What is the purpose of an interview? As a recruiter or hiring manager, part of your purpose is to present the opportunity and the company’s culture in a way that will attract top candidates. You also have the applicant’s resume, education, and employment history. What more do you want from them?
Behavioral interview questions are one of the types of interview questions that allow you to dig deeper into who the candidate is and how they respond in real-life situations.
They reveal future behavior through examples of what this person has done in the past. You can ask someone, “Are you a team player?” But a simple “yes” or “no” doesn’t give you much insight into the person.
With behavioral interview questions, you can learn more about the candidate’s personality, attributes, and how they might be able to fit into your team.
What Are Behavioral Interview Questions?
Behavioral interview questions are designed to evoke an example of past behavior. Instead of allowing a “yes” or “no” answer, they invite the candidate to describe how they behaved in a specific situation.
Behavioral interview questions are harder to rehearse for and therefore reveal more of the everyday nature of the candidate. (But sometimes it’s okay if a candidate gives a nervous answer or one that’s not fully thought out.)
Why You Should Ask Behavioral Interview Questions
Behavioral interview questions get candidates to think on their feet. They reveal how the individual responds when facing specific challenges or situations. By asking these questions, you get a better idea of how well this person will mesh with the company culture.
Instead of transparent and easier-to-answer questions about the candidate’s past jobs, behavioral interview questions dig into what they did, how they did it, and why they did it. Plus these questions turn the interview into more of a conversational format.
Here are three reasons why you should ask behavioral interview questions.
1. Learn More About a Candidate’s Experience
While an experienced recruiter or hiring manager can determine a lot from a resume and cover letter, behavioral interview questions bring the candidate’s work and educational experiences to life. Instead of simply seeing the results generated by a successful project, you gain insight into the candidate’s process and how they interact with team members and supervisors.
By asking about a candidate’s successes and failures in the workplace, you learn about their resilience, temperament, maturity, adaptability, and ability to receive feedback.
These qualities are hard to glean from a resume or cover letter but are important in the workplace.
2. Gain Insight into a Candidate’s Personality
Behavioral interview questions can help reveal a candidate’s personality and priorities. If someone has leadership skills (or another soft skill) listed on their resume, for example, you can use behavioral interview questions to dig deeper into how those skills play out in real life. Does the candidate demonstrate the same leadership skills you’re looking for?
Now, we know a 30- or 60-minute interview won’t reveal everything about a candidate’s personality, but these questions will set you on a good path.
3. Customize the Interview Based on the Candidate’s Responses
An experienced interviewer with a clear understanding of the job and company can use behavioral interview questions to customize the interview. Their responses could reveal new experiences or parts of their story you haven’t heard before! You can then get to know them a little better with follow-up questions. (We’ll get into this in a bit with the STAR method!)
Before we go any further, download our Complete Guide to Interviewing Candidates—which covers topics beyond behavioral interview questions, including planning an interview, conducting it, and assessing it afterward.
Download Insight Global's Interviewing Guide
Get your guide in one easy step!
Types of Behavioral Interview Questions
Now back into behavioral interview questions!
Once you get comfortable with behavioral interview questions, you can develop them yourself based on the candidate’s resume and their responses during the interview. Initially, it helps to have a list of questions related to the skills essential for the position.
Here are examples of behavioral interview questions to get you started. You can use these to formulate your own questions for any skill you want to verify in your candidates.
Effective teams produce better outcomes faster. A positive and supportive team can generate creative solutions and better contributions from each member. These gains are quickly disrupted by individuals who infuse conflict and confusion instead of cooperation and collaboration.
- Tell me about a group project you worked on. What was your role? What did you achieve?
- How have you handled working with a coworker with a different working style or personality than you?
- Tell me about a time you were working on a team project, saw that a different approach was needed, and your approach ultimately succeeded.
- Explain a situation when you ended up carrying the majority of a team project. How was credit given out? How did you react?
- Tell me about a time you had to get critical information from coworkers outside your team. What approach did you use, and what did you do to make sure they responded in time?
Work ethic is a top soft skill desired by employers. Employees with a strong work ethic are driven by an internal desire to perform well. They are reliable and self-determined.
- What has been the hardest-working period of your life? What motivated you?
- Tell me about a time when you felt great about how hard you worked on a project.
- Walk me through a situation when you completed a task that wasn’t your responsibility because it needed to be done.
- Tell me about a time you felt overwhelmed with your workload. What was the situation, and how did you respond?
Candidates who are good problem-solvers can keep the wheels of business turning. Rather than getting stuck when faced with an obstacle, they can ask questions and make decisions to unlock the required resources and answers. Problem-solvers are resourceful and creative, and that can reveal itself in some of the behavioral interview questions.
- Walk me through a situation when you faced a difficult problem and found a way to solve it.
- Tell me about two improvements—small or large—that you made at work in the last year.
- What was the most exciting and innovative idea you’ve implemented?
- Describe a situation when you had to analyze a situation and recommend a solution.
- Tell me about a time when you anticipated a potential problem and developed procedures or measures to prevent it.
Communication drives success on an individual, team, and business level. Strong communication skills can build rapport and relationships, motivate members, and drive productivity. Employees who communicate well help translate the company’s vision into action.
