How to Answer Behavioral Interview Questions

If market trends are anything to go by, companies love to hire freelancers. It’s predicted that freelancers will make up a majority of the U.S. workforce by 2027. As a freelancer, you’re hired because of your specialized skill set, either for a short-term project or perhaps on a long-term retainer basis. However, because of the unique...

If market trends are anything to go by, companies love to hire freelancers. It’s predicted that freelancers will make up a majority of the U.S. workforce by 2027. As a freelancer, you’re hired because of your specialized skill set, either for a short-term project or perhaps on a long-term retainer basis.

However, because of the unique nature of freelance work — working remotely and independently makes it easier to end a working relationship — the hiring process can be very different than that of a full-time, on-site employee. This is especially reflected in the type of job interview questions that you could be asked.

When interviewing for a freelance job, you’ll more likely be asked questions about why you freelance and your experience as a freelancer, as well as the type of tools and equipment that you’d use to get the job done. Not only that, the interview will likely focus on behavioral questions, as it’s crucial to know who you are as a person in a remote working relationship.

But just what are behavioral interview questions? This article will not only tell you what they are, it’ll help you spot them, tell you why they’re used by recruiters, and also equip you with the necessary skills to prepare and answer them on your next job interview.

What Are Behavioral Interview Questions?

If the question starts with “Give me an example of a time … ” or “’Describe a specific situation where you had to … ” or “Have you ever … ,” you’re very likely dealing with a behavioral interview question.

Behavioral questions are exactly what the name suggests: Questions designed to find out how you behaved (or would behave) in a given situation. Look at it this way: Your resume lists the skills and qualifications you have that enable you to fulfill the tasks listed in the job description. On the other hand, your answers to behavioral interview questions will reveal how you’ll perform when you get the job.

One way these questions help hiring managers is that they offer a method for determining your emotional intelligence level (EQ) — how you relate with others. Potential clients these days aren’t simply interested in whether you have the expertise or experience to do a particular job (your IQ), they’re also concerned with your EQ level.

After all, as HuffPost reports, “EQ can make or break client relationships, our work environment, and our ability to successfully communicate with our colleagues.”

It doesn’t matter whether you’re interviewing face-to-face or on the phone, you can be quite certain that at least one behavioral question will be asked at some point during the hiring process.

Why Recruiters Like Behavioral Interviews

Man being interviewed with behavioral interview questions

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that these questions won’t come up for freelance, side hustle, and gig work jobs. Hiring managers are potentially more likely to ask behavioral interview questions precisely because you’re a freelancer.

Since freelancers often work remotely, hiring managers won’t be physically present to witness how you’ll do at the job or work with you towards achieving particular goals. This means they need to find out how you’ll work independently, based on what you say about your past performance.

Behavioral interview questions give recruiters a rough idea of how you’ll perform in a similar situation. Your answer gives them a glimpse into your thought process and hopefully, positively differentiates you from another equally qualified job candidate.

Before the interview, your client probably already has a list of the qualities they deem crucial for getting the job done. They’ll ask specific behavioral interview questions to find out of if you have what they’re looking for.

Here’s a sample of what hiring managers are really trying to find out about you when they ask behavioral interview questions:

  • Problem-solving skills
  • Time management
  • Ability to work in a team
  • Communication
  • Adaptability (or flexibility)
  • Attention to detail
  • Decision-making

How to Answer Behavioral Questions

Aerial view of woman with pen in mouth and daily planner on table

Just as there are ways to answer common interview questions during a job interview, there are tips for answering common behavioral interview questions so you come out looking great. All you need is a bit of preparation.

There’s the very handy STAR method (or STAR technique) to help you formulate the perfect answer for any behavioral interview question that may pop up during your freelance or side hustle job search. STAR is an acronym for Situation, Task, Action, and Result:

Situation

Identify a specific example — usually a challenging work situation. Set the scene and give enough details (but not too much, this isn’t the beginning of a movie script) for the hiring manager to understand what you’ll be talking about next.

Task

Explain your role and responsibility in the particular situation. Be sure to tie in how the situation relates to your task.

Action

Talk about what you did to address, resolve, or improve the situation. Give broad, general strokes (again, not a movie script) of the steps you took.

