As an employer, there’s no right way to host a job interview. But you can ask each candidate the right questions to learn the most important things about them.
Learning what makes a person qualified to work for you is difficult, especially if you have just a half-hour interview with them in a conference room. Because of this time crunch, you might feel compelled to race through the candidate’s resume, asking them questions about each job title and bullet point they’ve written down from top to bottom.
But if you want know what makes the applicant valuable to you, it’s important to get to know them beyond their written job application. The best way uncover this value is to ask behavioral interview questions.
What Are Behavioral Interviewing Techniques?
The behavioral interview technique asks job candidates to describe how they’ve handled themselves in real situations during their career. Depending on the job qualifications, behavioral questions can call on a variety of past experiences to help employers determine how the candidate might fare in the position for which they’re applying.
The most informative answers to behavioral interview questions don’t just describe how a candidate behaved, but also how this behavior benefited them and the business.
To help you develop your list of questions, we’ve put together five of the most effective behavioral interview questions you can ask your job candidates, and explained what an answer to each question can reveal about the interviewee.
Top Behavioral Interview Questions (and What You’ll Learn by Asking Them)
1. ‘Tell me about a mistake you made during a project or at a certain point in your career.’
Think of this behavioral question as a more specific way to ask an interviewee: “What are your greatest weaknesses?” By asking candidates this question, you can discover many important things about them that you wouldn’t learn from their resume.
Listening to a candidate describe a mistake they once made can show you how much self-awareness they have. The best answers indicate both their thought process in making that mistake and what they learned from it. Just because it was a mistake doesn’t mean the candidate was being negligent — encourage them to explain their choice and what they’d do differently today.
2. ‘Tell me about a success you’re particularly proud of in your career and why it was a success.’
Similar to the question above, think of this one as a better way to ask an interviewee: “What are your greatest strengths?” Pitching a question the candidate might find flattering and fun to answer can empower them to come out of their shell during the interview.
This is what makes asking about their past success so useful — you can uncover more intimate details about their professional growth and the types of assignments they thrive on. The best answers to this behavioral question won’t just reveal the work a candidate is most comfortable with, but also why this work plays to their skills and if those skills would be of use to your company.
3. ‘Describe a time you had a conflict with a coworker, and how you resolved it.’
Candidates who know how to diffuse issues with their colleagues help foster the healthy, nurturing culture your company needs in order to grow.
Asking about the applicant’s experience resolving a conflict with a coworker can reveal how diplomatic they can be toward differing opinions among team members. Specifically, employers can learn two big pieces of information about a candidate from their answer to this question: how they view themselves in conflicts, and where the candidate ranks their priorities in relation to the other employees involved.
It’s not important that you agree with the resolution the candidate came to. It’s more important that you can determine how effective their resolution was at accommodating everybody’s — and ultimately, the business’s — needs.
4. ‘Tell me something you had to learn very quickly but knew nothing about before.’
This behavioral question is a popular one among employers today. It’s simply not realistic to expect candidates to already know your business or industry when they first walk through the door. What’s important is how fast they can learn. Want to find out if your applicant can learn the skills needed in your industry? Ask them how they’ve done so for others in the past.
Employers can infer a lot about candidates as they explain their past experience with a challenging new concept. Not only will you find out what subjects a candidate isn’t often exposed to, but you can also learn how confident they are in unfamiliar territory.
Did an applicant’s answer impress you? Ask them a bonus follow-up question: “How would you explain this concept now to someone who isn’t familiar with it?” The answer can give you deeper insight into the applicant’s learning style, as well as any mentorship potential that would allow them to pass on their knowledge to other employees.
5. ‘Tell me about a time you had multiple assignments with conflicting goals or deadlines, and how you completed each of them.’
At some point in our careers, we all inherit a workload whose contents pull us in different directions — and yet, everything in this workload needs to get done. So, if it’s such a normal experience, what are you really getting out of posing the question above to your interviewee?
When asking about a candidate’s experience with conflicting assignments, the insight you’re looking for isn’t how many things they can handle at the same time. It’s how efficient they are at completing it all.
Ultimately, answers to this question can tell you a story of creative problem solving, letting you in on effective approaches to time management that the candidate might be able to bring to your team.
While questions that focus on a candidate’s resume can give you appropriate context around the experiences they’ve had, it’s crucial that you incorporate these behavioral interview questions as well. Ask a few of the above questions in your next interview — whether it’s in person or over the phone — and see how they help you come to a final hiring decision.