Humans are slightly chaotic creatures. One day, we make it a point to say “Hi” to every co-worker and be the center of the workplace chat. Another, we put on a gloomy face, can’t focus on our tasks, and don’t bother answering an important email.
Behind that chaos hides a lot of internal and external drivers, from our personality traits to situational context. Behavioral job interview questions help hiring managers better understand each candidate’s thought process and the reasons why they might act a certain way on any given day.
While we don’t think interviews are the most important stage in the hiring workflow (we’re big on skills-based hiring), asking behavioral interview questions is a good way to understand candidates’ strengths, weaknesses, and personality quirks.
TL; DR — Key Takeaways
- Common behavioral interview questions help you develop a better picture of the candidates’ on-the-job behaviors. However, behavioral interview questions alone won’t provide an accurate assessment of a candidate’s skills and ability to succeed on the job.
- Common types of behavioral interview questions include questions that assess teamwork, adaptability, motivation, self-management, leadership, and general culture fit.
- It’s important to know what to look for in a candidate’s answer to these questions. Since they’re so subjective, hiring managers need to have a clear understanding of what a “good” answer is and why.
- Asking candidates to frame their responses using the STAR method allows them to present clear, concise, and structured examples of their skills and experiences (it’s also a great tip for candidates practicing answering these types of questions!).
- Using hiring software and skills-based assessments alongside behavioral interview questions can help reduce unconscious bias, improve quality of hire, and ensure a consistent interview process for all candidates.
What are behavioral interview questions?
Behavioral interview questions help the hiring manager or recruiter understand how potential candidates think and act in different situations. They provide insight into the candidate’s thinking process, problem-solving abilities, leadership potential, and personality.
You can easily recognize behavioral interview questions from the way they’re phrased:
Give me an example of…
Tell me about a time when…
Talk about a time when…
Describe a time when…
Can you share an example of a situation when…
What did you do when…
Asking behavioral interview questions also helps determine whether a candidate will be a good fit for the team. After all, people quit “bad companies” all the time. 28% of workers left a job due to a bad relationship with management, and some 70% of tech workers are inclined to do so this year due to poor culture.
A behavioral interview helps pre-screen for bad hires — people who may have the right hard skills but miss the mark in terms of soft skills and character attributes.
Situational vs. personality vs. behavioral interview questions
When researching common interview questions, you might also come across situational and personality interview questions. Here’s how they differ from behavioral interview questions.
Situational questions assess fundamental beliefs and acquired skills
Situational questions are framed around hypothetical future events and how the job applicants might handle them. For example, “Describe how you would deal with a team member who is good at their job but difficult to deal with.”
These questions help you, as the hiring manager, understand how the candidate will fit into the team, handle conflict and management, and adapt to a challenging situation on the fly.
They’re also an excellent method of testing their communication skill set and can ultimately help you make more informed hiring decisions.
Personality questions shed light on the candidate’s character traits and personal values
Personality interview questions prompt the candidate to reveal more about their demeanor, temperament, and personal attitudes. For example, “Are you more of an introvert or an extravert?”
Although these questions aren’t foolproof (as we all like to exaggerate our good qualities), they give you a general sense of the candidate’s character and interpersonal skills.
Common behavioral interview questions are great for teasing out specific examples from past work
Behavioral questions provide insight into how a candidate handled situations in their past positions and sometimes their personal life.
For example, the answer to “Explain a time when you realized a project would only be completed after the deadline and how you managed it” offers a glimpse into the thought process of the candidate.
Why ask behavioral questions in an interview?
Common behavioral interview questions help you develop a better picture of the candidates’ on-the-job behaviors. People’s behavior over time is often a result of personality traits and motivations related to the situations when the behavior occurs.
For example, a worker who’s stubborn and goal-driven may often ignore group feedback and go against the supervisors’ direct instructions when pressed with a challenging task.
By asking behavioral interview questions, hiring managers can:
- Better understand the candidates’ preferred communication and management styles and determine their fit with the team dynamic.
- Identify workers with a high degree of adaptability and mental resilience who can act with efficiency and integrity even in challenging situations.
