Ladders 2020 Interviews Guide: What you must know about behavioral interviewing

Hi Readers,

The 2020 update for my best-selling Ladders Interviews Guide is out now and available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle versions.  I’ve included a brief excerpt below.

This updated version is designed to make your 2020 interviews go smoothly.  Whether you’re interviewing for better pay, a better job, or simply to maintain lifestyle insurance for you and your family, the third edition of Ladders Interviews Guide gives you the essence of what you need to know in about 90 minutes.

Ladders Interviews Guide provides 49 common interview questions and answers, best practices and expert advice on questions to ask in an interview, how to answer behavioral interview questions, and interview tips for fast-rising and mid-career professionals.  Along with its companion guide, Ladders Resume Guide, they make a great pair of helpful guidebooks for you on your 2020 adventures.

Here’s the excerpt I promised you…

Behavioral interviewing

Interestingly, this connection between past performance and future success underpins the biggest change over the past decade in how companies interview and select employees.

Companies have discovered that social interviews are ineffective.  Social interviews are unstructured conversations that are allowed to flow wherever the participants allow them to, usually toward some shared social group, activity, or bonding.  The worst of this kind of interview is the type depicted in Mad Men, where two middle-aged boozehounds chat over bourbons and swap war stories until they both end up poured into taxicabs at the end of the evening.  This interview style, which focused on sociability and a certain type of agreeableness, has proven to be a very poor predictor of success or future performance in a job.

Replacing boozy nights and Googly brain teasers, the behavioral interview hopes to assess the future performance of a candidate by understanding, in detail, what the candidate has done in the past.  

Behavioral interviews are structured around asking about past behavior in specific situations, the candidate’s responses to past challenges, and emotional and behavioral reactions to past conflicts, so that the interviewer can create a picture of how the candidate typically performs in various scenarios.  Someone who enjoyed inspiring a sales team to beat quota, hated working alone on spreadsheets, and preferred the comfort of cold, hard cash to flighty theories about potential future revenues, is most likely to do so again in the future. And the reverse holds true — people who didn’t like doing those things will tend to not like them in the future either.

Behavioral interview questions tend toward a structure similar to “Tell me about a time when…”  or “Describe for me a time when …” or sometimes the indirect route, “What would your boss / coworkers / team members / assistant say about your…”  These questions are structured to elicit specific information about your past experiences, your reactions to them, your course of action, your outcomes, and your reflections.

The academic research supporting behavioral interviewing underscores the uselessness of social interviews, interviews about hypothetical future scenarios, or brain teaser interviews.  The anecdotal feedback on behavioral interviews is favorable, too. Behavioral interviews appear to help companies hire better, understand candidates more thoroughly, and make a better match between person and role.  As a result, it has become the dominant interviewing style favored by giants as varied as Google and GE.

Perhaps the best, and most obvious reminder, is that in a world where past performance matters, the best way to interview well is to perform well.  Outstanding performance, year after year, in a variety of positions, situations, and contexts, builds the most confidence among interviewers in your ability to perform well in the future. 

As a result, it will be useful for you to review 49 specific behavioral questions.  The variety of behavioral questions are innumerable, and the various formats they take would fill… a Kindle, I guess.  We won’t have time to list all of them, or even a substantial portion, if we want to get through this Interviews Guide in 90 minutes.  So I’ve picked seven subject matter areas and shared seven specific questions in each, sometimes as multi-part questions.

Following each section of questions, I share with you the answers interviewers expect from great performers, the answers they’re disappointed to get from bad performers, and, where relevant, the answers they get from people who simply have no experience in the subject matter.

I’ve picked questions from a variety of sources commonly used by HR managers and recruiters, including the granddaddy of them all, Topgrading by Bradford D. Smart, Ph.D.  These questions are broadly applicable to a wide range of professionals: leading individual contributors, managers, middle managers, and upper management executives.  You should answer at the level appropriate to your experience and expertise. I’ve grouped the questions into seven relevant categories. With that, let’s review the topics, questions, and good and bad answers to our behavioral questions below:


  1. When I speak with your current boss or coworkers, how much of a team player will they say you are?
  2. How have your teams gotten better?  What did you do to improve team skills, cohesion, performance, or output?
  3. Describe for me the best hire you’ve ever made.  And how about the worst? Which have been your best-performing and most disappointing teams in your recent roles?
  4. What have been the biggest challenges to teamwork you’ve faced in your recent role?  What was your approach to improving that teamwork?
  5. What’s the worst fight you’ve managed between two subordinates in your recent role?  How did you have them resolve their conflict?
  6. How have you presented your work to coworkers or people outside of your area of specialty?
  7. Tell me about a time you worked with someone you personally disliked.  What was your approach to communicate your displeasure with them? With managing the work with them? How did they perform on the tasks?  How about your experience working with someone who was difficult to work with, or personally irritating to you? Can you describe for me a time that happened?

To read the rest, head over to Ladders Interviews Guide and Ladders Resume Guide today!

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