Coburg Banks | Multi-sector UK recruitment agency

27 Behavioural Questions You Must Ask Your Interviewees

By Anthony Hughes | May 11, 2015 | Assessing Applicants

The internet is filled with barrages of brain-teasing questions to trip up your interview candidates…

  • Who would win in a fight between batman and superman?
  • How would you cure world hunger?
  • How many square feet of pizza is eaten in the UK every year?

…and sometimes, the odd left-field question will help you to separate the wheat from the chaff.

It could be that these weird and wonderful questions do reveal your star interviewees who, as masters of improvisation, will shock you with intellectual answers.

But is this enough to rule out other interviewing candidates?  Could you answer any of the above questions?  Would you even want to?

There are far more, less “creative” questions out there that will genuinely improve your decision making process and bring forth the most suitable candidates.

For those of you who have never heard of them, let me introduce behavioural interview questions!

Recruiter Pro Tip:

Behavioural is arguably the most effective category of interview questions.

They allow you to discover how a candidate has reacted in the past to a certain situation, and is the only real way that you can predict how they might behave in the future.

Unless you have some sort of crystal ball, lurking somewhere, but then, why bother interviewing in the first place?

This week we’ve put together a list of 27 of the best behavioural questions that you should be asking your interviewees and how to interpret the answers.

Is the interviewee a team player?

Asking about collaborative projects and assessing the candidate’s ability to handle disputes within the team, will allow you to judge their understanding, attitude and commitment to teamwork and will reveal how well they’d fit into the culture at your office.


1. “Tell me about a project you completed as part of a team.”

2. “Tell me about a time when you had to work with a particularly difficult team member.”

3. “Have you ever had to settle a dispute between two staff members? How did you do this?”

Good signs:

A great candidate will show genuine enthusiasm about teamwork and their story will reflect fairness, honesty, communication, delegation and respect.

Bad signs:

Look out for anyone who attempts to scapegoat and badmouth others. Real team players will be fair and willing to share responsibility when mistakes are made.

Recruiter Pro Tip 

Watch out for clearly generic answers like ‘I’ve always been a team player, I love working with other people.’

It’s important that you know the specifics of each story including how any problems arose and how they were ultimately solved.

Can they cope with a tough workload?

It’s inevitable that even the most competent employees will occasionally miss a deadline, especially when working in a high-pressure environment, so it’s important not to judge someone based solely on that fact.

It’s how employees react to those situations that will define their ability to cope with a tough workload.


4. “Describe a time when you missed a deadline or target. What did you do to rectify this?”

5. “Tell me about a time when it got to the end of the day, but you hadn’t completed your task.”

6. “Have you ever faced a particularly heavy workload and how did you handle the pressure?”

Good signs:

A great interviewing candidate will show a commitment to go the extra mile and get all of the critical tasks completed, keeping the relevant people up to date, without upsetting the delicate balance between work and home life.

These interviewees will exhibit flexibility, work ethic and time management.

Bad signs:

You will want some level of commitment displayed from an employee (you don’t want someone who’s going to head home, leaving the entire company in disarray.)

However, you don’t necessarily want someone who’ll put their job above all else, leading to horrendously long hours, no social life or relaxation and inevitable burnout.

Do they cause problems or solve them?

Problem solving questions are all about discovering the processes involved in decision-making, rather than the actual outcome.

People will make mistakes, but if there is a good reason, common sense and clear thought behind a decision, then you shouldn’t condemn someone’s decision-making capabilities.


7. “Can you tell me about a situation when you personally had to solve a problem at work?”

8. “What was the best idea you came up with in your last job?”

9. “Could you tell me about a mistake you made in work, why you made that mistake and how you rectified the situation?”

Good signs:

Any interviewee who methodically walks you through their decision making process, highlighting instances of initiative, creativity, reason and intellect (despite the end result) shows clear signs of problem solving abilities.

Bad signs:

Look out for decisions that are made thoughtlessly, or based on arrogance (“I just knew I was right”) and employees who appear to run to their manager at the first sign of trouble.

If an interviewing candidate has no answer at all, you should be worried.

Can they communicate sensitively and professionally?

The entire interview process is a real test of the candidate’s ability to communicate, but remember, high-pressure situations are bound to affect behaviour, often in a negative way.


10. “Tell me about the last time a customer got angry with you.”

11. “Tell me about a time when someone couldn’t understand what you were trying to put across.”

12. “Could you describe a time when you had to persuade someone?”

Good signs:

Any candidate who can demonstrate their understanding of how to manage people in a professional and courteous manner, using persuasive, conflict resolution and calming techniques is really worth their weight in gold.

Bad signs:

Again, watch out for those interviewees who badmouth their colleagues and clients.

