best interview questions

You have an opportunity. Great interview questions help you…

  • Reveal someone’s true personality
  • Speed read a candidate quickly
  • Build rapport that lasts

Your questions might be even more important than a candidate’s answers. A great interviewer uses key behavioral interview questions.

Here’s the problem:

You get into an interview and the same, common interview questions are asked. The candidate has answered these a million times before. The interviewer has asked the same questions and heard the same answers a million times before. It’s a waste of everyone’s time!

I think there is a better way.

It’s called: Behavioral Interviewing.

Behavioral Interviewing:

Behavioral interviewing questions are designed to reveal the true nature of a candidate’s personality, motivations, and values, so both the candidate and interviewer have a more productive interaction.

Whether you are an interviewer looking for better questions, or a candidate who wants to prepare for great questions, these are my favorite behavioral interview questions.

The list below comes from real hiring managers, CEOs, and experts from leading companies such as Evernote, Nature Box, and Curology. I also will reveal the questions we have created from our research at the Science of People.

I have interviewed hundreds of candidates for both our company and our training programs. I have learned the right interview questions unlock necessary information to make sure you truly are getting to know someone’s behavior. This is the only way to know if a hire will be good for your company–and if, as a candidate, the company will be a good fit for you.

Question #1: What’s something that you used to believe but no longer believe?

This is one of my favorite behavioral interview questions because it explores someone’s ability to change and be open-minded. One of the hardest parts about starting a new job is the learning curve–new ways of doing things, new culture, new relationships. And sometimes those new ways are going to challenge someone’s old ways. This interview question unlocks a few key behaviors:

  • Can they easily recall a time they have changed their mind? If not, you might have someone is very stuck in their ways.
  • What was the magnitude of the change? If someone says, “I used to believe in the Easter Bunny and no longer do.”, that shows a lack of seriousness. However, if someone answers, “I used to believe charisma and leadership were genetic, but now I believe they can be learned, and leadership is a skill I have been working on.” Wow! Winner!

Question #2: Who were the competitors at the last company you worked for and how did your company differentiate itself?

This one comes from Ian Siegel, co-founder and CEO of ZipRecruiter. If anyone is an expert at hiring and interviewing, it is Ian and the team at Ziprecruiter. He uses this question because, “I want to determine if the candidate had a strategic understanding of the business. Surprisingly, few candidates can answer this question. I am especially impressed by candidates who have a grasp of existing competitors, potential competitors, and what a disruptive, new market entrant could do.”

I love this question as a behavioral interview question because it taps into a way of thinking. Every great employee should know three basic things about their company:

  • The company’s mission
  • The company’s goals
  • The company’s competitors

When an employee is aware of all three — even if it doesn’t directly tie into their job, it shows they are thinking whole-mindedly about why they do what they do.

Question #3: Tell me about your best and worst days at work.

This interview question is a great way to gauge someone’s outlook and perspective. This great one comes from Chris O’Neill, CEO of Evernote. Here’s his insider interview tip:

“The answers are very revealing. ‘Best day’ answers demonstrate what makes that person tick, what motivates them. ‘Worst day’ answers tell whether a person is a team player–if their response focuses on what went wrong without taking any ownership, there is a good chance they won’t thrive in a collaborative environment.” -Chris O’Neill

I would recommend taking this a step further and thinking about what your ideal answer to this question is as an interviewer. If you were to ask your top performers this behavioral interview question, how would they answer? What examples would they give?

If you find a candidate who has similar answers to your top performers–they are a winner!

Question #4: If I called your current boss, what would they say about you?

Fair warning: This interview question likely will get your candidate’s blood pumping a bit. ANYTIME you ask about a previous boss, it is a bit nerve-wracking. That doesn’t mean it’s not a useful question. Here’s why you should ask it in an interview (or prepare to have an answer):

  • How does someone work under pressure? This is a tough question EVEN if their boss loved them. It’s hard to talk about yourself positively or negatively.
  • How does someone talk about themself? Are they a boaster, a downer, humble, smooth-talking? How do they respond?
  • How does someone talk about their past boss? This is an important one. You want to know how someone has processed a previous relationship. Do they hold grudges? Resentment? Praise?

Chris M. Williams, CEO of pocket.watch asks this question for one big reason:

“Interviewees tend to be very honest in their response because they anticipate that there’s an actual possibility I’ll make that call.” -Chris M. Williams

You can ask this question only if you actually are willing to call their previous boss–especially if you hear something that piques your interest and you want to confirm it.

Question #5: Are you working on anything exciting outside of work?

