Answering behavioral interview questions can be tricky if you are unsure of their purpose. For example, when a potential employer asks you to describe a challenge you overcame, they want to see how you deal with pressure, setbacks, failures, and unexpected challenges.
A stellar answer will tell them about your problem-solving skills and critical thinking ability. Let’s review some tips for excellent answers, pitfalls to avoid, and look at 21 fantastic example answers.
5 Tips for Crafting Your Best Answer
- Use a professional or work-related story if you can
- Try to include a relevant story that can apply to the job position
- Emphasize what you learned from the challenging situation
- Keep the interview answer simple and concise
- Be humble but proud of your accomplishments
5 Mistakes to Avoid
- Do not say that you have never had to overcome any challenges
- Avoid too much detail
- Do not use your answer to blame someone else for a previous issue
- Stay away from stories with negative outcomes
- Avoid retelling the story as you being superior to others
How to Answer: STAR Format
When answering common interview questions, the hiring manager hopes your answer gives them a deeper look into your work abilities. Using the proven STAR technique will provide a good example that includes all the key elements they are looking for in an easy-to-follow layout.
The STAR method uses four vital elements, which include:
S: Situation – Start with the simple circumstances as the base for the answer. Were you on a team project and facing a short deadline?
T: Task –What was your part or role in the circumstances? Were you the individual responsible for delivering products to a client?
A: Action – What course of action did you take to solve the original problem? Specify your steps and not that of the team.
R: Result – End your answer with a positive outcome. Did you achieve what you set out to do, or what did you learn from the problem that you can use next time?
Take a look at these real example answers and see how you can prepare for any tough interview questions in your next interview.
Example #1: Filling a Role You Never Held Before
At my first job, I worked as the on-site customer service rep for the store. I was right out of school and did not have any customer service experience until this point. I answered phone and email concerns, forwarded complaints to specific departments, and tried to find workable resolutions.
Even though I was new to handling customer problems, especially in a busy, high-stress store, I learned how to think quickly and empathize with the clients so that they were satisfied with the end results.
Example #2: Fixing the Mistakes of a Coworker Who Was Fired
Working on the production floor at my previous job presented a significant challenge one time. A coworker was let go due to a lack of quality work, and there was a pile of incomplete orders and customer invoices with mistakes that needed fixing.
Because we were both assigned to the same production team, I had to fix the mistakes and clean up the unfinished orders. Although it was stressful and many of the orders were under a tight schedule, I successfully completed the task while balancing my production duties with careful time management.
Example #3: Having to Fire a Coworker
I was in a tough situation at my last job as the shift supervisor. I always try to have a good relationship with everyone at work for a more harmonious environment. Unfortunately, HR approached me to fire one of my coworkers because of some disciplinary issues.
This circumstance was a difficult time for me at first since I had never been the bearer of bad news before. Thankfully, after discussing company procedures and policies with Human Resources, I came up with a plan to let my coworker go as empathetically as possible. Although I do not want to deal with that problem again, I believe I am more knowledgeable on what it takes to get that kind of job done tactfully and professionally.
Example #4: Deal with a Cash Till Shortage Problem
Working as a cashier on the night shift at my previous job posed some challenges. My shift was short at cash-out every evening for an entire week. In addition, management was beginning to suspect employee theft, so I investigated the problem.
I did not want to start blaming coworkers, but I had to find the cause of the shortage before our company lost any more money. After sitting down with everyone on the night shift and going through till receipts, I discovered that one woman working with us had terrible eyesight and mistakenly entered in wrong codes and price counts.
Thankfully, I caught the problem early, she started wearing proper prescription glasses while on shift, and there was no further cash till shortage issues.
Example #5: Act as the Liaison Between Two Disgruntled Coworkers
Even though I was not a supervisor in my previous role, the management team asked me to act as a liaison between two coworkers that had personal issues because I had close personal relationships with both of them.
Although I had no previous conflict resolution training, my employer’s HR team helped me prepare to work effectively with both coworkers. As a result, I see now how having a familiar acquaintance was more productive for diffusing a sensitive situation than having the management team intervene alone.
Example #6: Learn a New Skill to Keep Your Job
When I was working as an administrative assistant, we had a change in ownership. The new management team had their own ideas about what each employee’s current role and duties should entail. After going through my job description, they decided that my position was ineffective and outdated.
The new owners gave me a chance to take some evening classes to obtain my license to sell insurance in the office and take a job on the floor rather than getting laid off. Although it was stressful to face a looming job loss, I decided to pursue the certification and completed it successfully to keep employment.
