How to Answer Behavioral Interview Questions

As an interview coach, I need to make sure that I stay on top of new interview questions being asked. I’ve done this before by giving you the answers to the top 25 oddball interview questions according to Glassdoor.com. Now it’s time to tackle a tough behavioral interview question.

Today’s behavioral interview questions are designed to root out your experience in a particular area and see if it’s relevant to the job you are applying too. I had the opportunity to ask a VP of Human Resources at a major pharmaceutical company what her favorite behavioral interview question was. She told me that she asks this question in every single interview she has.

“Tell me about a time when you received surprising negative feedback.”

What is so great about this question? It’s the fact that it uses the word “surprising”. What any hiring manager is trying to get out of you, the job seeker, is negative feedback that you didn’t expect to receive. It’s this negative feedback that helps the hiring manager understand and determine your weaknesses and in many cases, to catch you off-guard. It’s in those moments where that the hiring manager might receive an honest answer, but of course, that honest answer may hurt your chances of landing the job. Am I advocating to lie in your interview? Absolutely not! Never!

However, I am advocating to be prepared when going into an interview. Let’s go over an example of how this might look if someone went in unprepared.


HM: “Tell me about a time when you received surprising negative feedback.”
Terry: “One time I was told by my past boss that I was extremely unorganized with my work.”
HM: “Great, thank you. Now why was that a surprise to you?”
Terry: “Because I thought my organizational system sufficed since I knew where everything was.”


That’s it! Do you think “Terry” (hypothetical candidate) left a good impression? Absolutely not! Why? Because she was not prepared and gave a bad answer.

Now let’s answer the same behavioral interview question with the C.A.R. strategy that we have discussed before.


HM: “Tell me about a time when you received surprising negative feedback.”
Terry: “One time I was told by my past boss that I was extremely unorganized with my work. After that meeting, I decided to implement a better tracking system in which I could show my organization methodology. This included tracking all incoming/outgoing requests in excel with customized formulas that I designed. I then took that excel file and shared it on the network so anyone could view it in real-time. The file ending up receiving such high praise that the company actually implemented in the whole department nationwide. My manager later told me that he made a mistake in calling my organization style bad.”
HM: “Great, thank you. Now why was that a surprise to you?”
Terry: “It was a surprise because my manager was unaware of my organizational capabilities. I feel that it was my fault that I did not convey to him clearly my organizational style. Again, reiterating, once I was able to show him organizational methodology and the benefits it could have, he was very pleased. I have learned from this that I must be more open and sharing on how I go about my work.”


What happened here? Terry used the C.A.R. strategy to tackle the question. She gave context to the question and said up-front this is the answer you are looking for. She then described the action she took and explained the result it produced. In this instance, she was able to take the hiring managers tricky behavioral interview question, which was looking for a weakness, and spun it into a positive. This can show the hiring manager many things; 1) You are honest. 2) You came prepared which means you take this serious. 3) You can convey your positive attributes. and 4) You should get the job because you have the experience to get the job done.

When you find yourself in your next interview, don’t let these tricky behavioral interview questions trip you up. Take a moment to yourself and compose your answer.

By Marc DeBoer
On April 18, 2013