What Employers Want To Hear When You Answer Behavioral Based Interview Question

Talent management and job interviewers have shifted away from traditional interview processes that simply check boxes off and often ends up sounding like the interviewee is verbalizing a bullet point list of their past job descriptions and duties. Today, most job interviews center around the theory that the most accurate predictor of a candidate’s future work performance is within their past performance. It’s called behavioral-based interviewing, and those that want the most coveted jobs had better understand what it involves and how to answer the questions if they hope to land the job.

Behavior-Based Interviews 101

Behavioral interviewing, also referred to as critical behavior interviewing, is a process that industrial psychologists came up with a couple of decades ago. Traditional interviewing didn’t focus much on past competence beyond a bullet point list of past accomplishments and some “what if” scenarios regarding the future. Almost anyone can check boxes when it comes to ‘saying’ what would be done right, but not everyone can check those boxes in that they have actually done that overtime, weekend work, collaboration, management, etc.

Behavioral-based interview questions have become so popular today because it provides talent management an avenue to probe for behavior patterns, not right and wrong answers. Interviewers are looking for assurances that an interviewee has the core skills and competency required to be successful at the open position. It’s an interview process akin to a salesman’s elevator pitch. Interviewees have but moments with each question to highlight and convey the work behavioral history that makes them ideal for the job, meaning it’s not something a candidate wants to go in winging or stumbling through.

Candidates want to carefully prepare for behavioral-based interview questions so that they can have those standout moments ready to go for interviewers and answer in the most concise, effective, and efficient way possible.

How To Approach Behavioral-Based Interviews

Knowing what types of questions are asked within the realm of CBI interviewing enables interviewees to introspectively recall specific examples of skills, abilities, knowledge, etc from an experience point of view. It also gives the interviewee a chance to carefully put those examples into impactful and concise wording for maximum effect.

The first step to acing a behavioral based interview is in knowing what types of competencies a particular employer might be looking for in a particular employee. Look at the job description and research what others holding comparable positions say about the job. Also, utilize any HR and network contacts within the industry.

Job specifics aside, most companies look for the following basic skills during an interview:

● Communication
● Ethics
● Stress management
● Attention to detail
● Interpersonal skills
● Actionable(s)
● Creativity
● Management potential / self-motivation and assertiveness
● Ingenuity
● Loyalty
● Teamwork
● Flexibility

Think about specific examples in past work history that showcase these skills. For those without work history, draw from educational, volunteer, and interpersonal experiences. In putting the experience into words, be sure to include three checkpoints:

1. The situation/task.
2. The action taken to resolve/accomplish it.
3. The outcome/benefit achieved.

Behavioral Interview Questions Everyone Should Know How To Answer

This type of interview requires both a past of competency and effective storytelling skills. Don’t underestimate the latter; how a story is told is just as important as the content of the story itself. So, let’s take a look at some popular behavioral-based interview questions and some examples of how they can be answered to really showcase an interviewee’s competency.

1. Question: “Tell me a time you worked under pressure and maintained efficiency?”

This behavioral based interview question is asking how a candidate has handled stress. Think of a time that a deadline or other core caveat of a project, task, or job role changed. What did it involve. How was it handled? What was the outcome?

Example answer: “I was working on a project with a six-week deadline. My superior unexpectedly moved the project’s deadline up by two weeks, which was challenging, but it was made clear that the account would be lost if the deadline wasn’t met. I rearranged my schedule, challenged my staff to do the same, and diversified the workload to accommodate the strongest team members. The deadline was met two days early thanks to efficient teamwork and work-loading.”

2. Question: “What’s the most significant work-related mistake you’ve made? How did you handle it?

This question is geared toward employee work ethic. Don’t be afraid to admit mistakes. Employers aren’t looking for infallible; they’re looking for honesty, responsibility, understanding of the importance of fine details. and the ability to learn and adapt.