- Determine which factors motivate the candidate in their work and which characteristics they prioritize at the workplace.
- Evaluate a wider range of soft skills, including teamwork, communication, self-management, and leadership abilities.
30 great behavioral interview questions
To get a well-rounded impression of each candidate and walk away from an interview with comparative data, ask behavioral job interview questions from several of the following categories: teamwork, adaptability, motivation, self-management, leadership, and general culture-fit.
1. Give an example of a time when you had to work with someone with a personality that was very different from yours.
What to look for in a great answer: Five generations are present in the workplace — not to mention multiple nationalities and personality types. Prioritize candidates who can handle interactions with diverse teams.
When answering behavioral interview questions like these, they should display cultural awareness, absence of -isms, and a general openness to different perspectives, management styles, and character traits.
Sample answer: “I was once managing two senior employees. They were used to top-bottom, directive leadership, while I’m more of a servant leader. I had a private talk with both individually, explaining that I’d expect more initiative from them and independence in decision-making. By saying that I respect their judgment and trust their expertise, they became two autonomous team members who excelled in their work and positively challenged my thinking.”
2. Have you ever had to motivate team members who weren’t inspired to do their work, and how did you motivate them?
What to look for in a great answer: Honesty and specific examples. A mature team manager can candidly admit problems with employee engagement (globally, only 23% of workers are fully engaged). Moreover, they can name several strategies they’ve tried, plus share the results.
Sample answer: “Three months before the annual review, I noticed that one of my best sales managers was 40% below her KPIs. I scheduled a private Zoom on the pretense of discussing an upcoming client demo, but I wanted to learn how she’s been doing. It turns out she was going through some family issues, so I insisted that she take more work-from-home days, and talk to HR about a better family insurance plan. In three months, Yuan was back at her peak and brought us one of our biggest accounts.”
3. Give me an example of a time you faced a conflict with a coworker. How did you handle that?
What to look for in a great answer: Communication questions like this reveal high emotional intelligence (aka acknowledgment of both personal shortcomings and the actions of others). Almost two-thirds of employees deal with a conflict at work, but far fewer do so successfully. Look for people who can diffuse a difficult situation.
Sample answer: “Last year, we got a new data scientist on our research team. They are very talented, but they made a lot of passive-aggressive remarks about anyone’s constructive feedback. Naturally, I was annoyed at first, but then I thought that Jay might be feeling slightly insecure as the newest and youngest hire. We had a private chat, and I casually talked about how great it is to have them on the team and how valuable their recent analytics have been for an MVP.”
4. Describe the best partner or supervisor you’ve worked with. What was your favorite part of their management style?
What to look for in a great answer: Concrete examples of specific practices and/or personality traits the candidate values in a team member.
The ability to describe a preferred management style indicates high self-awareness and indicates the person knows how they and others can leverage their strengths and weaknesses to guide, coach, and motivate them in their daily work.
Sample answer: “I prefer companies with flat hierarchies and a democratic leadership style. In my last job, I had an amazing Design Lead who was candid and gave great feedback. Rather than instructing you what to do, Luan challenged you to solve problems yourself while always offering extra resources to help you succeed.”
5. Explain some of your favorite parts of working as a team.
What to look for in a great answer: Some teams are more result-oriented and competitive. Others are more analytical and methodical. When evaluating responses, pick out specific characteristics the candidate mentions to better understand their preferred group dynamics style.
Sample answer: “I loved being part of the Customer Success team at Acme because I could work without close supervision (aka no-micromanagement) and easily get help and support from my colleagues (e.g. when I didn’t know how to properly calculate a progressive customer discount).”
6. Can you describe your process for getting information from unresponsive coworkers?
What to look for in a great answer: Strong communication skills. Many teams are understaffed and overworked. Good employees can follow up with their colleagues tactfully, even if the request is urgent, while also demonstrating creative problem-solving skills.
Sample answer: “Once, three hiring managers got sick just before a major campus recruiting event. I had to ask our IT service guy to help me get access to Marta’s email (with her knowledge) to access important documents for the event. When Damian, another interviewer, was back from the hospital in three days, I also had a quick call with him to finalize all our marketing materials, which I worked on together with the designer, who was luckily well-briefed and knew all the deets.
