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8 Behavioral Interview Questions and How to Answer Them

Behavioral interview questions give employers an indicator of how a candidate will perform as a coworker in the future. According to Elon Musk, the visionary CEO of Tesla, regardless of what appears on a candidate’s resume, this one question can help discover those with a track record of exceptional achievement that would likely continue into the future.

“Tell me about some of the most difficult problems you worked on and how you solved them.” - Elon Musk

What are behavioral questions?

During a job interview, you will likely be asked a variety behavioral questions along with traditional interview questions by the different people you speak to as you progress in the process. These questions are designed to extract hyper-relevant information about the candidate, specifically how they have handled tough real-life situations in the past that may also be encountered in the new role. How you answer them will highlight the relevant skills and qualifications that you have developed in your professional tenure that are relevant to the position.

1) Describe a time when you failed and what steps you took to correct your mistakes.

What they want to hear: This is probably the most important behavioral type interview question that you’ll need to prepare for. This question is designed to weed out the fakers and provide the interviewer with an idea of how you’ve dealt with adversity in the past and what steps you took to fix the problem. Most jobs are collaborative, so providing the employer with a story of how you dealt with hardship and failure as a part of a team, how it affected your colleagues, and what steps were taken to fix the issue can be an extremely powerful way of answering this type of behavioral interview question. Try using what is known as the STAR method: Example 1: Task-related errors ”To me, failure is when expectations aren’t met, whether it’s others’ or my own. In my previous role, there was a project I was in charge of that required a lot of data presentations and reporting in general. My biggest mistake was to assume that all the data that was coming into our databases were clean and didn’t need closer examination. In reality, there could be discrepancies in the data due to things like fraud or backend server-related issues. My reports were always over-representing the true values until I learned about my mistakes. I soon worked with our in-house data analyst to fully understand the data issues and my reporting improved moving forward.” Example 2: Communication errors “ I work on a team with 6 other people at a mobile app company. It was my job to assign the key stakeholders their responsibilities and timelines. After our first kickoff meeting to discuss the scope of the project, I sent an email but was not crystal clear about who was the primary owner of an important aspect of the job. As time went by, it became clear that no one was tending to this piece of the project because there was confusion as to who was responsible for managing it. Because of this, the workflow slowed down as the untended piece started to become a major blocker. Once I realized what was causing the slowdown, I talked to the original stakeholders and we figured out who would own this piece of the project moving forward. Additionally, we introduced tools like ASANA and JIRA to help manage tasks and assign responsibilities to the correct owners.”

2) Tell me about a time when you had to deal with someone who wasn’t a team player; e.g. this person didn’t meet deadlines, was late to meetings, etc.

What they want to hear: Sooner or later, we will all have to deal with someone in the workplace who wasn’t holding up their own weight. It’s important to approach this problem with a more compassionate mindset – sometimes, people can experience things outside of the workplace that can affect their performance at work. Developing a human empathy while being able to balance the responsibilities of your role (which could be dependent on others) is a discipline that matures over time and something that requires true leadership. At the end of the day, it should not be your goal to have a colleague reprimanded. Rather, the team should figure out ways that the workload can be re-allocated until the underperforming coworker can “figure things out” and come back. Example: ”At my last job, we had quarterly business reviews where each team would need to present a few PPT slides about ongoing projects. We divided up the work amongst the different team members but as the deadlines approached, we noticed that there was a particular member who kept making excuses about why they couldn’t turn in the work on time. At first, I volunteered to pick up the slack but eventually, I had a conversation with the person and let them know that I needed more of their help to get the project turned in on time. While I had this conversation, I learned that this person’s close relative was very sick and that they needed close care. This affected my colleague’s work performance but once the relative recovered, we all grew closer as a team.”

3) Describe a time when you had to interact with a difficult client. What was the situation, and how did you handle it?

What they want to hear: This question aims at understanding how you deal with external pressure from a client. Being able to manage in-office relationships is one thing, but if you work with clients, then you are beholden to their schedules and expectations. Being able to show that you were able to effectively navigate the problem, diagnose a solution, and implement the fix while being able to retain the client is the key to answering this question. It is encouraged that you continue to stick with the STAR methodology to answer these types of behavioral interview questions. Sample Answer: “I believe that customer service should be front and center when outwardly dealing with clients and potential customers. However, there can be times where expectations aren’t met and we have to create a solution for an unhappy client. In my currently role, I help manage the creation of ads on behalf of a major online bank. Due to the nature of their business, we had to be very careful with how ads can be construed by a potential customer and make sure we are always compliant with Legal. The bank client wanted to run a Valentine’s day marketing campaign and asked our team to create a whole slate of ads within 5 days. We made it clear that it would be a difficult project due to the tight timeline and existing projects for other clients. We did our best and got a first draft returned in 3 days, but their Legal team wanted multiple changes that would have added additional time to the project that we didn’t have. We again tried our best and were able to get something back to the client, but it still didn’t quite pass the Legal check but was allowed to run. We found the process to be highly stressful due to the unclear nature of the Legal directions and asked to have the process changed to allow for more time for Q&A”

4) Tell me about a time when you were working closely with someone you disagreed with.

