Behavioral Interview Questions: How Best to Approach Them

We begin by defining what behavioral interview questions are before delving into how you should approach one. After this, we discuss how your answer to a behavioral question should be structured. And we round up by providing examples of behavioral questions commonly asked in both MBA and consulting interviews.

Behavioral interview questions are questions that recruiting firms ask you in an interview in order to deduce if you are the right fit for their organization’s work and culture. One common indicator that you are being asked a behavioral interview question is when the question starts with:

  1. “Tell me about a time…”
  2. “Have you ever…”
  3. “Give me an example of…”
  4. “What do you do when…?”

These days, recruiters are becoming subtler in asking these questions; so that a question like “what is the smartest thing you have ever done” is, in fact, a behavioral interview question. See it this way, anytime where a question requires you to tell a story about something that happened to you or you did, such a question is a behavioral interview question.

So how do you approach behavioral interview questions?

  1. Understand the question you are asked

It doesn’t hurt you to rephrase the question based on your understanding. No matter how beautifully you answer the wrong question, it is still a wrong answer. Take a breather, and ask yourself “what am I being asked here?” Don’t just hear a keyword and run off telling a story or an answer you have crammed.

  1. Have a Structure in Mind

A structure (some sort of framework of how you will answer a behavioral interview question) helps you gather your thoughts and also makes it easy for your interviewer to follow your thinking. While techniques like the STAR method are valuable, it is also useful if you can give your recruiter an upfront summary of what you are about to share.

  1. Focus on Brevity

Why use three sentences to explain what you have already talked about three sentences before? Your recruiter is not witless. Focus on passing your message across with the least amount of words possible. I know this can be hard for many, but if you take time to think about your experience and identify your top 5-7 diverse stories that are achievement-oriented, being brief would be easier.

  1. Smile

You’d be surprised at how many people don’t do this in an interview. When answering behavioral interview questions, show behavior that everyone loves: smile. Energy levels in any conversation, if left to its own devices, is contagious. If your interviewer doesn’t look too excited to be there with you, bring enough excitement for you and them. Don’t wait for a smile before you give one. It works wonders, makes you feel at ease, and can equally communicate to your interviewer that your story is real. You may realize that your interviewer is genuinely smiling after a while.

  1. Draw the Interviewer in

Make your interview a conversation. Behavioral interview questions are a good way to draw your interviewer in, either in the beginning, in the middle of your conversation, or at the end. The beginning and the end present easier opportunities for you to involve your interviewer in the conversation. For instance, you could say something like “One story that comes to mind is X, does it sound like a story you would like to hear?” or at the end you could say something like “And while I have explained X1, there is certainly much more that I did here and I am more than happy to speak on any area you think I haven’t covered properly.” Draw your interviewer in.

The STAR Method

The Situation, Task, Action, Result framework is an approach that allows you to communicate all the relevant information an interviewer is looking for when asking behavioral interview questions. It is simple and easy for an interviewer to follow. And we advise that you are constantly thinking of the STAR component when presenting your story to your recruiter.

Situation: Sets the scene and provides the much-needed context of your story. Give facts and not opinions. Think of time, place, people, and numbers.

Task: Describe what your actual role/responsibility was in that situation. Your Job description should do a good job of capturing all of your roles and responsibilities, but in the behavioral interview questions, highlight the 1 thing you were officially assigned to do in that situation.

Action: Tell the interviewer what exactly you did to reach the end result. Describe the actions you took to address the situation. Here is where many people ramble on and on. Focus on the most important actions, the critical ones. Don’t try to describe all the steps you took. Prioritize and focus on only what YOU did.

Result: Tell the interviewer what was the outcome of what actions. Describe what is measurable and do not use subjective terms here. Avoid adjectives by all means. Content here should answer the question of what happened, how the event ended, what you accomplished. It is always advisable to include what you learned from the experience.

