The Best Behavioral Questions To Ask Candidates

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When it comes to finding the best candidate for your job, the interview is the most valuable piece of the hiring process. It’s not only a chance to learn about a candidate’s qualifications for the hard skills the role requires, but to also assess their soft skills and get a feel for their personality.

To get the most out of the limited time you have with a candidate during their interview, asking the right questions is key. Read on to learn more about the type of questions that will shed light on a candidate’s thought process and behavior patterns: behavioral interview questions. We’ll share the best behavioral interview questions to ask to assess a potential new hire’s problem-solving skills, leadership capabilities and more.

What are Behavioral Interview Questions?

Behavioral interview questions probe into a candidate’s past behavior. In these types of questions, the interviewer asks the job seeker to describe certain situations they’ve previously encountered and how they reacted in those situations. This style of question commonly begins with the phrase “tell me about a time when…”

Behavioral interview questions may ask a candidate about solving problems, thinking critically, handling stressful situations, planning and strategizing, managing subordinates, collaborating with peers, and more. On the candidate’s side, it’s a great opportunity to make a case to showcase strengths via a first-person narrative. On the interviewer’s side, it’s an illuminating look into how the candidate thinks and how they view themselves in their career.

Behavioral vs. Situational Interview Questions

Interview questions traditionally fall into one of two categories: behavioral and situational. Behavioral questions, as we discussed above, ask the candidate to describe past experiences. Situational questions, on the other hand, ask the candidate to hypothetically describe what they would do if confronted with a particular situation.

Behavioral questions cover past behavior, while situational questions address future behavior. Together, they can help you compile a complete picture of a candidate to assess whether they’re suited to your role.

What can you learn from behavioral interview questions?

There’s a lot to be learned from behavioral interview questions, and it goes beyond the content a candidate shares in their answer.

When you ask a behavioral question, you’ll almost immediately be able to tell how well a candidate prepared for the interview. If they seem flustered, ramble on, or struggle to come up with examples that fit what you’re asking about, it may indicate they didn’t spend time to think through the strengths they wanted to highlight.

Behavioral questions can tell us a lot about how a candidate thinks, which is useful in predicting whether they’ll succeed in a role. Their answers can tell you, for example, how they work with colleagues, what success looks like in their eyes, and what they consider a mistake. Are they aligned with you on these things, or do their perceptions seem askew? If it’s the latter, it may indicate they’re not the strongest fit for your organization.

Speaking of perception, behavioral questions are useful for gauging a candidate’s self-awareness. If they spend a lot of time talking about what a great leader they are but their resume shows only one year of experience in a leadership role, it may point to a lack of understanding about the true depth of their abilities.

Finally, though behavioral questions ask about the past, they’re a great way to determine how a candidate might act if employed with your company. After all, past behavior is the strongest indicator of future behavior.

Note that past failures aren’t necessarily a predictor of future failure—in these cases, the content of the candidate’s answer matters a lot. Do they understand why the failure happened and have they learned from their mistake? This is the type of insight you’re looking to uncover with behavioral interview questions.

The Best Behavioral Interview Questions To Ask During an Interview

If you’re looking for the best behavioral questions to ask during your next interview, the six below are a great place to start. To make your questions even more effective, try to map them to the core skills you’re looking for in the role for which you’re hiring.

For example, if customer service is a major part of the job, you’d want to gear your questions toward situations that deal with people, communication, and problem-solving. If the job is highly technical, you might ask about situations involving attention to detail, catching mistakes and conveying complex information.

1. Tell me about a time you had to make a decision under pressure. How did you make the decision and what was the outcome?

Asking about a candidate’s past decisions provides insight into their analytical thinking skills. Were they able to calmly gather the data available to them, even if limited, then assess it quickly to come to a resolution? Or, does it seem like they floundered under the pressure?

This question allows the candidate to illustrate that they handle stressful situations with poise—not only in the context of the scenario they describe in their answer but in how confidently they deliver the answer itself.

2. Tell me about a time you set and achieved a goal. What did you do to achieve it?

Setting and achieving goals is part of nearly every job in some form or another. Whether it’s something large, like launching a new branch of the company, or small, like compiling a client directory, it requires careful planning and execution to get things done on the job.

The candidate’s answer should demonstrate how they mapped clear action steps that would lead them to their objective, then followed through on their plan in a timely manner.

A good follow up question here might be, “can you tell me about a time when you set a goal and didn’t achieve it?” This will give the candidate an opportunity to reflect on areas where they might have room for improvement when it comes to planning and follow-through.

3. Tell me about a time when you dealt with a miscommunication. How did you handle it?

We love this question because it’s so broad. It opens up the possibility to talk about miscommunications with higher-ups, peers, customers, and even people outside of a candidate’s professional realm.

Miscommunications happen—they’re part of life. With this question, you’re looking to see whether the candidate has skills for resolving communication issues in a positive way rather than allowing them to spiral or cause lasting damage to important relationships.

4. Tell me about a time you disagreed with your boss. How did you handle it?

This answer can tell you so much about a candidate: how they deal with authority, how they view their place on a team, and how they handle sensitive situations, to name a few. The “right” answer will vary depending on your company culture and the type of individual you’re looking for in the role.

Does your workplace culture welcome opposing perspectives, or is there more of a ‘swim with the current’ mentality? Would expressing disagreement with a manager be met with an open mind, or would it be viewed as presumptuous and out of step with the organization’s norms? Whatever the case, this is a good aspect of work to make sure you and the candidate are aligned on before making a hire.

Related: Why Is Company Culture Important To Your Business?

5. Tell me about a time you made a mistake in your previous role. What happened? Is there anything you would have done differently?

We touched on self-awareness earlier, and this behavioral interview question is a shining example of how to spot it. No one is perfect; can the candidate identify and talk openly about a time when they had a misstep, or do they have trouble naming their mistakes?

Here, you want to see that the candidate took accountability, learned something from what went wrong and has taken steps to prevent it from happening again in the future.

6. When you’re faced with a heavy workload, how do you decide what to work on?

Everyone manages time differently, and our approach to time management isn’t always easy to articulate. Asking the candidate about their approach can shed light on how they prioritize tasks and what kind of oversight, if any, they might require to make sure things get done on time.

Let 4 Corner Resources Deliver Top Talent to You

The interview is what separates great candidates from the perfect candidate, but getting to that stage can be a headache. Let 4 Corner Resources take the work of sourcing and screening applicants off your plate so you can spend more time building relationships with your top prospects.

Our proprietary recruiting methodology analyzes candidates on skills, qualifications, and culture fit to determine their aptitude for success in your role and likelihood of being a good fit for your organization. In addition to our broad network of personal relationships, we leverage the most advanced software and technology available to create thoroughness and efficiency in every step of the hiring process.

Contact us now to speak with one of our staffing specialists and start getting matched with candidates today.

Pete Newsome

About Pete Newsome

Pete Newsome is the president of 4 Corner Resources, the nationally acclaimed staffing and recruiting firm he founded in 2005. His mission back then was the same as it is today: to do business in a personal way, while building an organization with boundless opportunities for ingenuity and advancement. When not managing 4 Corner’s growth or spending time with his family of six, you can find Pete sharing his sales and business expertise though public speaking, writing, and as the host of the Hire Calling podcast.