It is important to get a sense of someone’s life outside of work — not because this is necessarily relevant to their work experience, but because it can tell you about how someone would be as a cultural fit. And you never know what interesting thing you might find out from this behavioral question! Their answers potentially could tell you a lot:

  • If they can’t think of anything. It could indicate poor work/life balance. If someone is obsessed with work, they might not have time for anything else. Does that work for you culturally?
  • If they say something generic. This could be a lack of creativity, but it also could be nerves. How important is well-roundedness to your company? How important is easy small talk and nerves-free banter?
  • If they have a fascinating or surprising answer. Great! You might get a sneak peek into who they really are. How does that fit with your company?

Their comfort level with this question also will tell you a lot about how this candidate might socialize with colleagues, which is important for work environment chemistry.

Question #6: You have two teleportation devices. Where do you place them and why?

This gem of an interview question (An uncommon one at that!) comes from David Lortscher, founder and CEO of Curology. Here’s why he loves this question:

“Questions that are open-ended test for critical thinking instead of pure knowledge. One candidate told us they’d place one device in their home and one on the moon, because they want to explore space and make new discoveries. That may translate into someone who displays expansive thinking, is curious, and is hungry to learn.” -David Lortscher

This question might feel irrelevant or silly–and it is a little “out of the box.” But that’s a good thing! How does your candidate do on the spot? How creative can they be? What does their answer tell you about their priorities? This is also a great opportunity to lighten the mood in an interview if you want to give an answer too, and also have a laugh.

Question #7: Wait…do you remember all of our names?

Oh man, this idea comes from Gil Addo of RubiconMD, and it is a really interesting test of behavior in an interview. Here’s what he advises:

“We like to have a little fun with our sales candidates, while testing their ability to connect with people. They act like the interview is done then call them back in and have them go over everyone they met, including their names, and what they talked about. We end by asking directly, ‘Did you get the job?’ It’s a great way to gauge their self-confidence and see if they can hold their own from start to finish in an unpredictable situation.” -Gil Addo

This is intense, but the skills of remembering names, having self-confidence, and quickly memorizing people’s details are essential for sales roles. Why not test those abilities right in the interview room?

Question #8: If you didn’t have to work, why would you come into the office?captivate, Vanessa van Edwards

This question comes from Gautam Gupta, co-founder and CEO of NatureBox. This is the perfect behavioral interview question because it looks directly at motivations and interest. You can gauge someone’s why very quickly — do they work for the money, the status, the appreciation?

In my book Captivate, I present research that argues each of us has a primary value.

Primary Value:

The underlying motivation that drives a person’s decisions, actions and desires.

It’s incredibly important to know this about potential employees — it explains their behavior and helps you keep them motivated. Here’s what Gupta has to say:

“I try to understand the person’s motivations and interest. I also try to understand where they want to take their career and how NatureBox fits within that path. Lastly, I’m looking to gauge their intellectual curiosity.” -Gautam Gupta

Again, think of your ideal answer to this question. What do you hope will drive your potential employees?

Question #9: Describe the last significant conflict you had at work and how you handled it?

No one likes conflict. But it happens. How will your candidate deal with it? History is your greatest help. This question will tell you a little bit about how they view conflict and how they might handle it. You also are looking for an honest, specific answer. Watch out for any red flags, such as obvious or potential lies.

This question comes from Kent Porter, founder and CEO of Porter Leadership Development. Here’s why he likes it, and why you should use it too!

“Savvy hiring authorities respond well when I say, “We hire them for what they know, we fire them for who they are.” The question now is how do we determine who they are? Questions (like this help to discern who a candidate is.” —Kent Porter

Be prepared to ask follow-up questions — get details, use specifics. The more you know about how they handled the past, the more you will know about how they might handle the future.

Question #10: Is there something I didn’t ask that I should have asked you?

I like to give candidates an opportunity to showcase a special talent, need, or request. If your interview is too carefully choreographed, you will not give a candidate sufficient space to share something important. This is a chance for them to shine — and they should take it! If they say that everything was covered, you might wonder how prepared they were, or if they want to go above and beyond. If they overshare here, that could tell you something as well.

Bottom Line: Every answer is a behavioral clue. Listen closely to your candidates’ answers AND watch how they answer. Research shows that nonverbal cues are a minimum of sixty percent of our communication. Even if someone has a perfectly scripted answer, pay attention to their body language, their tone of voice, their nervous gestures. Behavior is both words, actions and signals. Take them all in!

To your success,

Vanessa

PS- Have great behavioral interview questions you use? Tweet me.

Hi, I'm Vanessa!

Hi, I'm Vanessa!

Lead Investigator, Science of People

I'm the author of the national bestselling book Captivate, creator of People School, and human behavioral investigator in our lab.

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