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Steal these 20+ behavioral interview questions

January 28, 2022
iCIMS Staff
5 min read

Interviews are aspirational. We hope they’re enough to get to know a candidate, to get a sense of his or her character. But that’s easier said than done. Behavioral interview questions can help us determine whether what candidates say about themselves lines up with reality.

Lessons from Enron

Patty McCord served as Chief Talent Officer at Netflix for 14 years. It was McCord who helped shape and codify the company’s core values in a slideshow called Netflix’s Culture: Freedom & Responsibility.

As a manifesto on hiring philosophy, it doesn’t pull any punches. In it McCord writes, “Many companies have nice sounding value statements displayed in the lobby, such as: Integrity, communication, respect, excellence.”

The following slide continues: “Enron, whose leaders went to jail, and which went bankrupt from fraud, had these values displayed in their lobby: Integrity, communication, respect, excellence.”

McCord goes on to say that these traits aren’t what Enron really valued – at least, not enough to live by. While many companies have nice-sounding values, those values don’t determine who gets rewarded, promoted, or let go.

What companies really value, according to McCord, are behaviors and skills.

Logically, this means companies should hire for the behaviors and skills they want demonstrated. Which begs the question – why do so many recruiters and hiring managers look for culture fit instead?

In an article titled How to Hire, published in the Harvard Business Review, McCord explains her aversion to the idea of culture fit. “What most people really mean when they say someone is a good fit culturally is that he or she is someone they’d like to have a beer with,” writes McCord. “But people with all sorts of personalities can be great at the job you need done.”

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Why behavioral interview questions work

Behavioral interview questions aren’t about culture fit. They’re about mission fit.

In other words, the answers candidates give to behavioral interview questions speaks to what they would or wouldn’t do in a given situation (presumably, this may have benefited Enron). In questions that ask for a specific example, candidates may outline what specific actions they took and the results they got (along with what they learned from it) .

Behavioral interviews questions are different from other interview questions in that they have less to do with personality than actions.  They’re not designed to help “get to know someone” in the sense of going for a beer together. “Tell me where you want to be in five years” isn’t part of the equation.

That’s not to say culture fit, team camaraderie, and “chumminess” aren’t a good thing. But often times that’s surface deep. Real togetherness and teamwork happens when everyone is aligned to a clearly defined mission and rowing in the same direction.

To put it another way, there are plenty of people I would love to have a beer with who I wouldn’t want to work with. Can I rely on this person to take ownership when challenges arise? Will this person be as thoughtful and respectful to clients as they were to me during their interview?

This is where behavioral interview questions shine.


“Tell me about a time when…”

There’s a famous quote by philosopher Will Durant (sometimes misattributed to Aristotle), that goes, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” The best behavioral interview questions seek to uncover that excellence – or potential for excellence – in candidates.

Here are a few different categories of behavioral interview questions, along with some examples you can steal for your next interview.


Communication skills

  1. Tell me about a time when you had to say “no.”
  2. Tell me about a time when you were the expert and had to explain a complex idea to your team. How did you make sure you were understood?
  3. Give me an example of a time when you had to manage up. How did you do it?


Conflict management

  1. Tell me about a time when you had to work with someone whose personality or approach was very different from your own.
  2. Give me an example of a time when you needed important information from a client or teammate who wasn’t responsive. How did you handle it?
  3. Tell me about a time when you had to work with a difficult teammate or client. How did you manage the relationship?
  4. Talk to me about a time when a project you worked on for a customer or internal stakeholder didn’t meet their expectations. What did you do about it?


Ownership and responsibility

  1. Tell me about a time when you had too many projects to get everything done on time. How did you prioritize?
  2. Describe a long-term project you managed. What was it? How did you keep the project on track?
  3. Tell me about a time when you made a mistake. How did you correct it?
  4. Talk to me about a part you played in the success of a larger project.


Goals, ambitions, and values

  1. Tell me about your proudest professional accomplishment.
  2. What do you enjoy most about your current position?
  3. What is something you’d change about your last job?


Team and culture fit

  1. Tell me about a time when you disagreed with your team’s approach to a project? How did you handle it?
  2. Describe your leadership style.
  3. What are you looking for in a supervisor?


Remote work

  1. Tell me about how you work collaboratively with a remote team.
  2. How do you engage stakeholders and your team in a remote environment?
  3. What are some ways you keep yourself motivated and focused working from home?


Internal candidates:

  1. What’s something you made better in your current role?
  2. Tell me about what you learned in your current position. How will you apply it to this new role?
  3. What is something you plan to do differently on your new team?


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