Careers advice

The 30 most common behavioural interview questions + answers

There’s no need to fear behavioural interview questions.

What you’ll learn:

  • How to spot a behavioural interview question
  • Why do interviewers ask behavioural interview questions?
  • What is the STAR method for responding to behavioural questions?
  • 30 of the most common behavioural interview questions
  • Examples of how to answer common behavioural interview questions

Behavioural questions are among the most common you’ll face in job interviews.

The good news? They’re super easy to deal with, so long as you’ve done your homework. Let’s take a look at the most frequently used behavioural interview questions in NZ, and a framework that can be used for answering every single one.

What are behavioural interview questions?

Behavioural interview questions are designed to show the interviewer how you’d act in a certain situation. They work by the logic that if you’ve behaved in a particular way in the past, you’re likely to react similarly in the future. Behavioural interview questions are typically framed as “Tell me a about a time when…” or “How have you reacted to…”.

They’re an opportunity to show how you’ve put your skills into practice with real life examples, and showcase that you’d be a great cultural fit for their organisation.

Behavioural interview questions give the interviewer a rounded picture of you.

Why do interviewers ask behavioural interview questions?

The ultimate goal for an interviewer is for the people making the hiring decisions to get to know the person behind the resume.

Of course, questions like, “Why do you want this job?” can give them some insights into who you are and what motivates you, but behavioural interview questions allow them to somewhat unlock how your mind works. What’s your gut reaction to a situation? How would you approach a person behaving in a certain way? How do you go about your working day? This line of questioning gives the interviewer a real idea of what it would be like to have you in the office, and how you’d interact with the rest of the team.

What is the STAR method when interviewing?

STAR stands for situation, task, action, result, and is a tried and tested method for responding to behaviour based interview questions.

Here’s an example:

Question: “Tell me about a time you exercised leadership”.

  • Situation: the context.
    • “I was put in charge of running a group project at uni to gather customer feedback on a new product”.
  • Task: give specifics of what was required, and any challenges you encountered.
    • “We had to survey X number of young professionals on the streets of Wellington. However, some members of my team weren’t confident in talking to strangers.”
  • Action: what you did.
    • “To ensure we got the number of responses required, I divided the team into pairs, and ensured that each pair contained one confident person. I also targeted popular eateries at lunchtime, so we had a better chance of surveying our target audience.
  • Result: how did your actions lead to success?
    • “As well as achieving above our target number of responses, this approach allowed the less confident to learn from their teammates. By the end, everyone was getting involved with surveying.

Depending on the question, don’t be afraid to also include anything you’d do differently in the ‘result’ section. Showing that you’ve self-reviewed, and worked out ways to improve your performance next time, will only go down well.

The STAR method of answering interview questions.

The 30 most common behavioural interview questions

1. Teamwork

  • “Give me an example of how you’ve worked as part of a team.”
  • “Tell me how you deal with personality clashes in the workplace.”
  • “How do you react when teammates disagree with you?”
  • “Tell me about a time you’ve gone above and beyond to help a colleague.”
  • “Tell me about a time you’ve had to respond to criticism of your work.”
  • “What would you do if you felt a teammate wasn’t pulling their weight?

2. Decision making

  • “Tell me about a time you’ve taken the initiative”.
  • “What’s the hardest decision you’ve had to take at work?”
  • “Describe a decision you made that wasn’t popular, how did you get people on side?”.
  • “Have you ever taken the lead on improving processes in your workplace?”.

3. Stress and pressure

  • “How do you deal with tight deadlines at work?”.
  • “Tell me about a time you’ve worked effectively under pressure?”.
  • “How do you handle stress”.
  • “What do you do when multiple stakeholders are putting pressure on you to complete tasks?”.

Draw on real life examples when answering behavioural interview questions.

4. Prioritising

  • “How do you make sure you don’t miss deadlines?”.
  • “What techniques do you use to manage your time effectively?”
  • “What do you do if you know you aren’t going to meet your targets?”
  • “Tell me about a time you managed multiple responsibilities. How did you handle that?”
  • “How do you set yourself goals?”

5. Successes and failures

  • “What’s your greatest professional achievement?”
  • “What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made in your professional life?”
  • “How do you deal with setbacks?”
  • “Give me an example of a goal you achieved, and how.”
  • “Tell me about how you’ve dealt with dissatisfied customers.”
  • “Tell me about a successful presentation you’ve given, and why you think it worked. 
  • “How do you reflect on past work to make sure you move forward?”

6. Leading, and being managed

  • “Tell me about a time you exercised leadership.”
  • “Give me an example of when you’ve motivated others.”
  • “Tell me about a time you’ve been micromanaged, how did you deal with that?”
  • “What management style suits you best?”