- Walk me through an example of how you broke down a complex issue and explained it to a customer or colleague.
- Describe a situation in which you successfully persuaded an individual or a team to adopt your suggestions in a business situation.
- In the workplace, what do you find is more essential: being a good listener or communicator? Why?
- How would you explain a complex technical concept to a client or team member with no technical background?
- Tell me about a time you worked for someone with poor communication skills. How did you respond, and how did you overcome this?
Effective leaders see the big picture. They can motivate individuals and teams to stay on track to achieving business goals. They improve efficiency and drive achievement. A leader can set the tone for a company’s culture and bolsters morale even during times of uncertainty or change.
- What are the qualities of a good leader, and how do you demonstrate these in the workplace?
- Tell me about the process you use to delegate tasks to employees.
- Describe a situation when you noticed a team member made a critical mistake and how you responded.
- If you were leading a team and noticed a disagreement between two individuals or fractions of your team, how would you handle that? Has that ever happened to you? What did you do?
Conflict in the workplace is inevitable, but prolonged conflict can damage business relationships, hurt productivity, and create a hostile team atmosphere. For these reasons, conflict resolution is a valuable skill and important to assess.
- Tell me about a situation when you disagreed with your supervisor and how you handled it.
- How have you handled conflict at work, whether it was with another coworker, a decision, a policy, or something else?
- Give me an example of a time you disagreed with a rule or policy, and how did you move through it?
- When an unhappy customer confronted you, how did you handle the situation?
Lack of Success/Failure
People make mistakes! Still, it can feel vulnerable for a candidate to reveal the truth of their failures, especially in a job interview where they hope to be seen in the best possible light. Focusing on what candidates learned and how they grew from past failures may help them feel comfortable sharing with you. Can they adapt and consciously realize a better way of doing things?
- What has been your biggest moment of failure or lack of success in your career?
- Tell me about a time when a team project you were working on didn’t succeed. How did you assess what you or the team could have done better?
- How have you communicated a failure to a customer or a leader?
- What is one of the most important lessons you learned from failure?
How to Assess Behavioral Interview Question Responses
The goal of any interview is to identify and hire the most qualified candidate. Before beginning the interview process, it’s critical to clearly define the skills and competencies that are essential for the position. This provides a framework for your questions and helps identify the candidate’s fit.
During the interview process, here are things you can do to elicit, track, and organize candidate responses to make your assessment easier.
Take Notes Using the STAR Method
Use the STAR method to organize your notes.
The STAR method organizes information into four parts:
- Situation: The situation they found themselves in or were facing.
- Task: What was being asked of them, or what did they have to do?
- Action: What actions did they take to complete the task and resolve the situation? This can include communication, thought process, and response.
- Result: What was the outcome of their action? What did they learn from the experience?
Candidates who prepare for their interview are often advised to respond using the STAR method, so it can be a natural pairing. Even if they are not consciously organizing their answers with the STAR method, your notes will help clarify the content of their response.
Allow Candidates Time to Respond
Different people process questions and respond at different speeds! This is especially true under the pressure of an interview.
It’s worth giving candidates some leeway and understanding if they take a few moments to organize their responses. Some behavioral interview questions are challenging and require some thought.
The time they take to respond gives you clues about how they process information and how much they think about what they say. You can always offer to rephrase the question.
Rephrase the Question If Necessary
On that note, one downside of more open-ended questions is the candidate may not understand the question in the way you intended to ask it. If you are not getting the response you expected, feel free to rephrase the question.
Even the most qualified and experienced candidate can get flustered or be nervous. It’s worth giving them a chance to understand your question clearly so if they have a strong answer, they can give it to you.
Ask Follow-Up Questions
Behavioral interview questions are interactive and build more of a conversation than a more traditional interview style. Use follow-up questions to clarify what you hear until you are satisfied that you’ve got the full picture of what they are saying.
Some examples of follow-up questions might include:
- Thinking about it now, is there something you wished you’d done differently?
- Do you feel you did the best you could do under those circumstances?
- If you were in that situation today, would you respond in the same way, or would you handle it differently?
Feel free to press for specific details in each answer. One way to get more detail is to ask how knowledgeable colleagues might describe the event.
If a candidate tells you the results they achieved, ask for metrics or additional details. Follow-up questions help deepen your understanding of the candidate and give the candidate time and opportunity to share interesting insights and details that might not be at the top of their mind.
Look for Repeated Evidence and Patterns of Behavior
For the skills and competencies most essential to a position, you can ask variations of behavioral interview questions to see if a pattern of behavior emerges. Repeated evidence of behavior is a great indicator of how they will likely perform, giving you important information about how they may fit into the company.
Behavioral Interview Questions Give You An Honest Glimpse Behind the Resume
Finding and interviewing candidates is a time-consuming process. When you add onboarding and training into the equation, it’s also quite costly. The best outcome is a new employee who adds to the company culture and hits the ground running.
Behavioral interview questions are designed to get beneath the surface and help you identify the real jewels in the prospect pool.
If you need to add staff but don’t have the time, energy, or resources to devote to doing it right, connect with our team. We are dedicated to finding outstanding talent and are driven to help businesses grow.