Job interviews are designed to help a hiring manager determine if you're a good fit for the team. Behavioral interviewing is the technique many employ to figure this out. It's a set of open-ended questions designed to make you give a detailed answer. The hiring manager then listens to the response to determine if your personality, aptitude, and experience are in sync with what is needed. As a career coach, I've seen many job seekers make the mistake of answering these questions without proper thought. They fail to see how the answer could be misinterpreted in the interview. My job is to get them to think about the answer from the manager's POV and to provide something that is accurate, but phrased in a way that makes sense. In short, job seekers need to learn how to speak hiring manager's language - or they don't get hired!

This question reveals a lot about what frustrates you on the job.

One of the most popular behavioral questions I see job seekers screw up is:
 

"Tell me about a time when you had to deal with a difficult situation on the job. What did you do?"
 

It's not uncommon for a job seeker to choose a story about an internal situation and not even realize how it is throwing coworkers under the bus. For example, you might say:
 

"One time, I had a deadline for a customer, but I needed some information from another department. I learned that they hadn't done the work and that they were really backed up and weren't going to get me what I needed in time. So, I did the work myself to make sure the deadline was met and our customer was satisfied."
 

You might think this answer shows your can-do team spirit, but it actually does the opposite. The problem is that when you focus your response on how a person(s) made the situation difficult, you shine the light on the fact that you may tend to blame people for problems that arise. This is a warning sign that you may be the kind of employee that is always pointing fingers when things don't go well. A better response would be:

"One time, I had a deadline for a customer, but I needed some information that wasn't easily available. I realized if I didn't do the additional work to get the information, the customer might not get what they needed on time. So, I worked with my teammates and manager to get it done. It was a great feeling to see the customer satisfied."

This answer tells the same story, but frames it more positively. What is said here is accurate. A true teammate understands when another team is in trouble and does what it takes to help out - without having to point out their failure.

PS - The best answer stays clear of co-worker issues.

If you really want to avoid answering this behavioral question wrong, I suggest you keep your answer focused on a situation that details problems with a vendor, customer, or any other external challenge related to the success of the business. Hiring managers want to hear how you solved problems that saved or made the company money. That's what you are getting paid to do!

Published on: Feb 25, 2018