Communication questions regularly crop up in interviews so chances are that some interviewing candidates may be prepared with generic answers. If your instincts tell you a story is made up, then dig deeper!

Can they lead?

Whether or not the role requires leadership skills, it may be worth asking these questions to suss out the future development opportunities of that candidate.


13. “Tell me about a time when you took a leadership role.”

14. “Tell me about a project, where you had to delegate tasks effectively.”

15. “What is the toughest team you’ve ever had to lead and how did you do it?”

Good signs:

You’re looking for balanced interviewee who clearly emphasize the value in teamwork, but also display a readiness to delegate, manage and plan a project.

Fairness, the ability to motivate others and confidence in their own decision-making are all great characteristics of a great leader.

Bad signs:

This is a difficult question to improvise upon, so be wary of generic answers like ‘I always like to lead people in my professional and personal life.’ Dig deeper.

Can they set and stick to deadlines and goals?

These questions are less common and focus on the candidate’s ability to set and meet goals and targets for themselves, without relying on someone else.

Assess whether the goals were realistic, whether they successfully reached them and how they coped if they didn’t.


16. “How do you go about setting  goals for other people in your team?”

17. “In the past, what professional goals have you set for yourself?”

18. “Give me an example of a personal goal you set and how you overcame obstacles to reach it.”

Good signs:

Great interviewees will show a clear cut goal-setting process and the ability to assess situations (both in personal and professional lives) to ensure that those goals are relevant and realistic.

When goals aren’t met, they will seek to discover what went wrong and work out how to avoid these shortcomings in the future.

Bad signs:

Look out for interviewing candidates who clearly aren’t that interested in the goal-setting process, preferring to “wing it”. This may work for some, but could lead to unstructured and unorganised work.

Can they follow?

In most cases, you’re also going to want an employee who is willing to follow as well as lead, especially when there are people above who have more experience and expertise.

You don’t really want an employee who’s going step on toes the whole time.


19. “Tell me about a time when you had to do something, even though you knew you were right.”

20. “Describe a time when you let a suitable colleague take the lead on a project.”

21. “What type of role do you take within a team?”

Good signs:

A great candidate will answer the question fairly, describing how they got the job done regardless and raised concerns at an appropriate moment, motivating other employees to do the same.

Bad signs:

These questions can yield some pretty negative responses from interviewees who may have felt put out when employers and colleagues didn’t listen to them.

Be wary of those who proclaim to be right all of the time; they’re the ones likely to ruffle a few feathers.

Are they resilient?

Most jobs will impart a certain degree of stress and pressure and it’s important to know that your employees can cope with that.


22. “What do you do to refresh yourself after a tough day at the office?”

23. “Are there any negatives at your current workplace? How do you cope with them?”

24. “Tell me about a particularly tough time you’ve experienced during your current workplace?”

Good signs:

A great candidate will show evidence of their ability to motivate and inspire others and help them to get through the tough times.

Bad signs:

It’s up to you to read body language signals, tone of voice and emotion as the candidate answers these tough questions and decide whether you think there’s more digging to do.

Are they overly emotional about the subject? Do they seem overworked? Are there signs of resent and anger?

Are they adaptable?

Adaptability is a key characteristic of fantastic employees; this ability and determination to take on fresh new roles will increase productivity in your workplace.


25. “Tell me about a time when you’ve gone above and beyond your job role.”

26. “Describe a situation when you had to adjust to the way someone else worked.”

27. “When is the last time you learnt something outside of work?”

Good signs:

Look out for employees who clearly exhibit the ability to move within roles and are more than willing to take on extra responsibilities, (for example, organising events or helping other teams with their workload.)

Enthusiasm and ambition to try new things could also be exhibited in their personal lives, so do try to find out what they do in their spare time!

Bad signs:

Again, these questions do give interviewees a chance to badmouth their co-workers, for example, ‘I had to step in because they were doing it all wrong.’

As mentioned above, a great and fair candidate won’t lay blame and will focus on the positives of their experiences.


It’s really important to remember that behavioural questions can be quite intense, forcing interviewees to think on their feet a lot of the time.

They will of course perform much better when they feel relatively at ease so in order to experience “the real them”, try not to base your entire interview solely on behavioural questions!

Recruiter Pro Tip:

You’ll still come across time wasters and unfortunately good liars are often the best at winging behavioural questions, but if you feel like a candidate is holding back or misrepresenting a situation, don’t be afraid to ask follow-up questions to dig deeper!

It can be a pretty delicate balancing act and sometimes you will have to trust your gut!

Good luck!

- Anthony Hughes

Anthony Hughes

Anthony is a recruitment veteran of 18 years and is also one of the original founders of Coburg Banks. He now trains recruitment consultants on the best methods to utilise when sourcing and assessing applicants for their clients. 


> More blog posts by Anthony Hughes

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