If you are preparing for an interview, you may have strong answers for the basic interview questions: “Why do you want to work here? What are your strengths and weaknesses? Why are you the right person for this job?”
But there may be other questions that throw you for a loop, specifically questions that ask you to share examples of certain situations from your past experience. These are called behavioral interview questions, and they can be difficult to answer. Interviewers ask them because they are looking for specific behavior traits in a candidate, so it is important to answer them in a way that shows that you are right for the job. The following are five common behavioral interview questions, and advice on how to answer them.
- “Describe a recent challenge that you faced at work, as well as how you approached it.”
This question, and others like it, attempt to analyze your problem-solving skills. In any position, you are bound to encounter obstacles, so you may have many examples that you can build your answer around. It is important to choose a story that involves a particularly difficult challenge, or one that highlights your creativity in solving it. Demonstrate to your interviewer that you can think outside of the box to reach a solution, and that you are comfortable asking for help.
- “Can you think of a time when you took the lead on a project?”
Many jobs also require leadership skills. A question such as this tries to determine whether you have, and can illustrate, key leadership abilities. Have an example in mind of a time that you not only took charge, but led a project to great success. You do not wish to seem arrogant, so be sure to give credit to any others who helped you. This can suggest that you are a leader and a team player, which are both essential skills in the workforce.
- “Do you have an example of a time when you disagreed with your supervisor?”
This is a particularly difficult behavioral interview question. You, of course, will want to carefully select your story so you do not seem critical of your supervisor—instead, you should seem easy to work with and not at all obstinate. Choose a story in which you and your supervisor simply had different opinions on an issue, and discuss how you worked through that disagreement. If the outcome of the story is in your favor, do not gloat. Emphasize compromise, as well as your ability to calmly communicate your feelings.
- “Tell me about a time you disagreed with a colleague.”
This question is similar to the one above, but it has more of an emphasis on teamwork than it does on balancing your ability to follow orders and to politely express your opinions. However, you should draw on an example that has similar qualities—one in which you do not dwell on a colleague being wrong, but instead show your ability to talk through a problem and to work out a solution together.
- “Can you give me an example of a mistake that you have made?”
This is another challenging question, as you do not want to emphasize your shortcomings. Prepare several examples of minor mistakes that you have made that also highlight lessons that you have learned and continue to use. If you would like to be bold, you can discuss a major mistake, but only if you can tell the story in a compelling way, and can truly emphasize that you learned a valuable lesson from it. Discussing improvement and awareness is key.
When answering these, or any other, behavioral interview questions, it is important to keep your stories concise and to the point. In a long, rambling story, the interviewer may miss the point you are making or the skills you are trying to emphasize. Include details of the specific situation, but keep the story direct and organized.
Catherine Martin is a contributing writer for UniversityTutor.com, the world’s largest global marketplace for finding independent tutors.