7 behavioral interview questions you should ask candidates

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Find out if a candidate has the right mix of soft skills and professional qualities for your company using these situational and behavioral interview questions.

Often recruiters, HR professionals, and hiring managers have a list of questions to ask candidates that includes outdated queries such as “where do you see yourself in five years?” If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that the best laid plans can be gone in the blink of an eye.

Instead of sticking with vague questions, you need to see how a candidate acts in certain situations by asking behavioral-style interview questions. This is the best way to see if they are suitable.

By asking them how they reacted in specific situations, you get insight into how they will behave in similar circumstances in your business. Whether you ask these questions during a video or phone interview or during an in-person interview, make sure they display the skills you are looking for in your recruitment process.

You can get an overview of these important soft skills:

  • Persuasion
  • Problem solving skills
  • Resilience
  • Leadership
  • team building
  • Judgement
  • Reliability

Here are the top 7 behavioral and situational questions to ask when conducting an interview.

1. Tell me about a time you had to give negative feedback and how you handled it

Communication is essential in any business, and knowing how to give feedback is an important skill to look for in the talent acquisition process. Positive feedback is easy to provide, but giving negative feedback is challenging. Employees need to know how to do this in order to generate the best results, rather than damaging relationships and making collaboration difficult.

When a candidate answers this question, seek to understand how to be diplomatic and how to frame the negatives as learning experiences. They also need to know how to balance perceived negatives with positives and understand how to express encouragement to their colleagues.

2. Explain how you work well within a team

Establishing whether a candidate is culturally appropriate is crucial during an interview. A candidate may have the best skills for the job, but if they don’t fit in with the team, think twice if they’re the right person for the job. Likewise, a candidate may decide during the interview that your company is not the right fit for them.

Before asking this question, explain how your business works. Here are some points to cover:

  • Do you work flexible hours?
  • Does the team go out for a drink every week and is socializing with co-workers planned?
  • Do you plan to work on weekends?
  • Does the role involve a lot of autonomy?
  • Do you offer any perks like free coffee and table football?
  • Is your business fun and quirky or more serious?
  • What kind of team is it? Do you talk all the time or do you continue your work?

You need to make sure that a candidate’s answers to these questions match what you are looking for. If you don’t, you may experience a high turnover rate.

3. Give me an example of when you made a mistake and how you solved it

It’s always uncomfortable to ask candidates about negative experiences, so start by creating an atmosphere of trust. If a candidate thinks they’ll be judged harshly when answering one of your behavior-based interview questions, you won’t get the best answer.

In business, it’s important to admit mistakes and learn from them, rather than trying to cover them up. When a candidate answers this question, you need to look for exactly that: what they learned from the experience and how they applied it or will do so in the future.

4. Share an example of how you successfully motivated other members of your team

While this question is important when you’re recruiting for a position that requires managerial skills, it can also be a good way to assess how well a potential new hire works as part of a team.

In an ideal response, look for:

  • Concrete examples of the candidate’s knowledge and use of a range of motivational techniques
  • The ability to adapt motivational techniques to the situation and the person
  • A management style that suits your company and team culture – whether it’s a soft, gentle approach or a harder technique

5. What do you do if you disagree with your boss?

Ideally, you’ve fostered an open culture where employees can disagree with each other and with their boss. If employees are too afraid to voice a conflicting opinion or fear losing their jobs, it will stifle innovation and you won’t be able to create the best product or service.

The key to this behavioral question is how the candidate disagrees, rather than whether they disagree at all.

Once you’ve explained that you have an open culture, look for evidence that they have:

  • Considered what result they are looking for
  • Found an appropriate time and place to have the conversation (one-on-one rather than in a team meeting, normally)
  • Express your point of view in a coherent way, taking into account the best result for the company
  • Respected his manager’s decision

6. How do you handle it when your schedule is interrupted?

Business rarely goes to plan, especially if you’re working for a startup or small business – disruptions are to be expected. It could be a routine interruption from a talkative colleague who wants to talk about a problem, a less experienced colleague or employee asking for help, or an urgent meeting in which you must attend.

Finding out if your candidate can handle having to give up what they’re doing to work on another pressing project or fight fires over serious issues is key.

In an ideal response, look for the candidate’s ability to:

  • Manage their time effectively so they can always meet deadlines
  • Differentiate urgent interruptions from distractions
  • Communicate to managers and colleagues when they are working on an important project or under a tight deadline and cannot be interrupted

7. Have you ever worked on several projects at the same time? How did you prioritize these projects?

Time management and meeting deadlines are important skills for any new hire. But, instead of asking the age-old question of when a candidate has met a tight deadline in the past, try to find out how well they meet deadlines when they have multiple projects on the go.

Learning how they can juggle conflicting deadlines and how they decide to work on a certain project at a certain time is important when the role is remote or comes with a lot of autonomy. You have to rely on their skills to get the job done in the given time without having to check in all the time.

Room for growth and development

While asking candidates to recount real-life, high-stress situations they’ve encountered in previous roles, don’t expect them to excel in every area. Instead, list the qualities they need for the position you’re hiring for and the nice-to-have qualities they could learn on the job or through training.

This process begins with creating an effective job posting that conveys exactly what you are looking for in your ideal candidate. If you’re not sure what to include, recruiting and HR software can help you get started by providing job ad templates and pre-written descriptions.

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