on as part of a team.

Teamwork is such a vital part of success for nearly every organization, and the ability to collaborate effectively and communicate clearly will always be highly prized by employers. What’s more, candidates for highly collaborative roles may find that they are hired — or not — based on team camaraderie and whether they’re perceived to be a good personality fit for a specific team. In developing your answer to this question, it’s better to use a successful project than one that failed. After describing the goals of the project, go into the specifics in some detail, like your responsibilities and how the overall responsibilities were divvied up among your team members. Be patient in articulating your response to this question, as you’ll need to talk about it step-by-step.

how did you resolve a difficult situation with a client or vendor?

One key aspect of behavioral interview questions is that they highlight processes and outcomes. It’s part of the reason they remain so valuable for employers. Your prospective employer wants to know that you’re able to work within an established framework to solve problems. That’s why, as banal as it sounds, the best answer to this question is simply to talk about your communication skills. For example, describe a situation in which you patiently addressed an issue with the client or vendor while alerting internal higher-ups of the situation and working with them to find a solution. If you can recall a situation in which a client or vendor was overreaching or overbearing, that’s not a bad place to start.

when you’ve disagreed with coworkers, how did you handle it?

This is another question about communication, but in this case, your goal is to describe a situation where compromise was reached. After all, people working in teams always bring different points of view to the table, and the success of the team depends on employees being able to talk out these differences and reach compromises. Think about your own experiences working on teams and the times you’ve resolved any potential conflict. Keep in mind that the compromise itself doesn’t need to have come about through formal or public channels. If you and the coworker discussed the situation and arrived at a solution over lunch, that might be proof of the tact and diplomacy you bring to solving problems.

tell me about your proudest professional accomplishment.

With a little prep work and practice, this one should be a home run. Just make sure you tie the accomplishment back to the duties and responsibilities of the role you are applying for — that way, your accomplishment isn’t just something that happened in the past but something that you’re still bringing to the table today. Finally, it’s important to realize that the interviewer is actually asking you to speak to what motivates you. Line that up with the scope of the role that you’re applying for and you’ll do fine.

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