Behavioral Interview Cheatsheet

Behavioral Interview Cheatsheet

Navigating the labyrinthine corridors of job interviews is a daunting task for many, and when you hit the segment known as ‘behavioral interviews,’ the journey gets even more intricate. These interviews are not just a rundown of your CV, but a deep dive into how you behave in a professional environment, what makes you tick, and what you bring to a team. Understanding the essence and the how-tos of behavioral interviews can be a game-changer in your job-seeking journey. This guide aims to equip you with the necessary tools to tackle any behavioral question thrown your way effectively.

Top Questions You’re Likely to Face

  1. Tell me about yourself.
    • Expectation: Interviewers want a concise but informative overview of your career path and skills that are relevant to the job. This sets the tone for the rest of the interview.
    • Common Mistakes: Candidates often ramble, providing either too much personal information or an exhaustive list of every job they’ve had. This can make the candidate appear unfocused and waste precious interview time.
    • Tip: Craft a brief “elevator pitch” that outlines your most relevant experience, skills, and why you’re interested in this specific role.
    • Example of a Good Answer: “With over 5 years of experience in front-end development, I specialize in creating efficient and scalable React applications. I recently led a project at my last job that improved web page load times by 20%, enhancing user experience.”
  2. Why are you interested in this position?
    • Expectation: Interviewers are gauging whether you’re genuinely interested in the job and the company, or just looking for any job. They want to hear about how this role aligns with your career goals.
    • Common Mistakes: Vague answers, such as “it seems like a good fit,” don’t provide insight into your motivations. On the other hand, focusing solely on the benefits like salary or work-life balance can be equally off-putting.
    • Tip: Be specific about projects or initiatives that excite you and how they align with your professional growth.
    • Example of a Good Answer: “I’ve always been passionate about AI and machine learning. The projects your team is working on are groundbreaking, and I believe my skill set would make a valuable addition.”
  3. What are your strengths and weaknesses?
    • Expectation: Interviewers are assessing your self-awareness and suitability for the role. Knowing your strengths indicates what you can contribute, while understanding weaknesses shows maturity and a willingness to improve.
    • Common Mistakes: Candidates often resort to clichés like, “I’m a perfectionist,” or offer weaknesses that aren’t really weaknesses, undermining their credibility. Alternatively, mentioning a crucial skill you lack for the role could disqualify you.
    • Tip: Choose real strengths relevant to the job, and weaknesses that are genuine but won’t hinder your job performance.
    • Example of a Good Answer: “One of my strengths is my ability to communicate effectively, helping align project expectations and team cohesion. A weakness would be my struggle with public speaking, but I’m currently enrolled in a course to improve.”
  1. Describe a challenging project you’ve worked on.
    • Expectation: Interviewers want to understand your problem-solving skills, technical expertise, and how you handle challenges.
    • Common Mistakes: Failing to specify your role in the project, focusing only on the technical challenges and neglecting interpersonal or team dynamics, or suggesting you’ve never encountered a challenging project.
    • Tip: Use the STAR method (Situation, Task, Action, Result) to structure your response.
    • Example of a Good Answer: “I was responsible for implementing a caching mechanism in our app. I had to study different algorithms and evaluate their performance under various scenarios. In the end, we managed to reduce database calls by 40%.”
  2. Why did you leave your last job?
    • Expectation: The interviewer wants to ensure there are no red flags and understands your career goals.
    • Common Mistakes: Speaking negatively about your previous employer or colleagues is a red flag. Avoid focusing on conflicts or implying you left solely for a higher salary.
    • Tip: Frame it positively, focusing on what you’re looking to achieve in your next role.
    • Example of a Good Answer: “I had a great experience at my previous job but felt I had reached a plateau in terms of growth. I’m looking for a role where I can take on new challenges.”
  3. How do you handle stress and tight deadlines?
    • Expectation: Your potential employer wants to know that you can perform well under pressure.
    • Common Mistakes: Claiming you never get stressed is unbelievable and saying you crumble under stress is disqualifying. It’s essential to find a balance.
    • Tip: Discuss stress-management techniques you use, like task prioritization or mindfulness.
    • Example of a Good Answer: “Stress is a part of any challenging job; I manage it by breaking the larger tasks into smaller, manageable pieces and prioritizing them.”
  4. What is your greatest accomplishment?
    • Expectation: Interviewers are gauging your self-awareness and what you consider valuable in your work.
    • Common Mistakes: Being too modest or too boastful can both be problematic. Your accomplishment should be professional, relevant, and preferably recent.
    • Tip: Choose an accomplishment that aligns with the company’s goals and culture.
    • Example of a Good Answer: “My greatest accomplishment was leading my team to deliver a critical project two weeks ahead of schedule, resulting in a 10% increase in customer satisfaction.”
  5. How do you handle criticism?
    • Expectation: Companies value employees who can accept feedback and implement it.
    • Common Mistakes: Saying that you’ve never received criticism or that you don’t make mistakes could make you appear arrogant or lacking in self-awareness.
    • Tip: Share an example of constructive criticism you received and how you acted upon it.
    • Example of a Good Answer: “I appreciate constructive criticism as it helps me grow. In my previous role, I was advised to improve my Excel skills, and I immediately took a course to address this.”
