At my former job, we really put job applicants through the wringer. First, they had to be individually interviewed by practically everyone working there (including me). Then they had to go out for a meal with the boss, where they would be expected to answer more questions while also trying to avoid getting spinach stuck in their teeth. Challenging stuff.

So I conducted a lot of interviews, but I don’t think I was very good at it. I knew that certain qualities were essential to the job (like being detail-oriented), so I would ask about those things. But the exchanges were never very illuminating. They usually went something like this…

  • Me: Are you detail-oriented?
  • Applicant: Yes!
  • Me: Oh, that’s great.

So when I was recently asked to sit in on a group interview, I asked my boss (an excellent interviewer) what type of questions he would recommend I ask. He suggested that I get the applicant to tell a story – to tell us about a time when she was faced with a difficult problem, dealt with a demanding client, or contributed to a successful (or unsuccessful) project.

I went online and found that these are called “behavioral questions.” I also learned that these types of questions are very effective and revealing. Even though applicants are obviously going to tell you a success story, the details that they provide (and the way they tell it) can reveal a lot about their personality, attitude, and how they work with others.

So the next time you’re asked to interview someone, give behavioral questions a try! Stories about how applicants behaved in the past can tell you a lot about how they will behave in the future. And they reveal so much more than questions that can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.”