Behavioral Questions to Ask in an Interview (And What to Look For)
Entrepreneur’s Organization is a global network of over 13,000 business owners. Learn how EO NY helps over 175 business owners grow.
Interviewing is hard. Most job applicants are going to make an effort to shine, and it’s hard to tell if the polish is only surface deep. Some candidates are glib and able to give polished answers to standard interview questions. Behavior-based interview questions provide a way for interviewers to delve into how candidates handled past situations. That information can inform their ability to perform in a position. These types of questions often begin with the phrase, “Tell me about a time when you…”
The Benefits of Behavioral Interviews
Behavioral interviewing is based on the premise that the best predictor of future performance is past performance and can:
Hiring an employee is a significant investment, and a bad decision can cost your business a lot of money. It can also have a long-term effect on a company because below-average employees can lead to disappointed clients and drag down team productivity.
Provide a better understanding of the candidate
The behavior interview format lets an interviewer gain a more in-depth picture of a candidate in ways that can help determine if they are a good fit for your organization. It’s a way to measure soft skills, personality, problem solving, and work ethic.
Help predict the employees’ future behavior
Questions like “give me an example of” or “what will you do if” can help interviewers understand if the candidate would approach common situations in a given role in the way the company would want.
Are Behavioral Interview Questions Effective?
Behavioral interview questions can be very effective, but they need to be framed correctly. One important component, as explained in a Forbes article, is how the questions are phrased. The idea is that often typical behavioral interview questions give away the right answers, cueing candidates to share success stories and avoiding failure examples.
ORIGINAL: Tell me about a time when you adapted to a difficult situation and how you did it.
Expressing the question using this language makes it very clear to the candidate that they are supposed to share a success story about adapting, balancing, persuading, etc.
CORRECTED: Tell me about a time when you faced a difficult situation.
Rewording the question allows a candidate to share success stories that provide details, context, evidence of critical thinking, and much more.
What to Look For When Asking Behavioral Questions
The process enables you to more accurately determine what qualities and behaviors you are looking for in a candidate that aligns with your organization’s core competencies.
How does the candidate answer the question?
The candidate should provide the answer in the form of a short story, not just list the tasks and activities they accomplished but also what strategies and tactics they used to accomplish them. Encourage candidates to provide specific details about their actions.
What was the candidate’s individual response to the challenge?
Teamwork is good, but you’re trying to ascertain what the candidate’s exact role was in this instance. If there was a team, how did they personally contribute?
What is the candidate’s body language like during the interview?
While an interview can account for a certain level of nervousness, if the candidate is overly uncomfortable or fidgeting, it may indicate that they are not being fully transparent. If this is the case, feel free to ask follow up questions to more fully explore the past experience.
Sample Behavioral Interview Questions
When using behavior-based interviewing, every candidate must be asked the same questions to assess them fairly.
Example questions include:
- Tell me about a difficult work challenge you’ve had.
- Have you ever been in an ethically questionable business situation?
- Have you ever had a project that had to change drastically while it was in progress?
- Talk about a time when you’ve had to sell an idea to your colleagues.
- Tell me about a major setback you’ve had.
- Talk about a time where you had to make an important decision quickly.
- Have you ever had a deadline you were not able to meet?
- Talk about a time when you had to adapt to significant changes at work.
- Have you ever had to convince your team to do a job they were reluctant to do?
- How have you dealt with an angry or upset customer?
Are additional probing questions needed?
If a candidate’s answers are vague, ambiguous, evasive, or don’t fully address the question, ask follow-up questions triggered by the response. Suggestions include: I’m not quite sure I understood. Could you please tell me more about that? I’m not sure what you mean by ___. Could you give me some examples? You mentioned ____. Could you tell me more about that? What stands out in your mind about that? Can you give me an example of ___? You just told me about ___; I’d also like to know about . . .
Behavior-based interviewing isn’t perfect, and it’s not a panacea for complex recruitment and retention challenges. Still, it is a tried and true methodology that’s used by some of the world’s most successful companies.