How To Ask Behavioral-Based Interview Questions When Hiring—& Assess the Answers

Technology, business, and the world are changing so quickly that it’s just as important for your diesel business to hire [link to previous hiring post] for emotional intelligence and growth mindset as it is to hire for hard skills.

For entry-level folks, it may be even more important. You can always teach skills. But you can’t teach smarts and character. You want employees who have growth mindsets so that they themselves learn and develop along with your business.

How do you suss out a good behavioral fit during the hiring process? As we discussed in a previous post, you can administer one of several commonly-used behavioral assessments. But you can also ask interview questions designed to help you understand candidates more clearly and alert you to character red flags.

Good behavioral interview questions often start with the phrase “tell me about a time when …” says psychologist and organizational behavior expert Eve Meceda, who spoke last year at a gathering of entrepreneurs in central North Carolina. This open-ended phrasing invites candidates to tell stories that reveal how they think, how they approach their work, and whether they have a growth mindset [link], Dr. Meceda explains. As the candidate responds, keep asking follow-up question that lead you deeper and deeper into how a candidate thinks. Your goal is to throw them “off script” and get to what’s real.



We’ve queried the hiring and recruiting experts for questions they believe are best for illuminating candidates’ characters.


“Tell me about your systems for organizing your time and your tasks.”

This one comes from hiring and recruiting expert Sevrin Sorensen. Asking this question helps you spot people who’ve assessed their time management weaknesses and found “hacks” that help them perform better at work. If they mention teachers or bosses who helped them discover these systems, that’s another point in their favor. It’s a sign that they understand how to learn from others and raise their game.



“Tell me about a time that you failed.”

Watch out for any candidate who responds, “I’ve never failed.” That’s what people say if they’ve never challenged themselves. Or, they could be so benighted that they don’t recognize their shortcomings. That kind of person could seriously weaken the culture at your diesel business.

Be wary of failure stories that focus on the role that others played in the failure. Some stories, for example, may dwell on “toxic bosses.” If you hear that, you  for example, you may be talking to someone without the self-awareness to see the role they themselves played in the failure. This signals not only emotional immaturity, but also that the candidate could lack accountability or be difficult to coach.



“Tell me about the last time you received feedback.”

This question comes from Dr. Meceda. Answers allow you to assess how the candidate learns from and acts upon feedback from teachers, bosses, colleagues, and customers.



“Tell me about something you’ve learned recently.”

This question series helps you assess curiosity, as well as passion for learning new things. Both are essential “growth mindset” traits that help the candidate both adapt to and spur the kind of change that can benefit your diesel business.



“Share with me the greatest single innovation you’ve delivered at any place you’ve worked.”

Once the candidate has answered this one and you’ve asked any follow-up questions that help you understand how the candidate thinks, follow up with “what’s the second greatest innovation?” Sorensen recommends. You’re looking not only for someone who thinks out of the box to make things better, but someone who’s done that more than once. If it’s happened only once, he says, “it’s just dumb luck.”



Pay attention to what the candidate says when you ask, “Do you have any questions for me?”

If the candidate leads off and dwells upon “sure thing” details such as time off policies, you might have someone who’s more focused on what you can do for him than what he can do for you. If the candidate’s “WIIFM—what’s in it for me” questions include questions about learning opportunities and career path, that’s a good sign. “People who lead off with ‘what’s my opportunity’ questions are the ones you want,” Sorensen observes.


For more ideas about good behavioral interview questions to ask, go here [link to behavioral interview questions list in related post, forthcoming].

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