5 Behavioral Interview Questions Employers Should Ask

When it comes to interviewing, it’s easy for job candidates to fake their way through certain questions, unless the company is throwing some behavioral inquiries their way.

Often used to see if a person is a right fit from a cultural perspective, behavioral questions are designed to see if a job candidate’s past behavior will predict the future. “Technical gets you through the interview, behavioral gets you the job,” says Bob Dolan, who provides counseling and professional development workshops for various graduate and alumni programs at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “Do you fit the culture of the organization, do you solve problems the way you say you do, does your work style align with their work style,” are all things companies are trying to gleam when asking behavioral questions.

While anyone can ask behavioral questions, this line of interviewing is most effective when the interviewer already knows what he or she is looking for in a job candidate. For instance, if you ask a job seeker to tell you a time he or she played a leadership role but the company is looking to fill an assistant position, then that may not the best use of a behavioral question.

“To really benefit from this, you want to go through the job description and identify which competencies are important and pick behavioral questions to go with those competencies,” says Pamela Skillings, co-founder of job coaching firm Skillful Communications. “Make sure you have at least one behavioral question for each of those competencies.”

From the run-of-the-mill to the more unique, here’s a look at five behavioral questions employers should ask anyone looking to work at their company.

1. Tell me about a time you had a conflict with someone within the organization. Conflict is a part of life, and it’s extremely common within companies given people spend most of their days working side by side with different people and personalities. By asking a job candidate to tell you about a time he or she had conflict with a co-worker or even the boss, the hiring manager is trying to gauge how the person resolves differences with other people. “The hiring manager wants to know if the person recognized there was a conflict and how he responded,” says Dolan. 

2. Tell me about a time you worked on a challenging team project. Chances are you are going to have to work as part of a team at some point in your career, and companies want to know that you play nice when you are collaborating, which is why they will often ask this question. According to Skillings, companies want to learn if this person is able to collaborate with others, can he or she handle any problems that may arise and is the job candidate generally a team player. “Every company is going to have some difficulties and dynamic personalities and they want to hear you’ve got the ability to deal with that,” she says.

3. Do you prefer to work alone or with others? Regardless of the type of business, many interviewers ask this question as a way to see if the job candidate will fit into the culture of the company. For instance, the organization may be the type of place where everyone works independently and there is little time or desire for interaction among employees. On the flip side, the company may be huge on collaboration and team work and frown upon employees who keep to themselves.  According to Dolan, companies know their environment and will use this question to see if the person would fit in or if he or she would have problems acclimating.

4. Tell me about a time you took a leadership role. Suited more for senior level job candidates, this is a classic behavioral question that many companies ask to see if the candidate has leadership potential. Not only is it extremely hard to fake this question, unless the person downright lies and gets away with it, but it’s a great one to use to see if the person possess any leadership abilities or talent. “I’ve seen this stump people,” says Skillings. “It forces the person to think about what defines leadership and share a story about them.”

5. What’s the most difficult problem you had to solve? Problem solving is an important skill in pretty much any job, which is why companies will ask job candidates to tell them about a difficult problem they had to solve. Another way of asking this one: tell me about a time you had to come up with a creative solution to a problem. “They want to hear you understand what problem solving means and what approach you take,” says Skillings. Companies that want to learn if the job candidate is the type to run to their manager any time there is a situation or someone who will deal with it on their own, should ask this question, she says.