7. Describe a situation in which you embraced a new system, process, technology, or idea at work that was way different from your usual way of doing things.
What to look for in a great answer: Enthusiasm for exploring new things and affinity towards self-development.
Job descriptions have evolved a lot for many roles, but about 56% of the core skills remain in universal demand such as analytical and creative thinking. Shortlist people with strong meta-skills, as they’re strong indicators of employees with high development potential and openness to new knowledge.
Sample answer: “Last year, our firm adopted Power BI for financial analytics. Although I’m an avid Excel user and familiar with MATLAB, the app first felt foreign to me. So, I asked Inès, our business analyst, to show me the ropes, and she helped me figure out how to use all the features.”
8. Describe a time when you had to think on your feet.
What to look for in a great answer: A walk-through of the thought process for solving an urgent problem. You’ll want to see proof that a candidate can handle difficult situations when the time is ticking. Answers showing decisiveness and effectiveness are indicators of people with high confidence, competence, and leadership potential.
Sample answer: “There was this stressful situation when our team detected a possible data leak from one of our cloud buckets. It wasn’t 100% confirmed yet, but our policies say we must notify clients and managers. To avoid crying wolf, I first re-checked all our log data, searching for the signs of a breach. It turned out there was a misconfig in settings indeed, but the data leak wasn’t public. We fixed everything in several hours and I have then notified the CTO about the incident.”
9. Describe a time when you were asked to do something you had never done before. How did you react, and what did you learn?
What to look for in a great answer: A STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Result) answer, providing ample details about how the candidate mastered a new task. A strong answer to this behavioral question will include concrete steps and takeaways from this new project. A great response will talk about how their actions benefitted the company.
Sample answer: “It was my first job, and I was asked to do keyword analysis to identify new content clusters. I watched an Ahrefs tutorial on YouTube and then read a couple of guides. Next, I ran the analysis a couple of times, building my initial file and sharing it with my manager. She was quite pleased but pointed out several gaps and overlaps in my research, so I went back to further refine the list, based on the feedback. The result was a 25% increase in organic traffic.”
10. Tell me about a time you failed. How did you deal with the situation?
What to look for in a great answer: Ability to candidly talk about mishaps, mistakes, and derailed projects.
Things don’t go as planned all the time. What separates great employees from mediocre ones is the ability to self-reflect on what went wrong, acknowledging both personal responsibility and external factors like corporate inertia or limited budgets.
Sample answer: “We had this long-term project of migrating 20+ on-premises databases to cloud storage. They contained sensitive corporate data, so everything had to comply with zero-trust architecture principles. My colleague and I overlooked one compliance requirement and didn’t correctly configure the cloud instance. I directly admitted this mistake during a meeting, but the situation also led to us creating a tech document of all correct configs to ensure standardization and compliance.”
11. Describe a time when you had to adjust your approach to complete a task successfully.
What to look for in a great answer: A good degree of flexibility and creative problem-solving skills. In today’s workplace, no job description is rigid. Behavioral interview questions like this help gauge the worker’s ability to adapt to changing circumstances and think on their feet.
Sample answer: “Last year, we had a major departure — our CFO left on short notice, and everyone on the finance team had to take over some of her duties. I was asked to prepare and submit a financial disclosure report on our sustainability activities. I read all the official reporting standards, checked past report samples, and teamed up with another colleague, who assisted the CFO on this too. Together, we figured everything out and submitted the report on time.”
12. How do you stay motivated when taking on a new project or task?
What to look for in a great answer: Look for candidates who can name internal and external motivating factors. Self-aware people are easier to manage and coach to ensure their high engagement.
Sample answer: “I’m excited about trying new things as it’s always a great learning opportunity. While the initial learning curve can be steep, I try to keep my eyes on the prize — a good outcome that awaits when I’m finished with the project or task.”
Motivation and values questions
13. What’s your proudest professional accomplishment, and why?
What to look for in a great answer: Sample answers can range from specific business outcomes (e.g., hitting the quarterly goal early) to more personal achievements like mastering a new skill, giving a major public presentation, or launching a community initiative.
