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Last Updated on December 24, 2018

How to Answer Behavioral Based Interview Questions Smartly

How to Answer Behavioral Based Interview Questions Smartly

Interviews can be terrifying. It is terrifying, as it is hard to predict what the interview questions will be like.

More often than not, the hiring managers like to ask questions about our past experiences. If we have not prepared a story or two to cope with this, we sit tongue-tied.

Behavioral Interview Questions Are the Hot Items in Interviews

We’d like to introduce to you the term “behavioral interview questions”. Behavioral questions aim to get information about how the interviewees behaved in the past.

By knowing how they behaved in the past, managers can get a sense of how they will behave in the future. The important question every interviewer wants to know the answer to is: will this person work well with our organization? [1]

You may have heard some of these questions in the past:

  • Describe a time when your team or company was undergoing some changes. How did that impact you, and how did you adapt?
  • Can you talk about a long-term project that you managed? How did you keep everything moving along in a timely manner?
  • Give me an example of a time when you did not meet a client’s expectation. What happened, and how did you attempt to rectify the situation?

Their formats are varying. But more or less they can be reduced to a simple question which starts with: “Can you tell me a time…”.

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Categories of Behavioral Questions

Here, we categorise all the behavioral questions based on the knowledge of experienced hiring managers.

If you are an interviewer, this article may serve as a reference for preparing interview questions; if you are an interviewee, by knowing the forms and expectations of these questions, you may be better equipped in the preparation of an interview.

1. Teamwork

As said by Pamela Skillings, the founder of Big Interview, interview questions about teamwork are the most common.

This type of questions aims to know if the potential employee will be a good team player. After all, the ability to cooperate is crucial in an organization, and hiring managers are responsible for finding out if the potential employees are cooperative.

Examples

  • Can you tell me a time when you had to work closely with someone with a personality which was very different from yours?
  • Please tell me a time you faced a conflict while working on a team. Did you handle it well?
  • Did you once try to get information from someone who, for whatever reason, was not responsive?

Expectations

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  • Provide one or two of the most relevant examples demonstrating your skills to cooperate with others well.
  • The ultimate goal of the interviewee is to show that they are easy and a joy to work with.
  • Understand the definition of teamwork the job requires. For example, a start-up company may look for employees who work well with others by taking different roles. Or a multinational company may look for newcomers who can adapt quickly to the established working environment.
  • In order to show their cooperativeness, interviewees should demonstrate their ability to help a team succeed, instead of emphasising on one individual’s success.
  • Show respect for the previous teammates, instead of raising complaint or criticism.
  • According to Alison Doyle, there are some qualities or skills that define the ability to work well in a team. It is best if the interviewee can show some of these skills or qualities, such as listening, reliability, respect, and timeliness.

2. Problem Solving

Questions regarding problem solving are another type of questions that are often asked in an interview. These questions aim to know if the employer can manage problems smoothly.

Examples

  • Describe a time when your company was under a change. How did you adapt to it?
  • Describe the most challenging work you have ever encountered. How did you handle that?
  • Tell me a time when you faced a difficult colleague. How did you work with him or her?

Expectations

  • When answering these questions, interviewees are expected to provide examples demonstrating they are capable of solving a problem strategically.
  • The problems discussed are expected to be about professional matters, instead of arbitrary daily chores.
  • Besides the concrete problem, interviewees are expected to describe how they approached the problem.
  • Through talking about their approaches to the problems, interviewees are expected to demonstrate their excellence in problem solving and critical thinking.
  • Interviewees should not overly emphasise their accomplishments; instead, they are expected to remain humble, and articulate their growth once they solved the problems.

3. Motivation and Value

It can be said that the purpose of the interview is to find out what kind of person the interviewee is. That is why questions aiming to know what motivates them are popular.

However, most of the time, these questions are not asked directly; very often they are hidden questions that may seem random at first!

Examples

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  • Tell me about a time when you worked hard to achieve something.
  • Tell me about a time when you tried hard to help a person.
  • Tell me a time you tried hard to learn a new hobby.

Expectations

  • Handle unexpected questions well. Lily Zhang suggests that interviewees should smile first at these questions before they come up with an answer.
  • And since these questions look random, the interviewees are also expected to explicitly address the focus of these questions, which is to answer: what motivates them.
  • These questions do not expect a solid “right” answer. There is no “right” answer to them. In this light, interviewees are expected to give an enthusiastic and coherent response, despite what the content is mainly about [2].

4. Failure

The questions asking interviewees how they faced failure may be the most difficult kind of all. They are difficult, as they require skills to answer them. Interviewers especially look at how the interviewees address their past failure without tarnishing themselves.