Example #7: Manage a Sales Team During Company-Wide Layoffs
Working as a sales team manager during the recession was a tough time for everyone. Our organization was going through company-wide layoffs, which had a detrimental effect on the remaining employee’s confidence and job satisfaction.
I could see how the anxiety and stress affected our monthly sales, and I had to find a way to turn it around. So, I took the initiative to talk to management about integrating some no-cost morale-boosting things to incorporate at work to help with everyone’s outlook. Thankfully, by including things like a monthly potluck and casual-dress Fridays, the employees started to enjoy working at the office more and spending time with each other, and our sales improved again.
Example #8: Accept a Promotion When Up Against a Coworker Who Was a Close Friend
One tough situation I faced at my last position was when our supervisor retired and his job was up for grabs. The company conducted an in-house job interview first before looking outside the organization, and consequently, both myself and my coworker applied for the position. The complication was that this coworker was also my close friend.
After two rounds of interviews with the hiring manager, they offered me the promotion to shift supervisor, much to my friend’s disappointment. However, this circumstance gave me insight into being professional and empathetic to coworkers. Although my friend was not happy about being passed over, they eventually accepted that I was the better choice for that particular job, and we have a good working relationship to this day.
Example #9: Being in Charge of Finding Cost-Cutting Measures for the Office
As part of my job as the district manager, my boss came to me for help in finding cost-cutting measures for the office. Although I did not have much accounting and budgeting experience, I embraced this new task and began searching our company processes and procedures for any inefficiencies.
In only two weeks, I distinguished three separate areas where our office could save money. From changing suppliers and distribution companies to allowing employees to take unpaid time off, I decreased our district budget by 12%.
Example #10: Make an Ethical Decision at Work Regarding Some Current Work Practices
Working at a public relations firm presented the biggest challenge that I have faced during my career so far. After working there for only one year, I found that some of my coworkers were making unethical decisions regarding our company’s business practices because of pressure from clients.
Once a client approached me to perform the same favors, I had to decide if my job was worth going against my principles. Eventually, I chose to follow my morals, and although the client was not pleased with my decision, it brought unfair company practices to light with our management team, forcing a positive change for all our staff.
Example #11: Being an Ineffective Manager of a Retail Store
Although it is hard for me to discuss now, I was an ineffective retail store manager years ago. It was my first role in management, and I had outdated ideas of my duties. As a result, my subordinates did not respect me, and there was a high turnaround rate for the first six months of me overseeing the team.
Eventually, the district manager came to me with concerns about my actions and how to handle the employees. By seeking further training and remaining open to better management practices, I was thankfully able to adjust my view and how I dealt with the team on the floor. This way, everyone was happier and more productive.
Example #12: Letting Pride Get in the Way of Asking for Help
At my previous position, I had the chance to take on other jobs during our slow season. Unfortunately, the one task they asked me to handle was an action I was unfamiliar with before. Because I was still pretty new to the job, I felt intimidated and nervous about asking for help since I didn’t want to look like I didn’t know what I was doing.
As a result, I did not complete the task according to how the company wanted, and I ended up wasting more time since I had to redo it after my supervisor took me aside to go over the steps. I know now that it is always better to ask for clarification and ensure that I am on the right track to be more productive.
Example #13: Refusing to See How Much More You Could Learn at Your First Sales Position
I worked as part of a profitable sales team at my previous job. My team was terrific, and we achieved top sales status almost every quarter. However, because of this, anytime my supervisor came to me with a good idea on obtaining new clients, I would brush him off and disregard his advice.
After some time, the management group brought me in to discuss how I was not open to new ideas and was combative at work. At the time, my thought process felt like they singled me out, but now I realize that my disregard for learning new strategies limited my potential. So now, I try to take any ideas a coworker has as having the potential to help me improve.
Example #14: Being in Charge of Hiring a Third-Party Event Planner That Overbilled Your Company
My boss assigned me to hire a third-party event planner for our annual district conference. I spent a lot of time researching the available options and comparing quotes, finally deciding on a local small company to run our event.
Once the event was over and my company received the final bill, there was a significant discrepancy in some charges. There was a miscommunication between what they quoted and what services I chose for them to handle. Facing a more significant invoice than our limited budget allowed, I strategized and agreed with the event planner for a lesser amount, and also committed to using their services for our next event.
In the end, my company had a more manageable bill, and we kept a professional relationship open with a local company. I also learned more about communication skills and having contracts in writing ahead of time.
Example #15: An Angry Client Asked for Your Manager Who Was Not Available and Demanded a Solution
I remember the first time I was the only senior staff member on shift while our manager had to leave for a delivery. While he was gone, I took a phone call from an irate client who had a mistake in their order and demanded to talk to the manager.
