What Are the Best Behavioral Interview Questions and Answers?

Preventing harassment in the workplace is vital, especially with a continuing spotlight on toxic workplaces. From sexual harassment to bullying, employers have a duty to prevent these behaviors while fostering a safe, friendly place to work. Learn how using behavioral questions in job interviews can raise early red flags to keep problematic workers away. 

Hiring the right person for the job can sometimes be easy but also incredibly difficult. Depending on which position you're hiring for, you may need to conduct extensive vetting before you agree to employ someone into a position of authority or importance. Even hiring for a role such as a retail manager requires taking careful stock of each candidate and determining their suitability.

That "suitability" includes a wide range of attributes, from their educational background and work experience to their criminal background. While backing up what you learn in an interview with additional checks is essential, it is just as critical to maintain sight of how much you can potentially learn in an interview. While most job applicants won't come out and say, "I'm not a good team player," you can drill down to better understand their future behavior by asking them questions about their past experiences.

In the age of #meToo, a background check alone can't tell you everything about how a person will behave in the workplace. Fostering a safe, productive, and respectful environment is a big part of your duty as an employer. By asking questions about past work behavior and carefully considering the answers you receive, you can improve confidence levels before you make a job offer.

Like background checks, even a thorough interview can't be a crystal ball to predict someone's future behavior. Nonetheless, you can spot red flags and warning signs. Let's explore some of the specific advantages of this strategy and tackle some of the big questions.

The Benefits of Exploring Behavioral Information in Interviews

Why focus on specific behavioral questions? You can learn far more about an individual if you steer them away from what their resume says to begin speaking instead about their real-world experiences. When a candidate opens up about experiences they've had in previous workplaces, you can use that information to project how they might behave within your business. Behavioral questions, therefore, confer several key benefits. You can:

  • Identify potentially "toxic" traits in applicants that would not mesh with your company culture.
  • Spot warning signs of possibly problematic behavior, especially in candidates for management.
  • Thoroughly evaluate how capable, motivated, and critically thinking someone is as a worker.

Questions You Should Ask & Answers You Should Seek

You can approach interviewing candidates in many ways, and the right questions for your business may vary. Here are five possible ways to ask interview questions that shed light on how a candidate might behave in the workplace.

1. "Can you tell me about a time you had a work-related conflict with a co-worker and what you did to resolve the issue?"

How well does your candidate work with others when they need to problem-solve? Listen for an answer that doesn't tilt the blame solely onto the other party or over-emphasize personal details unrelated to solving the problem. Ask about the situation, explore what kind of conflict existed, and listen to how a resolution was achieved. Of course, if a candidate doesn't have an example at all, that's a potential warning all its own. Everyone encounters work conflicts from time to time.

2. "When was the last time a fellow employee, a client, or a customer was upset with you?” 

Though this question may be similar, it focuses more on interpersonal conflict than disagreements over how work should take place. This question puts candidates on the spot to recall an incident where their actions likely caused upset. Suitable answers will include taking responsibility, acknowledging the root of the problem, and detailing whether and how they moved past the problem.  

Problematic answers might seem dismissive of the other party or display an unwillingness to take responsibility for a personal role in the conflict. In answering this question, candidates may sometimes expose potential biases or prejudice that could prove to be an issue later.

"Can you tell me about a time when you had to be a motivator to others in the workplace?"

Is your candidate the type of person who gets involved with coworkers and plays a positive role in the workplace every day? When challenges arise, do they step up to the plate or start playing the blame game? Stories about how an individual helped another can be telling, especially if you understand the applicant’s attitude. Were they invested in helping, or did they see it as a burden to get past?

"Have you ever thought a coworker was poorly equipped to handle a task? How did you address the issue or ensure the task was completed correctly?"

Incompetence occurs in the workplace—it's simply a fact. Not everyone has the necessary skills or experience to handle every task within a business. Exploring how your candidate responded to such a situation illuminates much about their attitude. How did they manage their relationship with their struggling coworker? 

Was the work ultimately completed on time, and if so, how? A good follow-up might be, "why do you think that employee was given the task?" Listen for answers that shirk responsibility, display overt negativity or resentment, or disparage past coworker.

5. "Have you experienced or witnessed harassment in the workplace? How did you handle it?"

Sometimes, it's best to come straight out and put candidates on the spot about harassment policies. They may not have an answer—not everyone has seen or experienced such behavior. A good response might include how they recognized harassment, whether it happened to them or a coworker, and how they pursued a resolution through company policies or interpersonal efforts. "I didn't think that was my job" or "it's not my place to say something" are not the answers you want to hear.

Using Better Interviews and Reporting Tools To Select the Best Candidates

Hiring is one of the most fundamental processes in any business. Getting it right makes a difference in the quality of your work and the work environment and culture you create. Conducting thorough interviews to build the most constructive workplace possible lays the groundwork for future success. 

By exploring behavioral questions and not only the basics about qualifications and experience, but you’ll also understand your candidates better. Knowing what answers constitute potential red flags lets you know when it might be time to set up the following interview. It's not possible to predict whether someone will become a toxic influence in the workplace. Even so, you can do your best to identify when candidates are more likely to focus on their own gratification than being a team player.

At a time when concerns about safety and sexual harassment in the workplace are at an all-time high, it's vital to do everything you can as an employer to protect your staff and business. Pair your robust hiring process with strong workplace guidelines and anti-harassment policies, and be ready to follow up with enforcement actions. Making positive and long-lasting changes in how you hire strengthens the business and builds a better place to work. 

How can you adapt your interview processes and reinforce your hiring workflow with critical background information about your candidates? Our learning center contains in-depth resources on various topics related to safe, smart hiring. Learn more today and explore how we support business efforts to foster safer environments every day.

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Michael Klazema

About Michael Klazema The author

Michael Klazema is the lead author and editor for Dallas-based backgroundchecks.com with a focus on human resource and employment screening developments

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