Don’t feel awkward about focusing on yourself. The whole point of behavioral interview answers is to talk about what you did, not what your co-worker did. Of course, you don’t want to come across sounding boastful, so feel free to talk about other team members’ contributions and how you got them onboard to help and contribute. Just remember: At the end of the day, the hiring manager is trying to decide whether to give you the job, not your team member.

Result

Share how your actions helped the situation or solved the problem, and talk about the positive results that came from what you did.

What to Watch out For

Don’t fret too much about these types of questions. As a freelancer, you’re at a distinct advantage thanks to all the multiple clients you’ve had to manage. Your varied client base and projects will give you plenty of past work experiences to draw your answers from.

One word of warning while we’re here: It’s OK to talk about a difficult situation that you may have had with a past client, but naming and shaming is off-limits. Firstly, it’s unprofessional to bad-mouth a former client, and secondly, it may make your potential new client think twice about hiring you, for fear of what you may tell others about them.

For example, “There was a particularly stressful situation with a job for a client” is fine, but “XYZ Company was a really difficult client to work with” is not.

Common Behavioral Interview Questions and Suggested Answers

Now that we understand the theory about why behavioral questions are asked and how to answer them, let’s see how you can apply what you’ve learned using the STAR method with a couple of common questions:

1. Tell me about a time when you had to work under pressure.

This question will come up for high-stress jobs, such as freelance writing jobs, which may have tight deadlines and multiple assignments due at once.

To answer, you could talk about a previous project you’ve worked on that had to be completed within a certain timeline that met with some complications — changed deadlines, unexpected challenges, staffing problems, and so on — and what you did to address it.

For example, you could say:

Situation: “The deadline for a project that I was working had to be shifted earlier because of some unexpected external factors.”

Task: “We had planned and agreed to finish the project in two weeks, but it now had to be completed in one. This created a fair bit of stress because I had other projects to complete for other clients during that period. However, I recognized the importance of getting the job done in a shorter period of time.”

Action: “We negotiated exactly what needed to be completed by the deadline and there were certain deliverables that could be omitted. I also got in touch with other clients to see if we could adjust their timelines, while ensuring that they weren’t inconvenienced in any way. Some of them were happy to extend their deadlines.”

Result: “Together with the renegotiated deliverables and some extra hours of work, I was able to successfully get the job done within the new timeframe.”

Besides showing your client that you’re able to work under pressure, such an answer also tells them that you’re flexible, respectful of deadlines, and communicate well with clients.

2. Have you ever had to prioritize your jobs?

Hiring managers know you’ll say yes to this question — if you’ve applied for a freelance job, employers know that they’re not your only client. What they really want to know when they ask this question is how you’d prioritize their job and what your time management skills are like.

For an answer, you could say:

Situation: “As a freelancer, I’ve been fortunate enough to always have several clients at the same time. That means having to juggle multiple projects, sometimes with the same timeframe and deadlines.”

Task: “Regardless of the task, I always accomplish it on time, and I do so to the satisfaction of my clients. Every project gets the same amount of focus and priority as if it were the only job I have.”

Action: “To achieve this balance, I’m very careful not only with determining client expectations, but also with how I manage my time. For every project, I discuss and agree to a set timeline with clients so that I always know when particular stages of the project should be completed. I dedicate a set number of hours during the day for each job, ensuring that all tasks are completed by their deadlines.”

Result: “I’m really happy with the planning system that I have, as it gives me a clear picture of what I need to do and when. Plus, it helps me understand my overall capacity. To date, I haven’t missed any deadlines and clients have been consistently happy with what I present to them. I’ve even managed to complete some tasks ahead of schedule.”

Behavioral Interview Questions and Your Next Freelance Job

Notebook with "Make it Happen!" message

The key to preparing for behavioral interview questions and answers is to think about all the significant events and achievements that you’ve had throughout your freelance career. Think about the qualities that you’ve developed in order to get through a particular hurdle or achieve the results you wanted.

Be sure to keep your examples clear and succinct. You don’t want the interviewer getting lost in the details of your answer, or even worse, tuning out because they’re bored. Also, you’ll probably be asked more than one behavioral interview question, so don’t spend all your time and energy in answering just one question and lose the opportunity to talk about your other skills because you’ve run out of time.

Once you’ve impressed your potential client with your answers, be sure to follow up with a thank-you email after your interview.

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