The 7 Behavioral Interview Questions You Should Ask All Candidates

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

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Oftentimes, recruiters, HR professionals, and hiring managers have a set list of questions to ask candidates that includes outdated queries such as “where do you see yourself in five years’ time?” If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that the best-laid plans can go out the window in a heartbeat.

Instead of sticking to vague questions, you need to see how a candidate acts in certain situations by asking behavioral-style interview questions. It’s the best way to see if they’re a fit.

By asking them how they’ve reacted in specific situations, you get an insight into how they’ll behave under similar circumstances in your company. Whether you ask these questions in a video or phone interview or at an in-person interview, make sure they display the skills you’re looking for in your recruitment process.

You can get insight into these important soft skills:

  • Persuasion
  • Problem-solving capabilities
  • Resilience
  • Leadership
  • Team building
  • Judgment
  • Reliability

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


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

Communication is key in any business, and knowing how to give feedback is an important skill you should look for in the talent acquisition process. Positive feedback is easy to deliver, but giving negative feedback is a challenge. Employees need to know how to do this so it generates the best outcome, rather than souring relationships and making it difficult to work together.

When a candidate answers this question, look for an understanding of how to be diplomatic and how to frame negatives as learning experiences. They also need to know how to balance any perceived negatives with positives and to understand how to express encouragement to coworkers.


2. Explain how you work well within a team

It’s crucial to establish if a candidate is a cultural fit during an interview. A candidate can have the best skills for the job, but if they won’t gel with the team, think twice about whether they’re the right person for the job. Likewise, a candidate might decide during the interview that your company isn’t right for them.

Before you ask this question, explain how your company works. Here are some points to cover:

  • Do you work a flexible schedule?
  • Does the team go out for drinks every week, and is socializing with coworkers expected?
  • Do you expect some weekend work?
  • Does the role involve a lot of autonomy?
  • Do you provide perks such as free coffee and a foosball table?
  • Is your company fun and quirky or more serious?
  • What kind of team is it — do you talk all the time or get on with your work?

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


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

It’s always uncomfortable to ask candidates to recount negative experiences, so first, create an atmosphere of trust. If a candidate feels they will be judged harshly when answering one of your behavioral-based interview questions, you won’t get the best answer.

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


4. Share an example of how you were able to motivate other members of your team

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

In an ideal answer, look for:

  • Concrete examples of the candidate’s knowledge of and use of a range of motivational techniques
  • The ability to tailor motivational techniques to the situation and person
  • A style of management that suits your company and team culture — whether this is a softly, softly approach or a tougher technique

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

Ideally, you have fostered an open culture where employees can disagree with each other and with their boss. If employees are too scared to express a contradictory opinion or are worried they’ll lose their job, this will stifle innovation, and you won’t be able to build the best product or service.

The key to this behavioral question is how the candidate disagrees, rather than the fact that they’ve disagreed at all.

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

  • Considered what outcome they are looking for
  • Found an appropriate time and place to have the conversation (one-to-one rather than in a team meeting, normally)
  • Expressed their viewpoint in a coherent way, which considers the best outcome for the business
  • Respected their 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 — interruptions are to be expected. It could be a routine interruption from a chatty coworker who wants to talk over an issue, your peer, or a more junior employee asking for help, or an urgent meeting you have to attend.

It’s essential to discover whether your candidate can handle having to drop what they’re doing to work on another urgent project or fight fires on serious issues.

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

  • Manage their time effectively so they can still meet deadlines
  • Differentiate between urgent interruptions and distractions
  • Communicate to managers and coworkers when they are working on an important project or to a tight deadline and can’t be interrupted

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

Time management and meeting deadlines are important skills in 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 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 need to rely on their skills to do the work in the time allocated 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 positions, don’t expect they’ll excel in every area. Instead, list must-have qualities for the role you are recruiting for and nice-to-have qualities they could learn on the job or through training.

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

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