Sample answer: “Reducing new customer churn levels by 20% in Q1 2023 by launching a cheaper pricing tier and a couple of new features. It was hard to ‘sell’ the idea of lowering our subscription price to the company executives, but I built a case that retaining users on a cheaper offering vs. losing them to competition is better.”
14. Describe a situation in a previous role you’d had that you wished you’d handled differently.
What to look for in a great answer: This behavioral interview question warrants a sincere retrospective from the candidate about a past shortcoming (and learnings) from the situation. Look for people who can admit the mishap and calmly explain how they should have acted instead.
Sample answer: “I once had a difficult decision of laying off ten people from the team. In hindsight, I should have negotiated more with the upper management about keeping at least half people on the payroll or pushed their transfer to another department.”
15. Give an example of a time when you set a goal for yourself (professional or personal) and achieved it.
What to look for in a great answer: Look for answers describing specific goal-setting frameworks and a detailed walk-through of the candidate’s actions. Good managers don’t set moonshot goals for themselves and the team. They go for a to-do list of atomic and achievable objectives, which build towards the ultimate goal.
Sample answer: “I’m a fan of SMART goals, like ‘Increase newsletter open rates by at least 20% and CTR by 25% in the next six months for our segmented repeat buyers mailing list.’ To accomplish this, I did an audit of the past emails with the highest open rates and reverse-engineered some of the practices. In six months, the average open rate grew from 20% to 35%, and CTR increased from 10% to 15% on average.”
16. Tell me about a skill you recently learned.
What to look for in a great answer: The best answers will mention in-demand skills for the role. These are great evidence of the candidate’s interest in their field and general acumen about the new industry developments. Both are great qualities of a future-proof workforce.
Sample answer: “This year, I’ve learned how to automate processes in Power Automate — a low code platform. Now, instead of manually inputting invoice payment data, I get everything added, validated, and cross-checked with one click of a button. Saves me tons of hours per day!”
17. How do you handle roadblocks or obstacles?
What to look for in a great answer: Problem-oriented behavioral questions help you better evaluate the candidates’ cognitive abilities and analytical skills. Add some bonus points if the answer references the usage of data analytics for more informed decision-making.
Sample answer: “Generally, I try to dig to the root cause of the blocker. Is it a people problem or a process problem? Do I lack the tech or the skills to overcome it? Once I have the data, I’d usually evaluate if I can resolve, circumnavigate, or ignore this to proceed with my goal.”
Time management questions
18. How do you prioritize and organize your workload when juggling several projects at the same time?
What to look for in a great answer: Evidence of strong self-management skills. Such workers know how to prioritize tasks on a to-do list to meet the deadlines. They can launch themselves into focus mode using different tools and frameworks to deliver on different expectations.
Sample answer: “I’m a Gantt chart person and love visual timelines. I break down each project by task or stage, then stack these on my work timeline. I use Toggl Track to track my personal productivity, so I can estimate how much time different stages will take to complete to avoid overlaps.”
19. Give an example of a time when you delegated an important task successfully.
What to look for in a great answer: A good understanding of when extra help is warranted. Delegation is a key skill for a good manager. A good response will share examples of effective task hand-overs and parallelization, coupled with the ability to oversee and manage others’ work.
Sample answer: “Last quarter, my entire team was overwhelmed when preparing for Black Friday sales. We couldn’t shoot all the planned media content based on the pre-planned schedule. Having realized that, I recruited several influencers (with whom we partnered before) to create brand content for our Instagram and TikTok, while the in-house team focused on site visuals and YouTube videos.”
20. Tell me about a project that you planned. How did you organize and schedule the tasks?
What to look for in a great answer: Answers will differ depending on the role. For example, a senior-level manager may describe specific project management frameworks (e.g., Scrum, Six Sigma, Kanban). In any case, successful candidates must demonstrate their ability to break down bigger projects into steps or stages and then effectively manage the commitments and time.
