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Digging deeper with behavioral and situational interview questions

Last month we explored the early parts of the interview process—the questions for the first (preferably phone) interview that help you understand a candidate’s basic skills and knowledge. These functional-style questions help you narrow the field by eliminating those candidates who don’t possess the necessary experience for the job or simply aren’t the right fit for the company.

Once the candidate pool is narrowed down, it’s time to dig deeper, with questions whose answers will illustrate how the potential hire has handled tough situations in the past and how they may handle future challenges.

You do this by asking “behavioral” and “situational” questions. Both are very open-ended and are designed to “short-circuit” memorized answers and force the applicant to think on their feet. The main difference between behavioral and situational interview questions is that behavioral questions are focused on the past and situational questions are focused on the future.

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Behavioral questions

Behavioral interview questions give you a glimpse into the job applicant’s work ethic, their approach to challenges, and their ability to work as a team.

The key to behavioral questions is that they ask about a specific example or situation. For example:

  • Tell me about a time that you went above and beyond.
  • Give me an example of a time that a co-worker frustrated
    you and how you handled it.
  • Describe a situation when you had to resolve conflict in
    the workplace.
  • Describe a time you had to convince someone to complete
    a task your way. Or to do something they didn’t want to do.
  • Tell me about a time you set a goal and achieved it.
  • Tell me about a time you set a goal and didn’t achieve it.
  • Tell me a specific thing about your favorite leader that
    really had a positive impact on you.
  • Tell me about a time you had to make a difficult decision.

Behavioral questions ask applicants to describe their skills, experience, and approach, all of which can be very helpful in determining their fit for the job.

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Situational questions

A situational interview question is one that requires jobseekers to respond to a hypothetical situation they may face on the job. In order for you to get the most value from these questions, you have to really think about the position you are trying to fill and develop specific questions. Here are some examples:

  • Multitasking: “A customer is walking in, the phone is ringing, and a co-worker needs help making a copy. Walk me through how you’d handle these competing needs for your attention.”
  • Sales client relationships: “Walk me through how you would build a relationship with a prospect. How would you take them from not knowing who we are and move them through to being interested in our product?”
  • Customer relationships and retention: “How would you handle a client who was angry with you over something that wasn’t your fault?”
  • Employee management: “Let’s pretend you have an employee everyone on the team loves. She’s just got great energy and is a ton of laughs. Unfortunately, she is also missing her activity goals weekly. She always has a good reason for it, and after you meet with her it seems like she is going to really focus next week and hit them, but she always falls short. How would you handle this “great” employee’s poor performance?”
  • Supervising: “If you were hiring a new employee for [fill in a role they’d be supervising], walk me through how you’d go about setting and communicating activity and performance expectations.”

“If you were hiring a new employee for [fill in a role they’d be supervising], walk me through how you’d go about setting and communicating activity and performance expectations.”

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