Behavioral Interview Questions And Answers 101 (+ Free PDF)

By Mike Simpson

Imagine you’re sitting on a black folding chair in the middle of the hiring manager’s office at your very next job interview.

You want this job. Bad.

You’re eye to eye with the hiring manager…

The hiring manager takes a long pause and after what seems like an eternity finally leans forward and says:

“Tell me about a time when a group project you were working on failed….”


This guy has been trying to prepare for behavioral questions (he clearly hasn’t read this post…)

Uh oh. One of the dreaded behavioral interview questions.

So, considering your future career aspirations may hinge on your answer…

What do you say?

Do you have a “success story” that highlights the exact qualities that particular company is looking for in an employee, and are you ready to talk about it smoothly?

Or are you sitting there dry-mouthed with a confused and rather silly look on your face as you try and come up with a stall tactic?

Don’t worry if you fell into the “confused and rather silly” camp because this article is going to demystify behavioral interviews and hand you a clear blueprint or plan for coming up with fantastic answers that will wow the hiring manager and leave your competition in your dust.

You are going to get actionable stuff that you can immediately apply in your next interview. No wishy washy info here.

Start by downloading our “Behavioral Interview Questions PDF Checklist” that gives tips on how to answer 25 common behavioral questions CLICK HERE TO GET THE BEHAVIORAL INTERVIEW CHECKLIST

Behavioral questions definitely take a little practice to get the hang of, but this article is going to take you step by step through the process of getting prepared.

There are various components to a behavioral question that we we need to break down piece by piece…

Ok let’s get cracking…


What The Heck Are Behavioral Interview Questions Anyway?

In case you aren’t completely clear on what exactly behavioral questions are, here’s an explanation.

A behavioral question (also known as STAR Interview Questions or behavior-based interview questions) is a question that aims at learning about your past “behaviors” in specific work situations.  

How you have “behaved” in certain situations in the past will give them clues on how you’ll behave in those same situations when working for them in the future.

Behavioral questions can be asked at any time, but are often asked as part of a second interview.

Why do hiring managers insist on asking behavioral questions? (Don’t they know job interviews are hard enough??)

Hiring managers ask behavioral questions for a very specific reason.

They are trying to see if you possess specific qualities that they need for the particular position you are interviewing for.

Remember, as Jeff and I always say: “It’s not about you, It’s about them”

In other words, if they are looking for someone with good leadership qualities, they may ask you a behavioral question to see if your past behaviors demonstrate leadership.

An example of a behavioral question that is looking for you to demonstrate leadership qualities could be:

“Tell me about a time when you took the lead on a difficult project?”

So that begs the question, how can you demonstrate to the hiring manager that you can be a great leader?

The answer is: With Success Stories

BONUS PDF CHECKLIST: Download our "Behavioral Interview Questions PDF Checklist" that gives tips on how to answer 25 common behavioral questions CLICK HERE TO GET THE BEHAVIORAL INTERVIEW CHECKLIST

Why You Need “Success Stories” To Give Fantastic Answers To Behavioral Questions

A success story is a short story from your past that highlights a specific “quality” or “competency” that you possess.

Usually a success story revolves around a past work experience. However, for recent grads or those with little work experience a Success Story can be taken from other events in your life such as school clubs, athletic teams, volunteer work etc… The point is it must highlight the quality they are looking for.

For example, let’s go back to our leadership question: “Tell me about a time when you took the lead on a difficult project?”

In order to answer this well you obviously need to relate a success story from your past that shows you demonstrating leadership qualities.

The key is, you need to be prepared with your  success story BEFORE you find yourself sitting on the hot seat faced with this question.

(Sitting there, humming and hawing awkwardly while you try and come with something is a surefire way for you to NOT get the job.)

Instead, you need to effortlessly pull out a success story that is perfect for the situation.

Here is an example of Success Story that is both appropriate for the leadership question above and based on some of my own past experience.  In this case, I was working at a car dealership as a service advisor (a nice way of saying I was there to help you fix your car and sell you overpriced floor mats):

"I volunteered for (and was nominated the head of) a committee of 4 people tasked with investigating poor customer reviews. I analyzed reviews and discovered that customer wait times were the largest contributor to negative reviews. I then lead brainstorming situations with my team to find a solution. This solution was a change in workflow for mechanics. After implementing my suggestion, wait times dropped 18%."

Now don’t forget, on its own this is not an answer to a behavioral interview question, but merely a success story to reference in your interview answer.  You will want to frame your answer around this success story (more about this coming up below).

I know what you’re thinking:

“So Mike, what you’re telling me is that I have to have hundreds of these success stories ready and waiting to tackle any behavioral question they could throw at me!?? Sounds…terrible.”

Don’t worry, there’s a shortcut and a trick that will let you sidestep all that work and we will get into it in the next section.

How To Pick The Right Success Stories

Instead of slogging through trying to come up with a success story for every possible behavioral questions there are 2 things you can do instead.

  1. Only prepare success stories for the most common categories of behavioral questions.
  2. Do some cutting edge company research in order to find out what specific qualities your company is looking for and then craft a few success stories that highlight those specific qualities.

Time Saving Tactic 1

First I want to give you the 5 categories of common behavioral questions.

The fact is, there are certain types of behavioral questions that are asked more often than others. By knowing these common types, you can prepare a success story to address each category.

Let’s take a look at the common behavior based question categories:

    1. Teamwork Oriented
    2. Problem Solving
    3. Initiative/Leadership
    4. Interpersonal Skills
    5. Challenge/Stress/Pressure

If you prepare a success story to cover each these 5 categories then you will be covering your bases pretty well and be saving yourself a lot of time in preparation.

You just need to be able tweak your success story to whatever question comes down the pipe.

For example, here’s another example (from my past) of a good success story that can be used when answering a problem solving type behavior based question.  In this case, I was working for a pro sports team as a Season Ticket Sales Representative:

"Facing low sales numbers for full season ticket packages and the possibility of many empty seats for the upcoming season, I developed, created and spearheaded the implementation of a new sales strategy, which allowed for the sale of smaller “game packs” as opposed to only “full season” ticket packages. This strategy directly increased overall sales by 44%."

Your task is to come up with one good success story for each of the common behavioral categories. You can look to the “problem solving” example above for inspiration.

Time Saving Tactic 2

The next thing you’ll want to do, is mine your job description to find qualities you know the company is looking for.

Grab the job description and go through it with a fine toothed comb  and tease out any qualities that the company is highlighting and jot them down.

Do they bring up “collaboration” as a requisite competency for the position?

How about “problem solving”?

You’ll quickly notice that most job descriptions you come across will very clearly state the qualities the company is looking for in their “Perfect Candidate”.

So go ahead, grab the job description and do some detective work!

Ok, done?

Great! Now that you have a list of these qualities, you now know the types of behavioral questions you are most likely going to be asked and can craft your success stories accordingly!

Ok, now that you have your success stories locked down it’s time we go through some actual examples of behavioral questions.