21 Key Behavioral Interview Questions to Help You Prepare

Written by Coursera • Updated on

Learn about common types of behavioral interview questions and how you can prepare the best answer to showcase your skill set and experience.

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A job interview is an opportunity to share more about your unique skills and experiences. Beyond answering common interview questions about the role and how you’d fit it, you’ll also likely answer behavioral interview questions, which potential employers ask to learn more about you.  

Behavioral interview questions explore your past work experiences so recruiters, hiring managers, and search committees can find out more about your personality, performance, technical skills, workplace skills, and strengths. Behavioral interview questions also help potential employers discover important details, such as how you work with others, how efficiently you communicate, and how you handle difficult situations.

In this article, we’ll go over some common behavioral interview questions, what employers really want to know in asking you each type, and how you can best formulate your response. 

21 common behavioral interview questions 

In addition to the sample questions below, you’ll also find highlights about what employers typically want to know in asking you each kind of question, and helpful details you can incorporate into your answer. 

Organization

  1. How do you stay organized? 

  2. How do you determine priorities?

  3. How do you manage competing demands?   

What they’re really asking: What kind of management style do you need? Can you work autonomously or do you need a lot of structure and direction?  

What your answer can feature: Tools. Beyond sharing past examples about how you’ve stayed organized or reprioritized your work, mention any tools you use to accomplish those tasks and stay on top of things. This will help show employers more about your technical abilities and know-how. 

Communication

  1. Tell us about a time when a miscommunication created an error at work. What happened and what did you contribute to the solution? 

  2. Describe a time when you effectively communicated unpleasant news or a difficult idea.

  3. How do you respond to constructive feedback? 

What they’re really asking: How do you communicate with others? How will you interact with your team members? 

What your answer can feature: Clarity. Behavioral interview questions that pertain to communication provide you with a chance to show off your skills rather than simply recount them. It helps to be clear and direct as you respond because both are valued aspects of communication.  

Decision making 

  1. Tell us about a time when you had to make a decision quickly. What happened? 

  2. What steps do you take to ensure that your decisions are effective? 

  3. What was a difficult decision you had to make in the last year? What made it difficult?

What they’re really asking: Can you think critically? Do you have problem solving experience?  

What your answer can feature: Process. Talk about your decision making process as much as the actual decisions you made. This will give you an opportunity to show off your critical thinking skills—a key transferable skill in the workplace. 

Initiative 

  1. Tell us about a time when you identified a problem, and how you came up with the solution. 

  2. How did you go beyond the expectations or requirements of your previous role? 

  3. Did you ever find a better way to complete a task? What did you do? 

What they’re really asking: Are you a self-starter? In what type of situation do you feel comfortable taking the lead?  

What your answer can feature: Impact. Pick examples that emphasize an impact you had—even a small one—as a result of taking initiative. You want to help a potential employer connect your motivation with quantifiable results. As much as possible, draw on specific data to highlight what you accomplished.  

Personal and interpersonal

  1. Tell me about a time when you felt under pressure. How did you cope with that situation? 

  2. Has one of your previous roles ever shifted in a significant way? How did you handle it when your responsibilities changed? 

  3. Tell me about a time when you disagreed with a manager's decision. How did you communicate with your supervisor? 

What they’re really asking: Do you work well with others? How do you handle more difficult situations? 

What your answer can feature: Solutions. In talking about previous conflicts or stressful situations, you’ll inevitably need to frame the problem. But your story shouldn’t stop there—make sure to share any solutions you identified, the benefits that resulted, and what you learned from the situation.  

Remote work

  1. How do you develop and maintain your schedule while working remotely? 

  2. What communication tools do you rely on to stay in touch with team members spread across multiple time zones? 

  3. What’s a time when you didn’t know how to do something? How did you seek out the proper information to complete your task? 

What they’re really asking: Can we trust you to do the work without close supervision?  

What your answer can feature: Relevant knowledge. If you’ve worked remotely, make sure to explain what you did to make things run smoothly on your end. If you haven’t worked remotely, research common tools that remote companies use (like Slack and Zoom) so that you can provide specific examples of what you would do. It also doesn’t hurt to ask what tools the company has in place to ensure employee success. 

Managerial and leadership

  1. How do you delegate tasks and priorities to members of your team? 

  2. What do you do if a direct report continually underperforms? What steps would you take to improve their performance?  

  3. What kind of leadership inspires you most? Why? 

What they’re really asking: What kind of leader are you? How do you manage team members? How will you keep things operating smoothly? 

What your answer can feature: Innovation. Where possible, share about times that you’ve approached management and leadership with an innovative, flexible attitude. Joining a new company in a management role can often mean learning how to adapt to new processes while bringing many of your own ideas to the table. 

Tips for answering behavioral interview questions

Practice doesn’t always make perfect, but it can help you feel more comfortable and confident when you interview. Practice answering the questions above on your own, or ask a friend or family member to play the role of interviewer. Working with a partner to prepare can help you practice other important elements, like eye contact and facial expressions. 

Here are some additional tips to help you develop responses that show off your strengths, personality, and character. 

Don’t rush. You don’t have to jump into an answer as soon as you’ve heard the question. It’s not only acceptable to pause, but doing so may also signal your confidence to employers. Take a breath, gather your thoughts, and begin answering. And if you need more information or context, ask for clarification. 

Use the STAR method. The STAR method stands for Situation, Task, Action, Result. It’s a formula worth memorizing because it can help you structure your responses to behavioral interview questions. 

  • Situation: Start by establishing the situation and sharing any important details. 

  • Task: Recount your specific task or responsibility.

  • Action: Describe, step-by-step, what you did to address the task or responsibility.

  • Result: End with the impact of your actions.

Expand on your resume. Recruiters appreciate it when you can quantify your work on a resume, sharing not just what you achieved but how much. For example, instead of saying that you managed three people, you should explain what your team achieved as a result of your management. 

Enter an interview knowing a few of those details. Don’t assume that a potential employer will remember everything you listed on your resume. Answering behavioral interview questions is a chance to reiterate some of what you shared in that document while expanding on it.

Learn more: How to Make a Resume for Your First Job (+ Template)

Next steps

It’s important to be prepared for an interview, and knowing how to approach behavioral interview questions can be a huge benefit. You can learn more about interviews, such as conducting research about a company and making a positive first impression, with the University of Maryland’s Successful Interview course. Enroll today for free. 

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