Note that these questions are not designed to embarrass the interviewees. The hiring managers ask these questions, as they hope to know: (1) how the interviewees performed in the previous job, and (2) whether they can learn from failure.

Examples

Questions like these can be blunt, as like:

  • Describe a time when you failed.

Or they may come in a more implicit manner:

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  • Tell me about a time when you were under a lot of pressure.
  • Describe a time when you had difficulty leading a group of people.
  • Describe a time when you faced communication break-down.

Expectations

  • Be honest when talking about failure.
  • Describe the failure, while remaining positive about it.
  • Humbly admit the fault, instead of blaming others for it, or denying the failure.
  • Since the goal of these questions is to find out how the interviewees handle failure, interviewees are expected to talk more about the qualities and skills they obtained out of handling the failure.
  • Avoid talking about some detrimental failure. You are instead expected, as suggested by Alison Doyle, to talk about failures that happened in the last job, which need not be tightly related to the future job.[3]
  • It is best if the interviewees can show how they conceptualise success and failure in general.

5. Achievement

The last type of questions is about your personal achievements. These questions may simply ask for one’s talents. Yes, they are questions eliciting information about one’s skills and qualities. However, it is also through these questions that the interviewers gain more understanding about how the interviewees view success, and what their future goal will be.

Examples

  • Can you describe a time when you successfully lead a project?
  • What was your biggest achievement recently?

Expectations

  • Specify one or some of the achievements to show your capability.
  • Interviewees should avoid being overly specific or spending too much time talking about their achievement. Otherwise, they may appear to be boasting themselves.
  • It is better, instead, if the interviewees can elaborate on their strategy that helped them accomplish their goal.
  • Align past achievements with the job you are applying for.
  • Near the end of the answer, it will be best if the interviewees could link their past achievement to the future. That is to say: what is the future goal he or she wants to accomplish?
  • And finally, it is wise if the interviewees can relate their future plan to the job they are applying for, which means interviewees should state that the job is a part of their life plan.

Featured photo credit: Flaticon via flaticon.com

Reference

More by this author

Chris Cheung

Editorial Intern, Lifehack

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Last Updated on October 21, 2019

How to Be a Good Leader and Lead Effectively

How to Be a Good Leader and Lead Effectively

U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a contender for the 2020 Democratic nomination, is a reminder of why I am so drawn to leadership as a topic. Whenever I think it is impossible for me to be more impressed with her, she proves me wrong.

Earlier this week, a former marine suggested that he had been in a long-term sexual relationship with the Senator. She flipped the narrative and used the term “Cougar,” a term used to describe older women who date younger men, to reference her alma mater.

Rather than calling the young man a liar, or responding to the accusations in kind, she re-focused the conversation back to her message of college affordability and lifted up that “Cougar” was the mascot for her alma mater. She went on to note that tuition at her school was just $50 per semester when she was a student. Class act.

But by the end of the week, news broke that U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, another contender for the presidency, had a heart attack. Warren not only wished Sanders a speedy recovery but her campaign sent a meal to his staff. She knew that the hopes of staff, donors and supporters were with the Senator from Vermont and showed genuine compassion and empathy.

To me, she has proven time and time again that she is more than a presidential candidate: she belongs in a leadership hall of fame.

What makes some people excel as leaders is fascinating. You can read about leadership, research it and talk about it, yet the interest in leadership alone will not make you a better leader.

You will have more information than the average person, but becoming a good leader is lifelong work. It requires experience – and lots of it. Most importantly, it requires observation and a commitment to action. Warren observed what was happening with Sen. Sanders, empathized with his team and then took action. Regardless of the outcome of this election, Sanders’ staff will likely never forget her gesture.

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You would have had to work on a political campaign in order to appreciate the stress and anxiety that comes with it. In this moment, staff may not remember everything that Warren said throughout the lengthy campaign, but they will remember what she did during an unforgettable time during the campaign.

If this model of leadership is appealing, and if you are searching for how to up your own leadership game, read on for six characteristics that good leaders share:

1. Good leaders are devoted to the success of the people around them.

Good leaders are not self-interested. Sure, they want to succeed, but they also want others to succeed.

Good leaders see investing in others just as important as they see investing in themselves. They understand that their success is closely tied to the people around them, and they work to ensure that their peers, employees, friends and family have paths for growth and development.

While the leaders may be the people in the spotlight, they are quick to point to the people around them who helped them (the leaders) enter that spotlight. Their willingness to lift others inspires their colleagues’ and friends’ devotion and loyalty.

