Behavioural Questions

Just like 90% of drivers think they are better than average, most people think they are a “good judge of character”. So of course they are also good at interviewing.

But the stats tell a much different story. Depending on which study you look at somewhere between 20 per cent and 50 per cent of new hires are mistakes. And since interviews are by far the most relied upon tool for selecting employees, they should get most of the blame.

In most cases, rather than a finely tuned predictive process, interviewing is usually more like a game of Russian Roulette. You spin the wheel, trust your gut, and make your pick, hoping that you don’t have to bite the bullet. But that’s no way to handle your most important responsibility (honestly, what’s more important than hiring the right people?).

The best way to battle the “gut call” syndrome and dramatically improve your chances of making a solid hire is to do structured behavioral interviewing. This isn’t the sexiest secret of great hiring, but it’s certainly the most popular and credible type of interviewing used by professional recruiters. Why? Because it’s the only type of interviewing that actually works – it’s been proven to be nine times as effective in predicting employee success compared with typical unstructured, non-behavioral interviews.

Don’t you want to increase your chances of making the right hire by nine times?

A structured behavioral interview is a lot different from the typical “fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants” meeting with a candidate.

Instead of asking how a candidate would behave in a hypothetical situation, the interviewer asks how the candidate actually behaved in previous relevant situations.

Questions that begin with “tell me about a time when” or “give me an example” are behavioral questions, while questions like “what would you do” or “how would you” are not. Hundreds of studies have proved that the best predictors of future behaviour are past behaviours, and this is why these questions are so much more effective.
While asking behavioural questions it’s important that you get as much of the relevant detail as possible.


An easy way to do this is to ask your candidate to elaborate using the STAR technique (Situation, Task, Action, Results). That way you won’t miss anything important within the story.

To make it a structured behavioral interview, your questions should be pre-planned and connected to competencies that have been determined to drive performance. All candidates should be asked the same questions and interviewers should score the answers using standard evaluation criteria, like a five-point scale. This helps prevent our natural bias towards likeable charmers and helps the interviewer compare candidates objectively.

Ready to try a behavioural interview? Here are three lines of questioning you can ask your next batch of candidates.

1. Probe for the Achiever Pattern

If you’re looking for someone to exceed expectations, you need to find evidence they’ve blown away their goals in the past. Dubbed the Achiever Pattern by recruiting guru Lou Adler, this is about looking for things like rapid promotions, assignment to cross functional teams and difficult projects, and of course achievement of stretch goals.

Killer question: “Tell me about your greatest accomplishment.”

2. Dig Into Conflict

We all want to find employees who play nice with others and avoid people who create unhealthy conflict. Asking candidates to describe their weaknesses rarely works but digging into the actual situations where they faced conflict will tell you how they’re likely to handle things in the future.

Killer question: “Think of someone you’ve had problems with in your career (we’ve all had them). Tell me how they would describe you, why they felt this way, and what you did about it.”

3. See What Drives Them

As Daniel Pink pointed out in his bestselling book Drive: the Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, many psychological studies have proven that intrinsically motivated people perform better than those motivated by extrinsic things (money, status, recognition, etc.). Looking at a candidate’s motivations will tell you whether they care about the right things.

Killer question: “Tell me about a time when you persevered through a really tough set of circumstances, in which most people would have quit. What drove you?”

There will always be hires that don’t work out, no matter how diligent you are in the recruitment phase. But if you embrace the idea that past behaviour is the best predictor of future success, you’ll dramatically increase your chances of making a great hire.

Good luck out there and be sure to let us know how it goes!