What they want to hear: Disagreements are inevitable in the workplace, especially if you have multiple people working on the same project. The situations that arise from these disagreements can oftentimes be awkward and uncomfortable, but it’s important to have a roadmap on how to navigate these touchy issues because it’s likely they will arise again in the future!

The first thing you should do is to take a step back and ask, “what is the goal that we are trying to achieve?” Making sure that everyone is aligned on the expectations and deliverables is the first step in bridging any differences that may arise. Once that is settled, it’s important to understand the other side’s point of view. Does the person I disagree with have valid points that I didn’t consider before? Is there anything that they haven’t thought of yet? Would it help to write down all the pros and cons for each opposing view?

The key here is to overcome disagreements as a team through collective brainstorming and collaboration. Sample Answer: “There are a few times where I have worked on projects with others where we have run into different disagreements - that just means we are thinking of different approaches to solving a problem! I remember one time I was working with the Product Manager who controlled the registration flow of a new user. I noticed that we were asking for the user’s birthday information, which was slowing down the registration flow significantly, and proposed getting rid of it. The Product Manager, on the other hand, wanted to collect as much info as possible in order to paint a more comprehensive user profile. We worked together to create different versions of the website which asked for different user info and tested them against each other. We used that info to create a model that combined both of our approaches together.”

5) What would you do if you disagreed with something that your manager asked you to do?

What they want to hear: This is like the behavioral interview question above but this time, the disagreement is with a direct superior. The key here is to have established a clear line of communication and rapport with your manager from the moment you step into your role. Your manager is someone that you should always feel comfortable questioning and pushing back on. That’s how you learn and that’s how they can become a better manager. Sample Answer: “I like to develop a certain rapport with my direct managers where I can feel comfortable approaching them with questions. If I disagree with my manager (or anyone for that matter) on something, I would first like to approach them and ask for clarity as to their reasoning. Throughout this process, I will also be relaying to my manager my own opinions and views on the matter to see. There could very well be a case where my manager or colleague were the ones not seeing the whole picture! If, at the end, I still disagree with a decision after my opinions have already been relayed, then I will be a team player and do what is best for the team.”

6) Tell me about a time when you had to work under pressure. What was going on, and how did you get through it?

What they want to hear: When employers ask this question, they are looking to see how your mind works in an environment that may be cross-functional, highly impactful, and with tight deadlines. It’s not enough to just show a willingness to go “above and beyond” by putting in the extra hours. A great candidate will also look to optimize current workflows to yield better efficiencies as well as create the processes that would help organize and manage the ongoing projects. Sample Answer: “My last role was at a small company that was in a growth phase. Every member on the team was always wearing multiple hats and being pulled in different directions. I had to balance projects with teams across Engineering, Marketing, and Product. It was hard to manage my time effectively at some points, especially when there were multiple deadlines happening in the same week. I remember one week when I had to give my bi-weekly marketing update, interview new Engineering candidates, and had to work with QA to implement a key into our app. It was tough and required longer than usual hours in the office, but I was able to take advantage of organization tools like JIRA and ASANA to help me make sure I stayed on top of all my tasks and deadlines.”

7) Tell me about your proudest professional accomplishment.

What they want to hear: Don’t hold back! If you’re truly proud of something that you accomplished in a past experience, don’t hesitate to share. I would argue here that the more details, the better. The most impactful answers are ones where you identified an issue and led efforts to help address the problem which resulted in a marked increase in some important KPI.

Additionally, be sure to have specific data points that you could share to help the interviewer understand the impact of your accomplishment. Sample Answer: “My proudest professional accomplishment was my role on building out the cross-promotion project at my previous company. As a marketing manager, I saw that there was a big opportunity to take users from one of our apps and funnel them into another one of our apps in ways that were not obtrusive to the user experience. I storyboarded out the project on pen and paper and then asked my colleagues their thoughts to hammer out initial thoughts. I then took a revised product to my managers to present them with the idea. Eventually, my idea got up to C-suite level and my project was given the greenlight! I got to manage a large portion of the building and implementation of the product and the company even created a new role to specifically focus on this after it got built. We were able to grow our cross-promoted traffic by almost 500% within a year of the full release of the project!”

8) Give me an example of a time when you were able to successfully persuade someone to see things your way at work.

What they want to hear: How well can you collaborate with others? Do you have what it takes to be a leader? These are some of the underlying questions that this behavioral question aims to ask. Many great ideas start at the ground level but rarely make their way to the top. A good person to have on any team is someone who not only has great ideas, but can collect different heads together and come up with a uniformly agreed-upon plan as well. Sample Answer: “Our company was still using manual data-pulls combined with simple Excel data analysis to make big strategy-related decisions regarding marketing. I saw an opportunity to revamp our data engineering infrastructure and how we analyze large amounts of data, so I began researching all of the areas that we could improve usage of data. I came to my manager with this list and the possible tech partners that could provide a solution for our lack of a proper structure to conduct data analysis. One of the tools that I proposed was called Looker, which would allow us to both analyze as well as visualize our data. This would provide a framework to be able to make data-informed decisions as well as a tool to share and present data to different teams visually. We ended up signing the contract and we now use this tool every day to make all of our marketing campaign optimization decisions!“

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