Common MBA Behavioral Interview Questions

Expect the following behavioral interview questions, or some variation of it, during your MBA admission interview:

  1. Tell me about yourself
  2. Tell me about a time where you overcame a particularly difficult challenge at work. How did you add value?
  3. Can you give me an example of a time when you led a team to success?
  4. Describe a professional failure and how you overcame it.
  5. Describe a time where you had to adapt to a different culture.
  6. What has been your most challenging or rewarding academic experience so far?
  7. Have you ever made a mistake? How did you handle it?
  8. Describe a stressful situation and how you handled it.
  9. Describe an unpopular decision you made and how did you implement it?
  10. How did you handle meeting a tight deadline?
  11. Have you had to convince a team to work on a project they weren’t thrilled about? How did you do it?
  12. Have you handled a difficult situation with a supervisor? How?

Common Consulting Behavioral Interview Questions

Consulting behavioral interview questions are a subset of a larger set of consulting interview questions. They are often discussed under a different section of the Case interview known as PEI/FIT. This type of behavioral interview questions are different from its MBA counterparts in that it looks for specific skills not necessarily the priority in MBA interviews. So we advise that you check out the rules for PEI/FIT interviews that we shared on our website.

The article Consulting Interview Questions (FIT) on our website does a great job of covering common FIT interview questions. In spite of unique approaches used by different top consulting firms, we have extracted the common behavioral interview questions here for you but we advise that you refer to the article for more details on how to approach each individual question.

  1. What accomplishment(s) makes you the proudest? Why?
  2. Describe the best/worst manager you have ever worked for.
  3. Tell me about a time when you had an impact/
  4. Tell me about the thing you are proud of on your resume?
  5. Have you had a situation where you had to convince a colleague or a client to adopt a different point of view? (Never say No to this).
  6. Tell me about when you convinced a colleague or a client to adopt a different viewpoint from one they initially held.
  7. Tell me about a time you overcame a significant challenge at work.
  8. What is your biggest career achievement so far?” Alternatively, “Tell me about your biggest career achievement you had so far.”
  9. Tell me about a time where you resolved an important disagreement with a colleague.
  10. Could you speak about a time you led others?” Alternatively, “Tell me about a time when you demonstrated leadership.
  11. Tell me about a time when you were on a team and there was a conflict that kept the team from achieving its objective

Learn more about how to approach this kind of behavioural interview questions here, especially when interviewing with McKinsey.

This article was contributed by a valued member of the FIRMSconsulting community.

RECOMMENDED BOOKS:

succeeding as a management consultantSucceeding as a Management Consultant

When people think about the business strategy we often think about the field of strategy consulting/management consulting and firms like McKinsey, BCG, et al. If you are interested in learning how to conduct a management consulting engagement, you will likely enjoy this book. Succeeding as a Management Consultant is a book set in the Brazilian interior. This book follows an engagement team as they assist Goldy, a large Brazilian gold miner, in diagnosing and fixing deep and persistent organizational issues. This book follows an engagement team over an 8-week assignment and explains how they successfully navigate a challenging client environment, develop hypotheses, build the analyses, and provide the final recommendations. It is written so the reader may understand, follow, and replicate the process. It is the only book laying out a consulting assignment step-by-step. 

Marketing saves the world. useful if you are preparing for Behavioral Interview QuestionsMarketing Saves the World, Bill Matassoni’s Memoir 

Bill Matassoni’s (Ex-McKinsey and Ex-BCG Senior Partner) Marketing Saves The World is a truly unique book. Never before has a McKinsey partner published his memoir publicly. This book is a rare opportunity – a true exclusive – to see what shapes the thought process of a partner and learn about marketing and strategy. The memoir essentially lays out McKinsey’s competitive advantage and explains how it can be neutralized. 

Turquoise eyesTurquoise Eyes: A Novel about Problem Solving & Critical Thinking

Turquoise Eyes started off the groundbreaking new genre developed by FIRMSconsulting that combines compelling narrative while teaching problem solving and critical thinking skills. Set after a bank begins implementing a new retail banking strategy, we follow Teresa García Ramírez de Arroyo, a director-general in the Mexican government, who has received some disturbing news. A whistleblower has emailed Teresa with troubling news about a mistake in the loan default calculations and reserve ratios. The numbers do not add up. The book loosely uses the logic and financial analyses in A Typical McKinsey Engagement, >270 videos.

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Cheers, Kris

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