Behavioral interviews and situational questions

Behavioral interviews and situational questions

General | 08 Jan 2024

Behavioral interviews have emerged as a pivotal tool for employers to assess not only your qualifications but also your ability to navigate real-world scenarios. This interview format goes beyond the traditional questions about skills and experiences, getting into the past behaviors to predict future performance. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the purpose of behavioral interview questions, distinguish them from case interviews, and the ten most common behavioral interview questions that every job seeker should be prepared to answer.

What is the purpose of a behavioral interview question?

Behavioral interview questions are designed to uncover a candidate's past behaviors and experiences in various professional situations. The underlying principle is that past behavior is a strong indicator of future actions. Employers use these questions to assess not just a candidate's technical skills but also their interpersonal skills, problem-solving abilities, adaptability, and more.

The primary purposes of behavioral interview questions can be outlined as follows:

Assessing Past Behavior

Behavioral questions aim to gain insights into how candidates have behaved in specific situations in the past. By asking candidates to recount actual experiences, interviewers can gauge the practical application of their skills and competencies.

Predicting Future Performance

Employers believe that past behavior is a reliable predictor of future performance. By understanding how candidates handled situations in the past, interviewers can make informed decisions about their potential contributions to the team and organization.

Evaluating Soft Skills

Soft skills, including communication, teamwork, leadership, and problem-solving, are crucial in today's dynamic work environments. Behavioral interview questions provide a window into a candidate's soft skills, allowing employers to assess whether they align with the company's values and requirements.

What is the difference between a behavioral interview and a case interview?

While both behavioral and case interviews aim to evaluate a candidate's suitability for a role, they differ significantly in their approach, focus, and the skills they assess.

Focus on Past vs. Future

Behavioral interviews center around past experiences. Interviewers ask candidates to narrate specific instances from their professional history, shedding light on their actions, decisions, and outcomes. In contrast, case interviews involve solving hypothetical problems, assessing a candidate's ability to think analytically and strategically.

Narrative vs. Analytical

Behavioral interviews encourage candidates to share narratives about their past experiences. They provide a platform for candidates to tell stories that highlight their skills and competencies. On the other hand, case interviews demand a more analytical approach. Candidates must analyze a given scenario, identify key issues, and propose solutions in real-time.

Skill Assessment

The skills assessed in behavioral and case interviews differ. Behavioral interviews focus on soft skills such as communication, teamwork, and adaptability. Case interviews, on the other hand, are geared towards evaluating analytical thinking, problem-solving, and strategic decision-making.

What are the 9 most common behavioral interview questions?

  1. Describe a time when you had to meet a tight deadline. 

  • How did you handle it?

    • In this scenario, employers aim to assess a candidate's time management skills, ability to work under pressure, and how they prioritize tasks.


  1. Give an example of a situation where you had to work with a difficult team member. 

  • How did you handle it?

    • This question delves into a candidate's interpersonal skills, conflict resolution abilities, and their capacity to collaborate effectively within a team.

  • Tell me about a challenge you faced at work and how you overcame it.

    • Employers seek to understand a candidate's problem-solving approach, resilience, and determination in overcoming professional challenges.

  1. Describe a situation where you had to deal with a dissatisfied customer. 

  • How did you handle it?

    • This question assesses a candidate's customer service skills, ability to manage difficult situations, and their commitment to maintaining positive relationships with clients.

  1. Share an example of a project or task that required excellent organizational skills. 

  • How did you approach it?

    • Employers use this question to evaluate a candidate's organizational abilities, attention to detail, and capacity to manage complex projects efficiently.

  1. Discuss a time when you had to adapt to a significant change at work. 

  • How did you manage it?

    • The ability to adapt to change is crucial in today's dynamic work environments. This question assesses a candidate's flexibility, adaptability, and openness to innovation.

  1. Tell me about a situation where you had to lead a team or take on a leadership role. 

  • What was the outcome?

