Answering Behavior-Based Questions

The term "behavior-based interview questions" is new to many students. If you want to have a successful job or internship interview, you need to understand what these questions are and be prepared to answer them.

What are they?

Behavior-based interviewing is one of the most commonly used interview techniques. It's based on the idea that your past performance is the best predictor of your future performance. In other words, how well you behaved or performed in past activities will help the interviewer decide how well you'd do in the new position.

When you're asked behavior-based interview questions, you're asked to describe situations in which you've displayed the skills, abilities, and personal traits being sought for the position you're applying for. Check out out Typical Interview Questions for examples of behavior-based questions you might be asked in your interview.

How These Questions Work and How to Answer Them

The interviewer will ask you to describe a time when you demonstrated a specific behavior (for example, leadership, communication skills, teamwork, etc). In response, you'll describe a relevant experience you had in a job, internship, class project, volunteer activity, etc. To answer these questions successfully, you'll need to:

  • Be very familiar with the job/internship description and the skills and qualities being sought for it.
  • Anticipate the questions or topics you'll be asked about.
  • Practice how you'll answer these questions, or what examples you'll give. Be sure your examples illustrate the skills being sought for the position.
  • Use examples that are as recent as possible.
  • Avoid using examples from your personal life.
  • Vary your examples—don't just talk about one project or one area of your life.
Your examples should be brief stories the STAR model:
Situation: Briefly set up the situation by describing the context of your example (who, what, where, when, how).
Task: Explain the task you had to complete, or the problem you had to solve.
Action: Describe the action you took to complete the task or solve the problem.
Result: Close by explaining the result of your efforts. Quantify that outcome if possible. (For example, how much you helped raise fundraising, how many kids you tutored, how many people you helped train, etc.)

Sample Behavior-Based Questions & Answers

Sample Question 1: Describe a project for which you faced multiple deadlines, and how you handled it.

STAR Answer:
Situation: Last fall I took the initiative to apply for grants to fund a professional speaker for a CLA event. It's often difficult to get grants for event funding, and it's important to meet various grant deadlines.
Task: I researched grant options and found several possibilities. Each had a different deadline and different window of time for which the money could be used.
Action:The varying timelines required me to create a small database, which I organized by grant deadlines, purposes, and the windows of time they could be used. I used this database to help me apply for the appropriate grants at the appropriate times.
Result:The primary grant came through, but a smaller grant did not. So I quickly helped find a last-minute event sponsor, then helped to update the PR materials and budget accordingly. In the end, the event was successful on multiple levels. We expected about 50 students to attend and got 60. Also, we were able to provide honorariums to additional speakers. So I feel this example highlights not only my ability to meet multiple deadlines, but also to be organized, take initiative, and be flexible when handling last-minute problems and changes.

Sample Question 2: Tell me about a project that require you to track small details while still managing the big picture.

STAR Answer:
Situation:When I worked as a Peer Advisor at my school's career services office, I was responsible for helping to train new Peer Advisors. These advisors help students explore academic majors, write resumes, apply to graduate schools, and learn how to conduct a job search.
Task: Last year I was asked by my supervisor to develop a new training program for 5 new Peer Advisors. To do this, I worked with a fellow Peer Advisor to create new materials, and also to schedule training topics and presentations. My goal was to be sure the new advisors received all the information they'd need to effectively advise students, while also making the training enjoyable and interactive.
Action: I identified and worked on materials needed for the training binder, created a schedule for the daily training activities, identified and contacted appropriate speakers, and created fun and interactive training activities.
Result: In the end, the training was a solid success. It was well-organized and stayed on schedule. My supervisor gathered feedback, and all 5 trainees reported that it was an informative and fun training.