Sample answer: “Personally, I like the 1-3-5 rule: I break down the big project I have into one major task for the day (e.g., design a new wireframe), three smaller tasks (e.g., review user research, check past references, and draft several comments), and five ancillary tasks like responding to emails, organizing meeting notes, etc.”
21. Describe a time when a project went way off the rails. How did you get everything back on track?
What to look for in a great answer: Evaluate how the candidate handles the unpredictable. Highlight answers that demonstrate patience, perseverance, and imaginative problem-solving. People who can stay calm and collected in a difficult situation will positively add to your company culture.
Sample answer: “I was in charge of organizing an Annual Gala Dinner for the company’s shareholders and donors. Four weeks before the event, the venue canceled on us. My team phoned every contact with no luck, so I broadened our search and found a small private museum in a historical building. They don’t do events, but I persuaded them to accept us by increasing the price. However, we saved on entertainment as the guests could browse the museum’s botanical collection.”
22. Tell me about a time when you didn’t meet a deadline and how you presented it to your team and supervisor.
What to look for in a great answer: This behavioral interview question forces candidates out of their comfort zones. However, it gives an interviewer a good idea of whether the person can openly discuss mistakes as learning opportunities.
Sample answer: “The design team needed data from observational UX studies. However, due to the large number of participants, I was behind in completing the report. Having realized I needed at least two more days, I reached out to the Team Lead and asked for a three-day extension.”
23. Give me an example of a time when you successfully persuaded someone to see things your way at work.
What to look for in a great answer: People who can rewire old employee habits and remove process hurdles are rare gems. 73% of hiring managers admit their leaders and managers aren’t equipped to lead change. Shortlist candidates who can give evidence of effective change management and drive successful transformation.
Sample answer: “In my previous role, they used the waterfall method for project management, but it wasn’t effective. So, I decided to implement Agile project management processes. I first secured support for one smaller pilot — an internal app development. After that went well, the management team was on board with a full switch, and I also hired a great Scrum master to help the team transition.”
24. When was the last time you asked for direct feedback from a superior? Why?
What to look for in a great answer: Great leaders proactively search for feedback from others. They realize that asking questions doesn’t make them appear less knowledgeable. On the contrary, regular feedback from superiors and peers helps make more informed decisions and ensure alignment with the wider company goals.
Sample answer: “About a month ago, one of our key suppliers increased prices, but they’ve also been consistently delaying shipments, which severely affected our manufacturing capacities. So, I reached out to the department head, asking for their opinion on the situation. I presented the facts and then the alternatives. He thanked me for bringing this up because he wasn’t aware of the problem, and we decided to change providers.”
25. What skills do you have that you think make you a great leader, and why?
What to look for in a great answer: Management styles vary a lot. Look for a response that aligns with the workplace values and behaviors you’re trying to cultivate. If you’re unsure, ask the team or other managers about the preferred characteristics of a new hire.
Sample answer: “In short, I’d say strong active listening skills, an analytical mindset, and strategic long-term thinking. I identify more as a visionary leader, who inspires the team to go after moonshot projects, but always grounds my decisions in analytical data.”
To attract a better roster of candidates for a leadership role, use pre-employment screening methods like soft skill assessments to verify that the candidate has strong people management skills.
26. What was the hardest decision you have taken as a leader? What did you do to try and make the best decision?
What to look for in a great answer: Leaders face tough decisions every day, from changing the selected strategy to determining the best candidates for promotion. Great leaders know how to effectively execute change management and balance team dynamics to avoid confrontation, unmet expectations, and major setbacks.
Sample answer: “Once, I realized that although our blog was generating 50k visitors per month, we only attracted 50 sign-ups in total. After talking to the customer success and product teams, I realized that our content didn’t target the ideal ICPs. So, we created brand new keyword clusters, topic pillars, and editorial plans based on that data. Although our monthly traffic went down by 30%, our product sign-ups increased by 45%.”
Culture fit questions
27. Describe what gives you energy in the workplace and what drains that energy.
What to look for in a great answer: Gauge how well the candidates’ responses align with your practices. Almost half of workers have left a job because it didn’t align with their expectations. Your goal is to find people whose expectations match your offer.