Example Answer: “I once misquoted a price to a client because I failed to ask the right questions. The client angrily returned the next day with a different price quoted to a relative. I immediately informed my supervisor of my mistake in not asking if the client qualified for discounts. My supervisor was understanding and instructed me to offer the client an additional discount for her troubles. The customer was satisfied, but it still upset me that I had made a careless error. I learned to pay closer attention to the details and prioritize accuracy in my work. It was a mistake I didn’t repeat.”

3. Question: “Tell me about a time you had a conflict with a coworker or supervisor?”

Disagreement questions like this one look at how a candidate handles conflict, their interpersonal skills, communication abilities, and even how they problem solve. Does the candidate diffuse situations effectively or unnecessarily escalate them? Do they entirely blame the other party, or do they take some culpability?

Example Answer: “ A coworker in another department had a project that was partially reliant upon work done by my department before he could proceed. He emailed me the work order and expected it to be fully completed in an unreasonable amount of time. I prioritized it according to my department’s guidelines. He continued to flood my email with demands and accusations of derailing his project, to which I emailed back that we should have a face-to-face meeting to discuss his project. After meeting, I gained a better perspective of his timeline and needs and he gained a better perspective of how my team and I could and couldn’t oblige those needs. I was able to give him the specs from our part so that he could move on from his end without waiting on an actual product in-hand. It was a satisfying end to what could’ve easily become a major incident without proper communication.

4. Question: “Tell me about a suggestion you’ve made to a supervisor or management? How’d it turn out?”

From being actionable, manageable, assertive, to ingenuity, questions about your ideas, especially when they relate to higher ups, tell hiring managers a great deal about how a candidate fits within the parameters of a job role and a company itself. While showcasing skills is the objective, be cautious not to come off pompous or arrogant. This question isn’t about showing up superiors. Focus on out of the box thinking moments and how they’ve been implemented.

Example Answer: “My department had been excluded in training for the launch of a new product. Others weren’t very concerned, but, as part of the ordering process, I felt our department needed the training to enable us to effectively answer and direct client questions. I brought my concerns to my supervisor, who immediately recognized the merit in my thinking. We received the portion of the training that would relate to our department, and everyone seemed to be more motivated, energized, and competent to now get orders rolling from our sales team. I personally felt that having the knowledge enabled me to better perform my job, and I appreciated my superior’s openness to suggestions.

5. Question: “Describe what you feel is your most significant contribution or accomplishment from your previous work history?”

Here’s yet another question that can span all the hot-button competency issues employers and interviewers look for in candidates. It can be tempting to bolster here. Don’t. Keep it simple. Focus on the what and how. Try to convey the accomplishment with minimal use of the word “I” so that the storytelling doesn’t come off as a superhero story.

Example Answer: Supplies had previously always been ordered on a month to month basis to keep costs in check. The ordering process was now in my hands and at my judgment. I researched vendors, contracts, and budget demands, ultimately finding that a different vendor offering a discount for bulk ordering would save my company 15 percent yearly on supplies. The decision paid off. Through new inventory control and ordering measures, I was able to reduce supply costs by over 20 percent without sacrificing workflow or budgeting demands.

In closing, there are dozens upon dozens of behavioral-based questions like the above five that may be asked of a candidate. Now that interviewees know what to expect, however, they can use the key traits employers look for and the exacts of the position being applied for to introspectively examine their work history for those moments that best exhibit those traits. From there, it’s all about precise and impactful wording.


Gabe Nelson is a content specialist of over 7 years of experience, working for Recuiterly.com. Just out of highschool he set off crab fishing on the bering sea in Alaska. From there he went back home to finish his college degree at the University of Montana. He has a passion and keen understanding when it comes to knowingbehavior based interview questions Vinside and out. He has written hundreds of content pieces in numerous niches. Currently, he lives in Missouri with his wife and kids enjoying the peaceful town of St. Joseph.

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