  6. What motivates you?
    • Expectation: This helps the interviewer gauge culture fit and whether you’ll be driven to succeed.
    • Common Mistakes: Generic answers like “money” or “success” don’t offer insight into your personality or values.
    • Tip: Be specific and relate your motivation to aspects of the job.
    • Example of a Good Answer: “I’m motivated by the impact of my work. Knowing that the features I develop can enhance someone’s experience with the app drives me to excel.”
  7. Why should we hire you?
    • Expectation: This is your chance to sum up why you’re the best fit for the role.
    • Common Mistakes: Failing to relate your qualifications to the company’s needs, or coming across as desperate or arrogant.
    • Tip: Focus on how your unique skills make you the best fit for this specific job.
    • Example of a Good Answer: “I have a proven track record in delivering successful projects on time and a passion for coding that will contribute to the team’s success.”
  1. Explain a time you had to work with a difficult colleague.
    • Expectation: The employer wants to assess your interpersonal skills and conflict resolution abilities.
    • Common Mistakes: Blaming the colleague or suggesting you couldn’t resolve the situation are pitfalls.
    • Tip: Describe how you took initiative to address the issue, focusing on the actions you took rather than blaming others.
    • Example of a Good Answer: “I had a teammate who often missed deadlines, impacting the whole project. I initiated a one-on-one conversation to understand the obstacles he was facing and offered to assist. We eventually found a way to get back on track.”
  2. Describe a situation where you had to take the initiative.
    • Expectation: Interviewers are trying to understand your leadership qualities.
    • Common Mistakes: Vague descriptions or claiming you’ve never taken the initiative can be detrimental.
    • Tip: Provide a concrete example with a clear outcome.
    • Example of a Good Answer: “In my last role, I noticed our bug-tracking system was outdated. I researched better alternatives, presented my findings to the team, and led the transition to a more efficient system.”
  3. What are your career goals?
    • Expectation: Employers want to know if your career trajectory aligns with the company’s path.
    • Common Mistakes: Saying you’re not sure or that you haven’t thought about it can show a lack of ambition or foresight.
    • Tip: Align your goals with potential career paths within the company.
    • Example of a Good Answer: “I aim to transition into a role involving more leadership responsibilities, which would allow me to contribute on a larger scale.”
  4. What is your work style?
    • Expectation: This question assesses how well you’ll fit into the company culture and team dynamics.
    • Common Mistakes: Saying you’re flexible to any work style can make you seem indecisive.
    • Tip: Be honest but also consider the company culture when crafting your answer.
    • Example of a Good Answer: “I perform best in a collaborative environment where everyone is focused on achieving collective goals.”
  5. Do you prefer to work alone or with a team?
    • Expectation: Employers want to know how you fit into a team dynamic.
    • Common Mistakes: Indicating a strong preference for one over the other may raise concerns about your flexibility or teamwork skills.
    • Tip: Balance your answer to indicate that you can thrive in both settings.
    • Example of a Good Answer: “I enjoy both settings. Solo work allows for deep focus, while team projects offer social interaction and collaborative problem-solving.”
  6. Tell me about a time you had to meet a tight deadline.
    • Expectation: Interviewers want to know you can manage your time and deliver on commitments.
    • Common Mistakes: Saying you never had to meet a tight deadline or that you missed one are problematic.
    • Tip: Explain how you prioritize tasks and stay organized.
    • Example of a Good Answer: “I had a project that had a sudden change in specs, but not the deadline. I re-prioritized my tasks and coordinated with the team to meet the deadline successfully.”
  7. How do you prioritize your work?
    • Expectation: Your potential employer wants to understand your time management skills.
    • Common Mistakes: Avoid vague or generic responses like “I just handle whatever comes my way.”
    • Tip: Describe specific methods or tools you use for prioritization.
    • Example of a Good Answer: “I start my day by reviewing my tasks and categorizing them into urgent/important matrices. Then I tackle the high-priority items first.”
  8. What do you do when you’re not working?
    • Expectation: This question assesses culture fit and provides insights into your character.
    • Common Mistakes: Overly personal or inappropriate answers are to be avoided.
    • Tip: Choose hobbies or activities that reflect positively on you but still allow you to be genuine.
    • Example of a Good Answer: “I enjoy reading up on emerging tech trends and participating in hackathons. It’s a great way to continue learning and challenge myself.”
  9. How do you deal with failure?
    • Expectation: Employers are looking for resilience and a constructive approach to challenges.
    • Common Mistakes: Claiming you’ve never failed or dwelling on the failure without discussing learning outcomes.
    • Tip: Show how you learn from failure and use it as a stepping stone for future successes.
    • Example of a Good Answer: “When I fail, I take some time to analyze what went wrong and come up with strategies to prevent similar failures in the future.”
  10. What are you looking for in a new position?
    • Expectation: This question helps employers understand if the role aligns with your career goals.
    • Common Mistakes: Being too specific could limit your opportunities, while being too vague may show a lack of direction.
    • Tip: Align your answer with the job description and company goals.
    • Example of a Good Answer: “I’m looking for a role where I can leverage my skills in cloud computing to help scale applications efficiently.”