Sample answer: “I feel energized by smart, knowledgeable colleagues and creative challenges. I’m slightly competitive, so I like personal OKRs and team leaderboards. Things that drain me are excessive meetings with 10+ people where you just have to listen in when you could be finishing more productive tasks.”
28. What’s the most interesting thing about you that’s not on your resume?
What to look for in a great answer: A good answer will reveal some extra details about the candidate’s personality, values, morale, or professional aspirations. Humorous answers can be fine, too, as long as they’re appropriate and at least somehow related to the job.
Sample answer: “I could mention me winning the Corporate Karaoke contest last year…but instead, I’d probably add that I’m a leisure videographer and shoot travel content with one of your drone models. So, I’m quite familiar with your products.”
29. How do you think coworkers perceive you? Is that accurate, and if not, why not?
What to look for in a great answer: A good sense of self-awareness about their personality and their abilities in impression management. As social creatures, we also often practice impression management. This question is a great way to assess how well the employee handles both of these tasks.
Sample answer: “I’m an introvert, so people perceive me as shy or distant at first. But once I warm up to you, I’d be really fun and bubbly. After they get to know me, coworkers usually say I’m a good listener, a great supporter, and naturally funny.”
30. What’s most important to you in a job?
What to look for in a great answer: Different factors drive employee engagement and retention. For some, it’s a transparent career path and regular bonuses. For others — flexible working hours and the ability to make a good impact on society. A good candidate will express similar values to the ones you cultivate.
Sample answer: “Three things: A good degree of autonomy and support for the project I lead from the superior, lean, optimized processes, and regular performance reviews. I thrive when I get regular feedback and financial incentives if I go beyond the set KPIs.”
Tips for assessing common behavioral interview questions
Due to their difficulty and subjectivity, some candidates may struggle with answering behavioral interview questions. Don’t be afraid to ask follow-up questions until they’re comfortable with their answers.
Though a behavioral interview question cannot accurately predict the future performance of a candidate alone, it will, at least, give the hiring manager an overview of the applicant’s preferred approach to important factors such as communication style, how they might handle a difficult client, etc.
Here are a few tips that will help uncover a candidate’s true potential while minimizing unconscious bias.
✅ Use the STAR method when interviewing
The STAR method is an effective interviewing technique that stands for Situation, Task, Action, and Result. Asking candidates to frame their responses using this method allows them to present clear, concise, and structured examples of their skills and experiences.
The STAR method not only enhances the quality of responses but also provides a consistent basis for assessing all candidates, thereby promoting fairness in the interview process.
✅ Beware of canned or hypothetical responses
Canned or hypothetical responses, such as “I always meet deadlines,” can mask a candidate’s true abilities. They lack the depth and specificity that genuine experiences provide.
It’s essential to probe further when you encounter such answers to ensure authenticity. Identifying canned responses involves keen listening and critical questioning. Addressing them effectively might mean asking for more examples or rephrasing the question to elicit more detailed responses.
✅ Assess emotional responses
Emotional responses can shed light on a candidate’s problem-solving skills, adaptability, and emotional intelligence. Questions like “Explain a time when you faced a significant challenge at work” can trigger such responses.
When assessing these, it’s crucial to remain objective and fair. Look for signs of resilience and empathy and how they manage stress or conflict. Remember, the goal isn’t to evoke discomfort but to understand their emotional maturity and capacity to handle work-related situations.
Ask the right questions with Toggl Hire
Asking behavioral interview questions is crucial in revealing a candidate’s true abilities. However, it’s important to remember that face-to-face interviews can sometimes be influenced by unconscious biases.
To ask the right questions and ensure a fair hiring process (and great hires!), use Toggl Hire. Our skills tests offer a fair and efficient way to pre-screen candidates with the right questions before they reach the interview stage.
Ready to revolutionize your hiring process? See it in action by checking out our critical thinking skills test, or browse our entire skills test library.
Elena is a freelance writer, producing journalist-style content that doesn’t leave the reader asking “so what." From the future of work to the latest technology trends, she loves exploring new subjects to produce compelling and culturally relevant narratives for brands. In her corporate life, Elena successfully managed remote freelance teams and coached junior marketers.