Preparing for behavioural and situational interview questions

By on 23rd November 2016

Firstly, congratulations on making it through to the interview stage -- you're one step closer to landing that new position. While you might be comfortable answering interview questions related to your skills and job experience when the time comes, are you prepared for the behavioural interview questions?

Yes, they can be unpredictable and can often push you outside of your comfort zone, but hiring managers are turning to them more and more. Behavioural and situational interview questions are asked to get an idea of what you’ve done — or would do — in certain circumstances. The idea is that your answers provide insight into your work experiences and personal attributes for the interviewer. It's also a good thing to step outside of your comfort zone at work, it can push you and challenge you and make you a better employee overall.

Managers are looking for people who are competent and a good fit for their organisation, even for temporary and part-time jobs, and they can get at that by asking this style of interview questions.

How to tell when you are being asked a behavioural or situational interview question

When you hear the words: “Tell me about a time when...” it is highly likely that the hiring manager is asking you a behavioural interview question. Other variations include:

“Describe a time when...”
“Give me an example of...” 
“Have you ever...?”

Some behavioural interview questions require you to put yourself in a situation and use your imagination for an answer. You have to think on your feet, especially if you’ve never considered behavioural interview questions in advance. Let’s say you were asked, “How would you persuade your supervisor to move financial functions to the cloud?” Or “What steps would you take if you were told that you needed to increase productivity in this job?” You’ll have to come up with an immediate solution to what could be a tricky matter. Using the following advice can help you feel more comfortable and prepared going into your next job interview.

Developing your experiences into behavioural interview answers

In the past, you may have solved similar problems to the situational question being asked. To make these top of mind during your interview, take the initiative to create a storehouse of work experiences beforehand in preparation. As you think about issues you’ve tackled and overcome in the workplace, try to compose several short stories you can share in 60 seconds or less.

For example, you might be asked to talk about a time when you worked with colleagues as part of a team - how did you contribute to make it a successful collaboration? Was there ever a time when you had to overcome stress, deal with a crisis or handle a failure - What did you do?

You don't need to memorise lines, but try to have a general strategy and idea for approaching topics with compelling stories and situations.

Related: How to showcase your interpersonal skills during an interview

Tackle behavioural and situational interview questions by exploring different topics and scenarios

Behavioural and situational interview questions can be about something you may have encountered in the past, or alternatively they can be a hypothetical “what if” question.

Either way, the stories you’ve prepared can help. Even if the question isn’t specifically about something you’ve handled before, your preparation will make you feel comfortable and confident in describing your thought processes and approaches. Think about how open you are to new ideas, how good you are at negotiating solutions and what you might draw upon to think through a problem.

Sample behavioural interview questions:

Want some more practice at developing behavioural and situational interview answers? Here is a list of examples of commonly asked sample questions:


  • Have you ever had to get buy-in from a resistant audience to a project or idea? Tell me how you approached it.
  • Tell me about a time when you had to give a team member constructive criticism. How did you go about giving it?
  • Give me an example of a time when you had to explain something complex to a client or colleague. What did you do?


  • Tell me about your greatest career achievement to date. Can you describe what steps led to the outcome?
  • Describe a project that you worked on, that led to your professional development.
  • Tell me about a time when you set a goal and met your objectives.


  • Tell me about a time when you had to lead a project and your other team members weren’t contributing as you had envisaged. How did you tackle the situation?
  • Describe a time when a member of your team was under-performing. What did you do?


  • Tell me about a time when you had to analyse information to solve a problem. How did you go about doing it, and what was the result?
  • Describe a project that you worked on where you had to take steps to solve a problem. What was the problem and what was the logic you applied to solve it?

Attention to detail/organisational ability

  • Tell me about a time where you discovered an error, made by either yourself or a colleague. What did you do? How did you approach the situation?
  • Have you ever had to create or implement a new system to achieve greater productivity? What did you do?
  • Tell me about a stressful time when you were under pressure. What was causing the pressure and how did you manage the stress?

Creativity and innovation

  • Describe the most innovative idea you’ve ever had and the impact that it had on the company.
  • Have you ever solved a problem in a way that was unexpected? Tell me about it.
  • Tell me about a time where you offered an innovative solution to improve productivity.


  • Give me an example of a time where your integrity was challenged. What did you do?
  • Describe a time when honesty was not the best policy.


  • Describe a situation where you had to make an unpopular decision. How did you go about communicating it to your team?
  • Give me an example where you’ve had to work with someone who you didn’t get along with. How did you approach and resolve the situation?
  • How have you interacted with a difficult project manager or team leader?


  • Tell me about a time when you haven’t achieved what you set out to do. How did you deal with it?
  • Have you ever had a project or idea rejected? What happened and how did you react?
  • Describe a situation where you found yourself outside your comfort zone.
  • Describe a time when your team or company was undergoing some change. How were you impacted?

Improve your behavioural interview questions: The CAR or STAR method

The CAR principle gives you a structured way to respond to the interviewer, by giving context (describe the background and situation that you were in), action (describe what action or steps you took) and result (describe the professional outcomes you achieved). 

The STAR method provides a similar structure, and stands for situation or task (describe the specific event or task you were given), action (describe what steps you took) and result (describe the professional outcomes you delivered to the business). 

Sample behavioural interview questions and answers

“Tell me about a time when you were faced with a stressful situation and how you handled it.”

Context (also known as Situation or Task): I was leading a special project team. Our client shifted the deadline forward by two weeks. This had a significant impact on our suppliers. Some could deliver to the new deadline, but others couldn’t. 

Action: Leveraging the strong relationship that I had developed with my client already, I took the time to understand what was driving him to change the deadline. Once I understood the detail as to why it needed to be shifted, I realised that I could deliver the project to the client in phases - thus satisfying his needs, and keeping the suppliers happy. I developed a phased delivery plan and proposed this to the client.

Result: The client accepted the phased schedule, and we delivered the project on time. The client was very satisfied and as a result we were appointed another new project worth £500,000 to the business.

Three final tips to answering behavioural interview questions effectively:

  1. Do your research: Find out what skills and behaviours the employer is looking for, and mine your own CV to find examples that you think will demonstrate a good match for the role.
  2. Practise the CAR or STAR method out loud in advance: if you remind yourself of the acronym while telling your story, you’ll stay on point.
  3. Don’t keep referring to the same experience: arrive at an interview armed with a few different examples that you can adapt according to the different questions asked.

This is a case where past behaviour may indeed be used as an indicator of future success. So practice thinking on your feet, developing your stories and exploring different topics — with all if this in mind you’ll rock your job interview, which might just lead to the next step in your career.

For more interview tips please visit our career advice page. You can also contact a team member here at Robert Half for any further information or help.

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