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Behavioral questions you should be asking

As any recruiter and hiring manager knows, finding a candidate that’s the right fit for your organization should be at the top of your hiring priority list. But “fit” can mean different things depending on the job and company in question. To establish whether a candidate will fit the bill, both from a cultural and performance perspective, it’s good practice to ask behavioral questions to gauge how a candidate’s past work experience will shape their future. 

In this article, we’ll dig deeper into what behavioral questions are, prepare them, and provide some examples of behavioral interview questions that you can use going forward. 

Let’s jump in! 

What are behavioral questions?

Behavioral questions subscribe to the general theory that a candidate’s past behavior is an indicator of their future behavior. That’s the goal of behavioral questions in a nutshell: to assess how candidates reacted to specific situations and stressors in previous positions to handle how they might perform in your role and at your company. 

Behavioral interview questions focus on real past work experiences and events to determine whether the candidate in question has the soft skills, hard skills, and personality needed for your job opening. By asking for specific examples and their respective outcomes, recruiters and hiring managers can gain a clearer picture of the candidate’s skills, abilities, and personalities. 

Generally, behavioral interview questions – and their answers – contain the following elements:

  • The situation: the interviewer asks for a real example of a time or event when the candidate had to deal with a specific situation or stressor. The candidate presents the situation and explains how it’s relevant to the question. 
  • The tasks: the candidate will then explain the tasks or responsibilities that they were assigned, or took over, to address the situation mentioned above.
  • The action: the candidate explains, in as much detail as possible, their process for completing the tasks mentioned above, and, if applicable, the problem-solving techniques they employed.
  • The results: finally, the candidate summarizes what the results of those actions were, and how successful they were in addressing the original situation. 

Because behavioral questions give recruiters and hiring managers practical, real-world examples of past experiences, they’re often used alongside more high-level questions that might focus on clarifying resume items or getting to know the candidate’s personality. 

They also allow interviews to assess how well a candidate can think on their feet, and draw parallels between their own experiences and the job for which they’re applying. 

Types of behavioral interview questions

Behavioral questions can come in many different forms, and the principal can be adapted to virtually any job requirements you’re screening for. For this article, we’re going to focus on a few of the more common types of behavioral interview questions. 

Here are five of the most common traits that interviewers screen for using behavioral interview questions. 

  1. Problem-solving. These questions aim to assess the candidate’s analytical skills, thought process, and the ability to execute innovative ideas when confronted with a problem. 
  2. Teamwork. These questions gauge the candidate’s collaboration and teamwork skills and may assess their abilities as a team leader. This line of questioning is particularly important for roles that lean heavily on collaboration to achieve their goals.
  3. Stress management. These questions assess how well candidates deal with stressors in the workplace, with the goal of uncovering how they might handle stressful situations unique to the role they applied for. 
  4. Self-knowledge. These questions analyze how a candidate thinks about themselves, specifically in regards to their strengths, weaknesses, and willingness to learn, grow, and adapt to the job. Ownership over mistakes – and their ability to bounce back from those mistakes – is also an important variable to observe. 
  5. Communication. These questions help assess how, and how well, the candidate approaches communication amongst his or her team, and the wider company, and helps you determine if they have the skills needed to perform well on your team.  

Some other examples of skills or personal attributes that can be assessed using behavioral interview questions include adaptability, time management, client-facing skills, and any hard skill that is relevant to the specific position.

Now that we’ve covered the different types of behavioral interview questions let’s discuss how to prepare them. 

Preparing your behavioral questions

Organizing the behavioral questions you’ll use to screen candidates is similar to preparing for a traditional interview. First, you need to have a solid handle on what type of candidate you’re looking for. 

What skills do they need? What’s the ideal experience level? What tasks or responsibilities will they be expected to handle? 

Create a list of key skills and personality traits that are important for the job. Focus on the hard and soft skills required to perform at the expected level, and write questions in advance that relate to those skills. 

Likewise, if there are scenarios, stressors, or any other factor that is unique to the position being screened for, write questions that aim to assess if the candidate has experienced those situations before, and how they handled them. 

Write your behavioral questions in advance, and ask them in the intended order during the interview. It’s also important that you ask all candidates for the job these same behavioral questions to get a complete and objective assessment of all applicants. 

Record the candidate’s answers using your platform of choice, and review and compare the responses once the interview is complete. 

Examples of behavioral interview questions

Now that we’ve covered the basics of behavioral interviewing let’s take a look at some practical examples you can use in your candidate screening. To keep things focus, we’re going to look at some sample questions you can use to assess the five traits listed earlier: 

  • Problem-solving;
  • Teamwork; 
  • Stress management; 
  • Self-knowledge; and
  • Communication. 

For each trait, we’ll provide a sample behavioral interview question, and provide a summary of what you should be looking for in each answer. 

Problem-solving

Sample questions:

Can you please give me an example of a challenge you had to overcome in the workplace? How did you approach this challenge?”

“Think of an instance in your work life where you encountered a difficult problem. How did you go about solving it?” 

What to look for in the answer:

  • How well the candidate adapted to the situation to overcome the problem. 
  • A detailed overview of what their thought process was in dealing with the project and how they went about executing the solution.
  • The outcome of their work to solve the problem and what the results were. 

Teamwork

Sample questions:

“Can you give me an example of an unpopular decision you made for your team, how you handled the feedback?” 

“Please provide an example of a time that you had to incorporate ideas and opinions from other team members to complete a project. How did you go about doing that, and what were the results?” 

What to look for in the answer:

  • How well the candidate handled collaboration, communication, and change management within their team.
  • How well they managed negative feedback and how they were able to move forward as a team.
  • How well they’re able to absorb other people’s ideas and incorporate it into the project. 

Stress management

Sample questions:

“Tell me about a time that you felt a lot of pressure or stress in the workplace. What caused that stress, and how did you overcome it?”

“Give me an example of a stressful task or project that you’ve worked on. How did you work through the stress to achieve the end result?” 

What to look for in the answer:

  • Concrete examples of a stressful situation and an explanation of why it was stressful to them.
  • Self-reflection of why it was stressful, and how they worked through it.
  • How well they were able to work through the stressor and the end results for the task or project were. 

Self-knowledge

Sample questions:

“What is one example of a mistake you made on the job? How did you handle it?” 

“Tell me about a time that you were pushed outside of your comfort zone or skill set. How did that make you feel, and how did you adapt?” 

What to look for in the answer:

  • The ability to take ownership of their mistakes and learn from them.
  • A willingness to try new things and learn new skills to overcome a challenge.
  • An ability to self reflect on their own weaknesses and identify areas that they can grow. 

Communication

Sample questions:

“Tell me about a project where you had to communicate efficiently with your team members. How did you manage that?”

“Tell me about a time that you felt communication on your team wasn’t up to your standard. Why wasn’t it? How would you have changed it?”

What to look for in the answer:

  • An awareness of the importance of communication for teams and projects.
  • The ability to identify good and poor communication. 

The sample behavioral questions listed above were written using the generic language for the purpose of this article. Ideally, your own questions would include specific language or references to your company or job that the candidate could use to guide their answers.

Behavioral questioning is a powerful technique for generating practical, real-world insights that help to gauge potential performance. The more work you put into tailoring your strategy and questions to each individual position, the more effective this technique will be. 

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