Here's How To Answer Those Stressful Behavioral Interview Questions

After putting together a perfectly crafted cover letter, revamping your résumé, and breezing through an initial phone interview, you've finally landed an in-person interview for your dream job. Nice work.
This in-person interview when you really need to sell yourself. And the best way to shine is by preparing for those tricky behavioral interview questions — you know the ones that ask you to flex your storytelling skills and talk about your weaknesses and successes.
You've likely already put in the legwork and painted a clear picture of what you have to offer as a candidate. Now you have an opportunity to clarify why you're the best person for the job.
Cynthia Pong, the founder of Embrace Change, specializes in helping women realize their true professional ambitions. As a lawyer-turned-career coach for women of color, Pong's expertise is helping women advocate for themselves, understand their worth, and ask for what they deserve. And, Pong says, interviews are a great opportunities for applicants to practice selling themselves. Especially when it comes to perfecting answers to behavioral interview questions.
"Preparation is key," Pong tells Refinery29. "I'd recommend thinking about how you would answer each question, jot down a few bullet points for each, and practice saying them out loud to someone who can give you some feedback."
Pong adds that one of the trickiest things about behavioral interview questions is figuring out how to speak about your weaknesses in a way that doesn’t make you seem weak. "There's a difference between stating your areas for growth in a matter-of-fact way and talking about them as if you are ashamed of them," Pong says, noting that you can also run the risk of sounding disingenuous. "One of my pet peeves is the 'humblebrag' response, such as 'my biggest weakness is that I'm a perfectionist.' This just makes it look like you didn't do much self-reflection."
Pong believes that speaking about past experience can make or break an interview and wants to make sure women come to interviews prepared. Ahead, she breaks down the best ways to craft answers to five of the trickiest behavioral interview questions so that you can make sure you know how to sell yourself — no matter what you're asked.

1. Tell me about a time you faced a conflict while working on a team. How did you handle that?

"I would highlight your use of your communication or conflict-resolution skills, if applicable. Be careful talking about 'nightmare' bosses. Hopefully, this goes without saying, but I would not bring up any physical fights or especially heated arguments."

2. Give me an example of a time when you didn’t meet a client or customer’s expectations. What happened, and how did you resolve the situation?

"I would frame this as recounting a learning experience you've had. And I would definitely be aware of speaking too negatively of the client or customer. Depending on the industry, the interviewers may have a the-customer-is-always-right policy, so try to get a sense of the mindset and culture around that so you can properly frame your answer."

3. Tell me about a time you failed at work. How did you handle this situation?

"Sometimes when we talk about things that we feel particularly vulnerable about, certain habits kick in. It might be rambling on and saying too much or it could be shutting down and having our mind go blank. For this one, I'd definitely spend some time thinking about possible answers and practicing so that you can express your thoughts clearly and fully without going on for too long."

4. Sometimes you have to deal with numerous important responsibilities. Tell me about a time your to-do list got too overwhelming. What did you do?

"This question, to me, is all about understanding a person's ability to prioritize. Although it may be tempting to answer by saying, I just worked longer, harder, or faster to get everything done, I don't find that to be a very satisfying answer. We all have a finite number of hours to do (probably) too many things. Use this question to show the interviewer your thought process in deciding what gets done and what doesn't."

5. What is your proudest professional accomplishment and why?

"Now is not the time to hold back and be humble! Definitely be sure to have an answer ready for this because not having an answer looks pretty awful. You also want to be able to dissect the question a little and explain what makes you proud of the accomplishment and maybe (extra credit!) even tie it into the particular role or organization."

More from Work & Money

R29 Original Series