Although I have some experience with angry customers, the process at our company was to let the manager handle these types of calls. However, since he was unavailable, the client wanted a solution now rather than waiting for a callback. Thankfully, I took a conflict resolution course the year before, and I could calm the client down and minimize their urgency. This way, my manager could talk to them later about a proper solution.
My manager was impressed with how I handled the call. Because of how effective my methods were, he ensured that every team player could take the conflict resolution course so they would also have the tools to handle this situation if he was not around.
Example #16: Completing Your Monthly Reports Incorrectly
I held a work experience position as an intern right out of school. Although it was only a short-term job, I was keen to try my hand at as many tasks as possible. But, unfortunately, I think I was in too much of a hurry to try and learn everything and missed an important part in my monthly reports.
My supervisor noticed the mistakes and brought them to my attention. Of course, I immediately felt ashamed. But with time, I realized that as long as I own up to my mistakes and make sure I do not continue them, I can learn from any negative situations.
Example #17: Repeatedly Clashing with a Team Member During Major Projects
I worked in a small team at my last place of employment. We oversaw all the accounts payable and receivables. Unfortunately, each month, a report was due that required important information from all four team members. I was consistently clashing with one coworker about generating the details for the document.
This conflict would continue each month, causing stress and time delays. Finally, after some consideration, I approached my supervisor to ask for help to diffuse the situation and figure out a resolution. I am glad I took the initiative because, after that, our supervisor was able to work with both of us to find a workable solution when it came to collecting the necessary data for our monthly reports.
Example #18: After Spending Days on an Important Project, All the Data Was Lost
I can remember a difficult work situation where I spent many days working on an important project for a new client. My supervisor wanted me to make sure that I met all the customer’s requests. I worked diligently on this project and was satisfied with my progress as I went through their items.
Unfortunately, we had a power surge at our office that took out our power, and my computer took on some damage from it. Within a second, all my hard work was gone. I immediately started to panic but realized that I had to think logically and formulate a plan. I contacted our IT department, and with some careful retracing to our backup server, I could recover most of my work so I could remain on task and complete the project on time.
Example #19: Being Very Driven During a Team Project, and Taking Over Too Much of the Responsibility
I enjoy working in teams, and with my last project, I was a little too enthusiastic when it came to taking on team tasks. So I started trying to handle as many items for the group as possible, believing that the more I did for the group, the better we would be.
Unfortunately, by doing this, I was not allowing each team member a great opportunity to use their strengths and abilities for the group’s benefit. As a result, I stretched myself too thin, and because I was completing too many things at once, I started making mistakes and missing deadlines. In the end, I realized that I could not do everything, and having a competent team to split tasks is the best solution for large projects.
Example #20: Having a Hard Time Following the Direction of Your Manager
Unfortunately, one difficult situation I encountered at my previous employer was when I was having a hard time following the direction of one of my managers. This individual would come to me with tasks that I didn’t feel were relevant to the project or they were not an efficient use of my time.
Consequently, because I did not always follow the directions given to me, I created a wedge between my manager and me that other coworkers noticed. After talking to the Human Resources department, I realized that ignoring or disregarding my manager’s directions was not the best solution. Thankfully, with the amazing group of people on staff, I learned how to accept guidance and when to ask for more clarification if I had concerns.
Example #21: Reacting When a Client Changed a Project Deadline
Thinking back, the biggest challenge I faced at work was when I was working for a prestigious client on a major project. This client was a long-term contract of our company, and I was new to working on their file. I began their new project last quarter and was well into many details when they came back and changed the deadline, moving it up by two weeks.
Once my manager notified me of the change, I started to panic since I didn’t think I would have enough time to complete the project before the due date. So, I talked to my supervisor and discussed some options to complete the job in a shorter time frame. I am glad I reached out because my supervisor assigned another person to help me with the project, and we had it done in time for the client, after all.
Answering behavioral questions is just the first step in the job interview process. One great way to ace an interview is preparing with sample answers that will wow potential employers.
Using details from specific situations will show an employer the best way you handle workplace challenges and if you will be the best fit for the job. In addition, past experiences can help a potential employer relate to you and show your best qualities, even when in stressful situations.
Keith Miller has over 25 years of experience as a CEO and serial entrepreneur. As an entrepreneur, he has founded several multi-million dollar companies. As a writer, Keith's work has been mentioned in CIO Magazine, Workable, BizTech, and The Charlotte Observer. If you have any questions about the content of this blog post, then please send our content editing team a message here.