2. Good leaders are not overly dependent on others’ approval.

It is important for managers to express their support for their teams; good leaders must be independent of the approval of others. I explained in an article for The Chronicle of Philanthropy, that:[1]

“While a desire to be loved is natural, managers who prioritize approval from subordinates will become ineffective supervisors who may do employees harm. For example, a manager driven by a need for approval may shy away from delivering constructive feedback that could help an employee improve. A manager fearful of upsetting someone may tolerate behavior that degrades the work environment and culture.”

In yet another example, a manager who is dependent on the approval of others may not make decisions that could be deemed unpopular in the short run but necessary in the long run.

Think of the coaches who integrated their sporting teams. Their decision to do so, may have seemed odd, and even wrong, in the moment, but time has proven that those leaders were on the right side of history.

3. Good leaders have the capacity to share the spotlight.

Attention is nice, but it is not the prime motivator for good leaders. Doing a good job is.

For this reason, good leaders are willing to share the spotlight. They aren’t threatened by a lack of attention, and they do not need credit for every accomplishment. They are too focused on their goal and too focused on the urgency of their work.

4. Good leaders are students.

In the same way that human beings are constantly evolving, so too are leaders. As long as you are living, you have the potential to learn. It doesn’t matter how much knowledge you think you have; you can always learn something new.

I have the experience of thinking I was doing everything right as a manager, only to receive conflicting feedback from my team. Perhaps my approach was not working for my team, and I had to be willing to hear their feedback to improve.

Good leaders understand that their secret sauce is their willingness to keep receiving information and keep learning. They aren’t intimidated by what they do not know: As long as they maintain a willingness to keep growing, they believe they can overcome any obstacle they face.

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As both masters and students, good leaders read, listen and study to grow. They consume content for information, not just entertainment purposes. They aren’t impressed with their knowledge; they are impressed with the learning journey.

5. Good leaders view vulnerability as a superpower.

It means “replacing ‘professional distance and cool,’ with uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure,” said Emma Sappala in a Dec. 11, 2014, article, “What Bosses Gain by being Vulnerable” for Harvard Business Journal.[2] She went on to note the importance of human connection, which she asserts is often missing at work.

“As leaders and employees, we are often taught to keep a distance and project a certain image. An image of confidence, competence and authority. We may disclose our vulnerability to a spouse or close friend behind closed doors at night but we would never show it elsewhere during the day, let alone at work.”

This rings so true for me as a woman leader. I was raised believing that any show of emotion in the workplace could be used against me. I was raised believing that it was best for women leaders to be stoic and to “never let ‘em see you sweat.” This may have prevented me from connecting with employees and colleagues on a deeper, more personal level.

6. Good leaders understand themselves.

I am a huge fan of life coach and spiritual teacher Iyanla Vanzant. In addition to her hit show on the OWN network, Vanzant has authored dozens of books. In her books and teachings, she underscores the importance of knowing ourselves fully. She argues that we must know what makes us tick, what makes us happy and what makes us angry.

Self-awareness enables us to put ourselves in situations where we can thrive, and it also enables us to have compassion when we fall short of the goals and expectations we have for ourselves. Relatedly, understanding ourselves will allow us to know our strength. When we know our strengths, we will be able to put people around us who compliment our strengths and fill the gaps in our leadership.

Final Thoughts

Being a good leader, first and foremost, is an inside job. You must focus on growing as a person regardless of the leadership title that you hold. You cannot take others where you yourself have not been. So focusing on yourself, regardless of your time or where you are in your career will have long term benefits for you and the people around you.

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Further, if you want to become a good leader, you should start by setting the intention to do so. What you focus on grows. If you focus on becoming a better leader, you will research and invest in things that help you to fulfill this intention. You will also view the good and bad leadership experiences as steppingstones that hone your character and help you improve.

After you set the intention, get really clear on what a good leader looks like to you. Each of us has a different understanding of leadership. Is a good leader someone who takes risk? Is a good leader, in your estimation, someone who develops other leaders? Whatever it is, know what you’re shooting for. Once you define what it means to be a good leader, look for people who exemplify your vision. Watch and engage with them if you can.

Finally, understand that becoming a good leader doesn’t happen overnight. You must continually work at improving, investing in yourself and reflecting on what is going well and what you must improve. In this way, every experience is an opportunity to grow and a chance to ask: ‘What is this experience trying to teach me?’ or ‘what action is necessary based on this situation?’

If you are committed to questioning, evaluating and acting, you are that much closer to becoming a better leader.

More About Effective Leadership

Featured photo credit: Sam Power via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] The Chronicle of Philanthropy: Why Good Managers Overcome the Desire to Be Liked
[2] Harvard Business Journal: What Bosses Gain by being Vulnerable

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