    • This question explores a candidate's leadership potential, communication skills, and their ability to inspire and guide a team towards success.

  1. Describe a time when you had to resolve a conflict within a team. 

  • How did you approach it?

    • Conflict resolution is a vital skill in any workplace. Employers use this question to evaluate a candidate's ability to handle interpersonal conflicts diplomatically and find mutually beneficial solutions.

  1. Share an example of a situation where you had to learn a new skill quickly. 

  • How did you go about it?

    • Employers seek to assess a candidate's learning agility, initiative, and their ability to acquire new skills efficiently to meet job requirements.

  1. Discuss a project where you had to collaborate with cross-functional teams. 

  • How did you ensure effective communication and coordination?

    • This question evaluates a candidate's collaboration skills, communication abilities across different departments, and their capacity to foster teamwork.

15 Tips to Ace a Behavioral Interview

Acing behavioral questions requires a combination of thoughtful preparation, effective communication, and a strategic approach. Here are detailed tips to help you excel in answering behavioral questions during an interview 

1. Understand the STAR Method 

Situation: Start by providing context. Describe the specific situation or challenge you faced. Be concise and focus on the key details.

Task: Clearly outline your role and responsibilities in the given situation. What were you trying to achieve or accomplish? 

Action:  Describe the actions you took to address the situation. Highlight your skills, decision-making process, and the steps you implemented. 

Result: Conclude by discussing the positive outcome of your actions. What did you achieve, and what did you learn from the experience?

2. Research Common Behavioral Questions 

Identify common behavioral questions related to the specific job and industry you are interviewing for. This research will help you tailor your responses to the expectations of the role.

3. Analyze the Job Description 

Review the job description to identify the key skills and competencies the employer is seeking. Align your examples with these requirements.

4. Prepare a Repertoire of Examples 

Develop a list of diverse examples from your past experiences that showcase various skills, such as leadership, teamwork, problem-solving, and adaptability.

5. Quantify Achievements 

Whenever possible, quantify your achievements. Use numbers, percentages, or specific metrics to provide evidence of your impact and success in a given situation.

6. Be Concise 

Keep your responses concise and focused. Avoid unnecessary details that do not contribute to the key points of the story.

7. Practice Out Loud 

Practice your responses out loud to ensure clarity and coherence. This will also help you become more comfortable articulating your experiences.

8. Adapt Your Examples 

Tailor your examples to the specific competencies the interviewer is likely assessing. If they inquire about teamwork, emphasize collaboration and communication skills.

9. Showcase Personal Growth 

If the situation involved a challenge or mistake, highlight what you learned and how you grew from the experience. Employers appreciate candidates who can reflect on and learn from setbacks.

10. Stay Positive 

Even when discussing challenges or conflicts, maintain a positive tone. Focus on solutions and emphasize your ability to overcome obstacles.

11. Use a Variety of Experiences 

Draw examples from various aspects of your life, including work, volunteering, academics, or extracurricular activities. This showcases a well-rounded set of skills and experiences.

12. Ask for Clarification if Needed 

If a question is unclear, don't hesitate to seek clarification before responding. This demonstrates your commitment to providing relevant and accurate information.

13. Tailor Your Responses to the Company Culture 

Research the company culture, values, and mission. Align your responses with these cultural aspects to demonstrate your fit within the organization.

14. Maintain Eye Contact and Body Language 

Non-verbal communication is crucial. Maintain eye contact, use open and confident body language, and ensure your tone is conversational.

15. Seek Feedback and Reflect 

After a mock interview or a real interview, seek feedback from mentors, friends, or colleagues. Reflect on the feedback and continuously refine your responses.

In conclusion, mastering behavioral interviews requires a thorough understanding of the purpose behind these questions, recognizing the distinctions between behavioral and case interviews, and preparing thoughtful responses to the most common behavioral interview questions. By approaching these interviews strategically, candidates can showcase their unique strengths, experiences, and competencies, increasing their chances of success in today's competitive job market.