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8 must-ask behavioral interview questions


It’s easy for candidates to recite their job history and learned skills in an interview. But how did they react in various situations? What kind of specifics can they offer regarding their achievements? How do they tailor their work styles to manage change?

You need to ask questions that get down to the finer details of candidates’ behavior. Because, at the end of the day, you’re looking for people who can achieve results and fit well into your current culture.

According to Insperity’s seasoned recruiters, these are the eight questions you must ask in order to select the best candidate for the job.

1. Tell me about…

“Tell me about XYZ experience, or your experience in XYZ job.”

This question can help you uncover specific information about candidates’ experience in a particular industry or past role.

For example, you might ask, “Tell me about the top awards that you have received for your sales performance.” Or, “Tell me about a time when you had to calm an unhappy customer.”

Be listening for whether candidates can give specific examples of experiences they will need in the role you’re hiring for.

For example, a candidate might say, “I was in the President’s Club five years in a row and this year I helped new sales increase 152 percent over last year.” Or, “Just last week, I resolved a complaint from a customer who had errors on her bill two months in a row.”

If candidates speak in generalizations, such as “I’m always great with the customers,” or, “I have good sales numbers,” they may not have the necessary experience. If the experiences that you’re inquiring about are required for the opportunity, you may want to proceed with caution. Anyone can put together a resume that looks good, but only those with applicable experiences can give details.

Amy Caston / Product Manager, Recruiting Services
Kingwood, Texas

2. Why you’re leaving

“Your resume shows you’re currently employed at [insert company name]. Why are you considering another opportunity?”

Candidates’ answers to this question can indicate a number of things. It can help you determine whether they’re going to be the type that’s always looking for a “better opportunity”. You may find out that they’re looking for increased compensation or benefits. If that’s not something you can provide, it’s better to know now before you spend too much time with those candidates.

Watch out for any indication candidates are looking for a new job because they’re in conflict with someone at their current company. Trash talking or badmouthing current or previous employers or managers during the interview is typically a bad sign. What if a similar situation arises at your company? Will they jump to another opportunity without trying to resolve the problem?

Tony Lewis / Senior Recruiting Specialist
Kingwood, Texas

3. Reporting to more than one person

“Explain to me a time when you reported to more than one person and both came to you with a request on top of your regular, everyday tasks. How did you handle that situation?”

The answer should teach you about candidates’ priorities, time management abilities and communication skills. Did they speak with both managers to let them know how they were prioritizing their tasks? Did they go back and ask more questions about the helpful resources, deadlines, etc.?

Any simple answer might be a red flag. For example, “I would work during lunch in order to finish everything.” Why couldn’t they get it done during their regular work hours? Why did they decide to work during lunch? There may be special circumstances that your candidates can explain. But on the other hand, this may indicate that they may not have strong time management and communication skills.

I would follow up with more behavioral questions geared specifically toward these skillsets.

Dani Baird / Sr. Recruiting & Outplacement Specialist
Kingwood, Texas

4. Losing track of time

“What were you doing the last time you looked at the clock and realized you had lost all track of time?”

I love that this question spans the professional and personal realms. It also reveals something about candidates’ time management, prioritization and literal ability to get lost in something they’re captivated by. I look for responses regarding intense focus on something that candidates truly enjoy – not to the point they were irresponsible in other ways, but just that in that moment, they were totally committed to executing the task at hand.

Often candidates believe they’re so organized that they’ve never lost track of time. Of course, that’s great, but this kind of response shows a lack of passion for what they do, potentially indicating a lack of creativity or true interest in their role.

Lindsey Schimpf / Insperity Recruiting Services

5. Bearer of bad news

“Give me an example of a time when you had to deliver less than positive information to a customer. Describe how you handled it. What was the outcome?”

Unexpected detours happen in every business, but the way you convey bad news to clients is very important. Look for candidates’ ability to remain calm, comfortable and confident when answering this question. Candidates should provide clear details about how they approached and handled the situation in a positive manner.

During interviews, do your candidates jump around the question? This could mean they’re nervous about revealing their true feelings and reactions for fear it may portray them in a negative light. Or, perhaps they’re uncomfortable with managing stressful situations in general.

Regardless of the outcome, if candidates provide an example of a situation that you feel was handled inappropriately, further questioning may be necessary to get a full understanding of their perspective.
If you still disagree with their approach, despite the additional explanation, this may indicate that they might not mesh well with your company’s culture.

Laura Morgan / Recruiting Specialist
Kingwood, Texas

6. Counter offer question

“If things continue to go well and you are made an offer, what could your current company do to keep you?”

This question is meant to uncover the likelihood that a candidate would accept a counter offer from their current employer.

Listen for responses such as:

• “My current employer would have to beat the offer.”
• “My current employer would have to offer me a promotion.”
• “There is nothing my current employer could offer that would make me consider staying.”

The first two responses are red flags that should prompt you to dig deeper into why your candidates are looking to make a move. Where does their motivation truly lie?

Losing a candidate to a counter offer at the end of the recruiting process can drastically increase your time to hire, so it’s important to adjust your recruiting strategy to account for a potential accepted counter offer.

Michael Stanley / Recruiting Specialist, Recruiting Services
Kingwood, Texas

7. Favorite and least favorite boss

“Who was your favorite manager and why? Who was your least favorite boss and why?”

These questions seem to catch candidates off guard. They often share real information as opposed to canned responses because these questions are often less threatening – there is no right or wrong answer. Their responses should tell you if they would be a good fit with your management style. Moreover, the specifics about what they like and don’t like can tell you a lot about their fit into your company culture.

Be cautious moving forward with candidates if you see a big contrast between their wants and what you can provide.

Lila Holst Gaylor / Senior Corporate Recruiting Specialist
Kingwood, Texas

8. How would you handle it?

“Here’s a situation you’ll likely encounter in this job: [insert example]. How would you handle it?”

I like to create situational questions that make it difficult for candidates to respond with the same answers they’ve already given to other interviewers.

A great way to get a genuine answer from candidates is by generating questions around a real-life situation that employees in the given role will likely face.

By presenting them with a question about a real-life scenario, candidates can’t revert back to previous responses. They will be limited in their time to reply, so not only will you be more likely to receive an unrehearsed answer that is indicative of true behaviors, but you will also gain a better perspective of how their work style will fit with yours, your team’s and your company’s.

Jill Silman Chapman / Sr. Performance Consultant, Recruiting Services
Kingwood, Texas

Predicting success

Knowing how candidates have behaved in past job experiences will give you a sense of how they might do in the future at your company. The best candidates will share engaging stories that feel relevant to your needs and company culture.

Interested in additional information to help you improve your hiring process?

Download our free e-book, Obstacles to Hiring: How to Overcome Nine Common Challenges, to discover how to move past common job-market challenges and recruiting-process problems.