Example answers to behavioural interview questions

Below are some sample answers to common behavioural job interview questions so you can have a look at how to put the STAR method into practice:

1. Tell me about a time you experienced conflict with a colleague, and how you resolved it.

I was working with another junior graphic designer on a big project that involved creating multiple digital assets. This work would come through our workflow system, and we were each supposed to claim the assets we were working with by marking them with our names.

However, in one instance, they forgot to mark their name on the asset, so I started working on the same asset as them, and finished it. They only realised this after they’d been working on it for two hours, and were upset that they had wasted their time.

Between us, we worked out what had happened by reviewing our flow procedure. We agreed to take the additional step of sending each other a quick Slack message whenever we started working on a new asset. I also helped them out with their next asset to make sure they didn’t have to stay late to get their work finished.

After we agreed to add in the extra communication step regarding the workflow pipeline, we never had this issue again, and by offering to help them out with their work, my relationship with this colleague didn’t suffer in the long term.”

2. Tell me about a time you’ve had to respond to criticism of your work

When I started working at my last hospitality job, I was asked, in addition to my barista role, to create a simple WordPress website for the organisation, as I had some skills with this platform and a background in media. I did this, but there was a very limited budget, so we had to settle for the most basic WordPress plan, which doesn’t include many features. As a result, the website served its purpose, but was fairly basic.

A few months later, a new staff member was taken on, and part of their role involved managing the cafe’s social media and website. They didn’t know that I had created the website, and were very critical of the design in front of myself and the manager. When the manager pointed out that I had been the one to create the site, they were very embarrassed, but it was okay, as I knew they didn’t know it was me who had created the site.

However, I was really keen to learn from them, as they had more of a background in this area than me, so I asked to help out with redesigning the website, now that we had more of a budget for it. This was useful for them, because I knew the logic behind the current site, and useful for me as I’m now a lot more experienced in creating these types of sites.”

3. How do you handle stress?

The main way I handle stress is by knowing what stresses me out, and trying to avoid getting into these situations in the first place. So, for me, a big stressor is thinking I’m going to miss a deadline. I hate the feeling of thinking I’m going to let people down or embarass myself by not delivering something on time.

So, the way I deal with this particular situation is by planning ahead, and regularly reassessing and re-prioritising my workload based on what I’ve got going on. Trello is one tool I’ve used for this in the past, as I find this a really straightforward way of seeing what I need to deliver by when, and what potential roadblocks or bottlenecks stand in my way. Figuring these things out early means I’ve got time to deal with them when they arise.

If these mechanisms fail, and I do find myself in a situation where I feel stressed, I try to stand back and see the big picture. Rather than just pushing on and thinking. “I’m stressed because I’m going to miss a deadline, and therefore I must keep working”, I want to think about what it is that’s stressing me, and whether there are some easy solutions I might be missing because I’m starting to panic.”

4. What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made professionally?

“The one that springs to mind is when I was very new to the email software my marketing department uses to send emails to all of our members. The role I’m in now is mostly based around blog and vlog creation, but it does involve some email marketing as well, which was a totally new area for me when I took the role.

I was tasked with sending a monthly email to our clients, and I did this a few times with no issues at all. However, one time I thought I was in the testing version, rather than the publishing version, so when I went to trial a test send to the members list, it actually sent the entire, unfinished email to everyone on that list. It was just a silly mistake that meant that a whole bunch of our members got an email with a lot of ‘Lorem ipsum’ text in it.

My reaction was to immediately seek help from the email lifecycle person on our team, and also let my manager know that this had happened. This meant that I could instantly start working on a fix with the most technically skilled person on our team, while also allowing my manager to take any action she needed to. We were able to get an apology email out to everyone who had received the mistake within five minutes, and then follow up with the real email a few days later.”

5. Tell me about a time you’ve exercised leadership

“As well as an editing role in my current newspaper job, I’ve also been tasked with training the new hires on subjects such as the paper’s style guide, our requirements with regards to media law and how to source and incorporate imagery into our articles.

This has been a really good way to develop leadership skills, as there’s a strong personal element to this role, as well as getting across the technical information on how we do things in the organisation. For example, I had a new starter recently who was very nervous about having his work sub-edited by one of his peers, which is an important quality control step before any piece goes live on site.

I was able to give this individual confidence by telling them that even our longest-serving writers have to have their copy checked before it goes live, and that the idea is to learn from each other, not to judge other peoples’ skills. Once they realised that this was a safe environment to open themselves up to constructive criticism, they felt a lot happier about doing so.”

How do you prepare for a behavioural interview?

Once you’ve made some notes to answer these key questions, we highly recommend conducting a mock interview. This allows you to:

  • Familiarise yourself with the STAR framework.
  • Practice speaking your answers out loud.
  • Think about your body language – this is especially important when talking about negatives, like your biggest mistakes.