Curveball Questions to Watch Out For

interrogation atmosphere
  1. Sell me this pen.
    • Expectation: This old classic tests your persuasion and sales skills.
    • Common Mistakes: Focusing solely on the pen’s features without identifying the needs of the ‘buyer.’
    • Tip: Ask questions to the interviewer as if they’re a customer to identify their needs before selling.
    • Example of a Good Answer: “Are you someone who values reliability? This pen offers consistent ink flow and an ergonomic design for comfort.”
  2. What’s the most interesting thing about you that’s not on your resume?
    • Expectation: They’re digging for something that may not be directly related to the job but adds to your appeal as a candidate.
    • Common Mistakes: Mentioning something too personal or completely irrelevant.
    • Tip: Choose something that can be tied back to work-related skills or culture fit.
    • Example of a Good Answer: “I’m an amateur stand-up comedian. It’s taught me a lot about reading an audience and timing—skills that have come in handy in presentations.”
  3. How do you handle stress?
    • Expectation: They want to see if you have effective coping mechanisms.
    • Common Mistakes: Saying you don’t experience stress or offering an ineffective method for dealing with it.
    • Tip: Be honest, but choose a method that shows you can maintain your composure.
    • Example of a Good Answer: “When I’m stressed, I take a few minutes to step away from what I’m doing to meditate. It helps me gain a new perspective and return to my tasks with a clear mind.”
  4. How many ping pong balls can you fit in a school bus?
    • Expectation: They want to assess your problem-solving skills, not your knowledge of ping pong balls or school buses.
    • Common Mistakes: Shrugging it off or getting lost in the absurdity of the question.
    • Tip: Break down the problem and walk the interviewer through your thought process.
    • Example of a Good Answer: “Well, the question is more about approach than exact numbers. I’d start by estimating the dimensions of a bus and a ping pong ball and then calculating an approximate fit, always considering that the balls are spherical and the bus is not completely empty.”
  5. If you were a vegetable, what would you be and why?
    • Expectation: Believe it or not, they’re testing your creativity and ability to think on your feet.
    • Common Mistakes: Saying “I don’t know” or choosing a vegetable without giving any reason.
    • Tip: Pick something fun and relate it back to your work style or personality.
    • Example of a Good Answer: “I’d be a sweet potato. Versatile and can adapt to various cuisines (environments), yet with a unique flavor.”

The STAR Method

The STAR Method serves as a structurally sound and reliable framework for answering behavioral interview questions. The acronym stands for Situation, Task, Action, and Result, which are the four components that should be addressed when you answer any question about past experiences. The Situation sets the context and allows the interviewer to step into your shoes. Task defines the specific responsibilities or challenges you faced in that situation. Action elucidates the steps you took to navigate the issue or meet the responsibility, and Result illustrates the outcomes of your actions. While it’s tempting to focus mostly on the end result, interviewers are often more interested in your thought process and approach, so pay equal attention to all four components.


Mastering behavioral interviews can often be the make-or-break moment in landing your dream job. These interviews dig deep into not just your technical skills, but your problem-solving abilities, leadership qualities, and overall fit with a team and company culture. Adopting strategies like the STAR Method can enhance your storytelling capabilities, helping you present your experiences in a compelling and insightful manner. Whether you are a seasoned professional or a recent graduate, this comprehensive guide is designed to provide you with the armor you’ll need to conquer any behavioral interview that comes your way.

Additional Resources


  • “Cracking the PM Interview” by Gayle Laakmann McDowell
  • “The Behavioral Interview” by Charlie Harary


  • Glassdoor’s Interview Question Bank
  • LinkedIn Learning courses on Interview Preparation

Online Courses

  • “Mastering Behavioral Interview Questions” on Coursera
  • “Acing the Interview” on Udemy

Practice Tools

  • Mock interview platforms like Pramp
  • Networking events or interview workshops in your local area

These resources offer a wealth of information to further refine your interview skills and deepen your understanding of behavioral questions.

Author headshot

Nick Trayze

Software Engineer, Toptal insider

Nick is a freelancer with over 10 years of experience, having contributed to nearly a hundred different projects across various industries.