Top 7 Behavior Based Interview Questions


By Michael Pate, M.A., Organizational Psychologist in South Dakota & Guest Author at

Behavior-based interview questions are becoming increasingly common as companies look for better ways to hire high-quality candidates amid the flood of applications that they receive. These questions, in contrast to theoretical interview questions that ask what candidates would do, ask candidates what they have actually done regarding important job characteristics. Companies that use behavior-based questions have often identified competencies, or groups of behaviors, that are important to success at a given position, and will ask questions about these competencies during in-person or phone interviews.

These question types are great because you have the opportunity to tell interviewers what you have actually done in a specific situation and the positive effects that your actions have had, rather than telling them what you might have done. However, these questions also require a different approach compared to typical theoretical interview questions.

Companies look for three parts when they ask behavior-based questions:

  • The situation leading up to your action.
  • The actions you took.
  • The results of you action.

For example, let’s say you’re asked the following question: “Tell me about a specific time when you remained calm during a stressful situation.”

A high-quality behavior-based answer to this question might be:

  • “As a store manager at ABC Office Supplies, I was in charge of every employee’s safety. One day, an employee accidentally cut her hand with an Exacto Knife and began bleeding profusely.” (The Situation)
  • “As the first person to reach her, I used a clean towel to stop the bleeding, called 911, and helped her remain calm until the paramedics arrived.” (Your Action)
  • “After seven stitches at the hospital, the employee was on her way to recovery, and because of my composure under pressure, the CEO of ABC Office Supplies wrote me a very positive note of recognition that went into my permanent personnel file.” (The Result)

In contrast, a low-quality answer could be:

  • “A couple years ago, I helped an employee that had cut her hand.” (No Situation and a very vague Action)
  • “The employee was fine and I got a pat on the back from my company’s president.” (A vague Result that underplays the recognition received by the candidate)
    • When asked a behavior-based question, always remember to include all three parts so that your interviewers have a strong understanding of the situation, your actions, and the positive results of your actions. If you don’t have a work-related example, you can use a work-appropriate example, e.g. when you were team captain of your softball team or when you served as music director for your church.


The following seven questions are frequently asked in a variety of forms and address some of the most common competencies that companies look for in candidates. For each question, I’ve provided tips on how to phrase your answer...

7. “Give me a specific example of when you had to start a task without being asked.”

For this question, focus on an experience where your initiative made the difference between a significant success and a harmful failure in your company.

For example, describe how you recently finished your weekly tasks early, so you started and finished the monthly report before its deadline. Unexpectedly, your supervisor needed the monthly report early for an important meeting with the COO, and since your initiative saved him from scrambling to get the report finished, you received a written thank you note from your supervisor because he was able to immediately provide the COO with the requested information.


6. “Tell me about a time you successfully worked with a difficult coworker to complete a task.”

Everyone has worked with a difficult coworker, so impress your interviewers by describing how you used teamwork to successfully complete the task while remaining professional. Feel free to talk about learning your coworker’s strengths and weaknesses, and respecting the differences in work styles or skill levels between your coworker and you.

5. “Provide a specific example of a time you had to juggle multiple projects simultaneously.”

Managing multiple tasks has always been, and will always be, essential to success in any position. For this question, describe how you managed multiple project/tasks/duties of differing levels and priorities.

For example, describe how you picked up two national advertisement clients while your coworker was on maternity leave. In order to balance these new clients with your existing clients, you came in an hour early each morning to prioritize your tasks for the day and ensure that all of your clients’ needs were met. As a result, both of your temporary clients agreed to extend their contracts with your company because of the excellent service they received from you.


4. “Tell me about a time you had to switch from one project to another without warning.”

Being adaptable is important, especially as more companies expect their employees to perform duties outside of their usual responsibilities. For this question, show how you effectively moved from project-to-project and completed your current project successfully.



3. “Describe a time when you succeeded at work because of your ability to communicate.”

Although communication-related questions can be redundant since interviewers will view your communication skills firsthand, it’s important to provide them with a specific example of how your written and oral communication abilities helped you succeed at work. Remember to describe how you communicated effectively by describing the results of your actions. This may be a good time to talk about commendations on any reports or meetings you led.



2. “Give me an example of a time when you caught a coworker doing something illegal.”

Be careful of this question. Nearly all candidates know that if you say anything besides “I reported my coworker’s behavior to my supervisor immediately”, your interviewers will assume that you are untrustworthy or negligent. Answer this question honestly, and choose an example where you either confronted your coworker on his/her behavior or reported his/her behavior to your supervisor. Good examples of results may include how your actions promoted increased awareness of company policies, improved workplace safety, or decreased lost revenues.

1. “Describe an instance where you made a significant mistake.”

This question is one of the hardest to answer. Often times, candidates do one of two things: they wimp out and say that they haven’t made a significant mistake (which is never true) or provide such a horrendous example that they are immediately removed from consideration.

To answer this question successfully, provide an example of a moderate mistake, what you did after you realized you made a mistake, and the result of your actions to correct your error. For example, describe how you overlooked an important project deadline, and upon realizing your error, contacted your supervisor to develop a solution to the problem. After deciding that the best solution was to work all-night to meet the deadline, you spent the next 12 hours working on the project. As a result, you made the deadline, and after recuperating from your all-nighter, identified several procedures to ensure that this oversight would not happen in the future. Although your supervisor was initially upset, he thanked you for taking responsibility for your actions, and ultimately, making the deadline.