Behavioural Interview Questions

Have you ever heard of behavioural questions?


If you’ve had any job interviews in the past, you’ve probably answered a few of them without realising that they are behavioural questions.

This article will spell out:

  • What a behavioural interview question is.
  • Why do interviewers frequently ask behavioural interview questions at an interview.
  • Why it’s vital that you know how to answer a behavioural interview question.
  • How you can anticipate behavioural interview questions.
  • Typical behavioural interview questions.

What is a Behavioural Interview Question?

A behavioural question is an open-ended question that invites you to describe an experience or event that you were involved with in a current or previous job. These are also known as situational questions, as they are aimed at drawing out information about a situation you were in at work.

When answering, you would normally describe your role in a particular situation, saying what actions you took, or how you responded and why, or even how you felt about something. This is why they are called behavioural questions – they are concerned with your behaviour as an individual employee.

How Can You Spot a Behavioural Question?

You can easily recognise a behavioural question, because it usually starts in one of the following ways:

  • Tell me about a time when …
  • Describe a time when …
  • Give an example of …
  • Please discuss …

There are numerous variations, with some questions not sounding like a behavioural question to start with, until the interviewer asks you to go into further detail or asks for a specific example. Follow up questions may be along the lines of:

  • Tell me exactly what steps you took …
  • What was the thinking behind your decision to …
  • Describe the steps you took to achieve …

Why do Interviewers Frequently ask Behavioural Questions at an Interview?

The interviewer’s concern is always to ascertain how your past performance will translate into performance in the position they are trying to fill. They have a set of requirements for the role, so are interested in finding out if your past experience and responses match those of the kind of person they are looking for.

The specific examples that you provide give them a lot more information about the kind of employee you are and how you are likely to behave within this role.

Once you have provided examples, the interviewer will frequently delve into the evidence and ask further questions, to make you focus on the details that interest them most. Not only does this reassure them about an aspect of your behaviour, character or experience, but it is also an opportunity to test your integrity.

If a candidate has made up an event or story, it is going to be very hard to sustain it under close questioning.

How can you Anticipate Behavioural Questions?

There are a huge variety of questions that can be asked at interview, which means that it is impossible to anticipate them all. Indeed, you may feel that it is not even worth trying. However, working out some of the question in advance is easier than you think.

The key rests in the job description and the person specification issued in the application details. By reading these, you can easily see the skills and experience the employer is looking these. When writing out your CV and application, you should have selected achievements that meet these criteria as closely as possible.

In using relevant achievements, you are already presenting the interviewer with evidence of your behaviour in certain situations – obviously, these are instances where you contributed to a positive outcome.

The other thing to do is research the employer. Again, you should already have done this before submitting your application. Any understanding you have of that organisation and its priorities will help you to identify the kind of examples that may interest and impress the interviewer.

It is a fairly simple deduction that the interviewer may focus on one or two of these. In fact, you are helping them by presenting them with some rich territory to mine! It is best not to rely just on the achievements in your CV, but to select at least one for every requirement listed in the job description.

Remember that it doesn’t mean you have to have a huge list of significant achievements where there was a clear numerical outcome (profit, increased membership, higher percentages of something, etc).

You can just as easily discuss a challenging situation where you prevented something getting worse – that is also a positive outcome.

Preparing for the Interview

Once you have identified some achievements, spend some time writing down everything you can remember about them and how they occurred. You need to be prepared for a follow-up question from the interviewer – or maybe even two.

If they are excited by your story or particularly interested in it, then you may pay for it by having to talk for longer.

You have to tell a story that makes the situation sound interesting, but that does not mean that you have to talk at great length. You need to word your response so that the story is told in just a few sentences, encapsulating the most interesting aspects.

If the interviewer is curious, they will ask for more details. Do not risk boring them!

A good way to approach this is to follow this structure when putting your description together:

  • Set the scene by outlining the situation or problem.
  • Say how you become involved – and why.
  • Explain what did you do to help resolve this situation, or bring about improvements.
  • Conclude by saying what the outcome was. If it was measurable in numerical terms, give these figures. Otherwise, describe the benefits that resulted.

Some Typical Behavioural Questions

Although it seems that there is a never ending variety of questions that an interviewer might ask, there are also some ‘classics’ that come up over and over. Not all interviewers are highly imaginative!

Indeed, if you prepare answers for these, you will find that there is much information you can volunteer, even if you are not asked a related behavioural question. You can never be too prepared for interview questions.

Questions relating to people and communication skills

  • Describe a recent situation in which you had to deal with a very upset customer or colleague.
  • Describe a time in which you had to use your communication skills in order to get an important point across.
  • Describe a time when you were able to successfully deal with another person even when that individual may not have personally liked you (or vice versa).
  • Give an example of a time when you’ve had to deal with conflict. What is your approach?
  • Give an example of a time when you had to present complex information.

Questions relating to achievements

  • Tell us about a time when you succeeded. Give a specific example.
  • Describe an accomplishment from the past year that you are proud of.
  • Give an example of a time when you had to go above and beyond the call of duty in order to get a job done.
  • Describe an important goal which you had set in the past and tell me about your success in reaching it.

Questions relating to prioritisation

  • Give an example of a time when you had too many things to do and you were required to prioritise your tasks.
  • Tell us about a situation when you had a lot of deadlines at the same time and the steps you took to complete the tasks on time.
  • Describe a time when you were particularly effective in completing a project on schedule.
  • Please describe a time when your work load was heavy and you had to take special steps to get the work done.

Questions relating to problem solving

  • Describe a time when you were creative in solving a problem.
  • Give an example of a specific problem you solved for your employer.
  • Tell me about a specific time when you used good judgement and logic in solving a problem.

There are many more questions that might be asked, including those relating to leadership skills, team membership, dealing with criticism or management, etc.

Doing a search for example behavioural questions will give you a good selection. If you have done your research, you should be able to identify the ones that are likely to come up in a specific interview.

Please let us know your experiences of handling behavioural Interview Questions by leaving a comment below.

If you need help with interviews please see our interview services.

Kindest regards,

Paul Bradley.

Managing Director.
Bradley CVs Ltd.

12 responses to “Behavioural Interview Questions”

  1. This is certainly an outstanding write-up.

    Thanks a lot for spending time summarizing all this for us.

    It truly is a great guide!