Smart strategies for behavioral interview questions

Written by: Jeff Lipschultz
Published on: Nov 28, 2018

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Behavioral interview questions are not questions that can be answered with a simple yes or no. These questions are open-ended, so you can take them in a direction that presents you in the best light.

Behavioral interview questions are asked not only to see how well you perform tasks, but also to see the strengths you demonstrated to overcome obstacles, deliver quality results, and interact effectively with people.

Tell your stories to answer these questions. Provide examples of real work situations where you were successful – where you had a challenge and you overcame that challenge. If the question asks you to provide an example of a personal failure, give the example and then follow up with what you learned as a result, and how you have avoided making that mistake again.

When answering:

  • Be positive. Focus on your achievements and successes, when possible, and don’t “trash” anyone even when describing a time when you were dealing with someone else's failure.

  • Be brief. Avoid the trap of talking too much. Answer the question concisely, and then ask if your answer provides enough insight. Expand your answer if requested, staying positive.

  • Focus on work situations. Be cautious about sharing examples from your personal life (family situations, personal finances, health, etc.); it’s always better to focus on your work experiences.

  • Be truthful. If you have made a mistake (which means you are human), share how you recovered and learned from the mistake, and have avoided making that mistake again.

  • Be careful. Don't reveal any of your current (or former) employer's confidential information, particularly if you are interviewing with a competitor.

For candidates who “own the interview,” like I’ve always instructed, it is just another chance to pull from your interview checklist and cite examples of projects you’ve worked on that showcase your fit for the job.

Examples of BI answers

Notice that these are short and positive.

  • Describe a challenging situation you handled: “On project XYZ at company 123, I was unexpectedly thrust into a team lead role, and had two team members who hated working with each other. So I designed a project planning meeting that would get the three of us talking about the best ways to approach the project and leverage each of their strengths. The results were excellent, as we delivered the project on time and on budget.”

This answer showcases skills and traits of leadership, adaptability, strategic planning, getting consensus, and teamwork, among others.

  • Describe a mistake you made and how you handled it. “Last year, I made a terrible mistake while adding financial information to our company’s bookkeeping system, which lead to a shortfall in available funds at a critical time. I was actually the one who discovered my mistake first. When I did, I was able to figure out how it happened and what needed to be done about it. With a plan in hand, I talked to my supervisor and asked that I be responsible for fixing the mistake and calling all effected parties required to remedy it, including our bank. Fortunately, this was caught soon enough that very limited impact occurred, and I was able to prove I was capable of fixing the problem myself. As a result of that mistake, I developed a method to quickly do a final review and verification of the data before publishing it, added that step to our publishing protocol, and I haven't made that mistake again."

This answer showcases skills and traits of honesty, taking ownership, good communication, sound accounting practices, loyalty, problem-solving, analytical thinking, quick thinking, and the ability to deliver bad news, among others.

The bottom line

Don't be intimidated. Think of these questions as opportunities to share how you have succeeded in your work. Prepare by analyzing the job, determining both the hard and soft skills needed for the job, and then give examples of how you have handled similar situations, demonstrating your soft skills.

Jeff Lipschultz is is a founding partner of A-List Solutions, a Dallas-based recruiting and employment consulting company, and a Working with Recruiters Expert for Job-Hunt.

This article originally appeared in a slightly different form on