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Asking Situational and Behavioral Questions in Job Interviews

3 min read

One could argue that interviews are the most important stage in the hiring process. Up to that point, you really don’t know much about the candidates you’re considering. You’ve only seen their resume and possibly had a quick phone or video interview with them.

Now you get to sit in the same room with your candidates and talk to them face-to-face. You have the opportunity to really get to know them and learn what they can do. You’ll likely walk out of the room after each interview knowing whether or not the candidate is the person you’re looking for.

Successful interviews are all about asking the right questions

The better your interview questions are, the more you’ll learn about your candidates. That may sound obvious but there are many interviewers who expect candidates to just come out and say why they’re great. But it’s the interviewer who needs to take the lead.

Even if you’re new to interviewing candidates, you’ll likely already have a few questions related to the role in mind. You can also mix in some situational and behavioral questions to get to know candidates even better.

  • Situational interview questions present the candidate with a hypothetical situation and ask them how they would handle it. “What would you do if…
  • Behavioral interview questions ask the candidate to recall a past experience and describe how they did handle in. “Tell me about a time in a past job when…

The definitions above may sound like different ways to ask the same questions. That’s partly true but situational and behavioral interview questions can each bring out unique answers.

The advantages of situational interview questions

Situational questions can be a curve ball for candidates. They force them to think about how they would handle the challenges associated with the role. Experienced interviewees have go-to answers for common job interview questions. But situational questions force them to go off script and critically think about situations they’ll encounter, if hired.

Asking these questions not only gives you an idea of how candidates will handle the specifics of the role. On a deeper level, you get insight into what they value or what they overlook. Here are some examples of situational interview questions you can ask:

  • Tell me how you would deal with an upset customer?
  • How would you pitch our product/service?
  • Let’s say you have multiple assignments from different managers. How do you prioritize?
  • How would you handle an unproductive subordinate?
  • What changes would you make if you ran our company or department?

The advantages of behavioral questions

Behavioral questions give you a good idea of what candidates have excelled and struggled with in the past. Situational questions allow them to craft their perfect response to your made up scenario but behavioral questions force them to share real experiences.

Many people who favor behavioral interview questions believe the way a candidate worked in the past signifies how they’ll work in the future. That makes sense but these questions also help you learn what personal problems a candidate is working on improving. For example, a common behavioral interview question is, “Tell me about a mistake you made in the past and what you learned from the experience.” Here are some more you can ask:

  • Share a time you identified a problem in your company and how you resolved it?
  • What professional accomplishments are you most proud of?
  • Describe a time you weren’t happy with your work and why.
  • Tell me about the best boss you’ve worked for?
  • Tell me about a time you disagreed with a manager and how you handled it?

Ask the right interview questions to get the answers you need

Situational and behavioral interview questions are most effective when they directly relate to the role you’re hiring for. Asking the sample interview questions in this guide can’t hurt but we recommend you use them as inspiration when forming your own questions. Know what the role requires so you can ask the candidate about real and hypothetical scenarios that help you learn if they’re the person for the job.

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