Finding what right looks like, part 5: Custom-written questions are the foundation of successful behavioral interviewing

This post series comes to you courtesy of our cofounder and co-managing partner Jeff Wilson. For more information on how Jeff can help you discover “what right looks like” in your hiring, please contact him at 317-598-1950 x102 or

Previous posts in series:

In this post, I’ll talk about the steps of our hiring process that are in bold:

  • Get to know the client and understand the client’s business and HR needs on a deep level.
  • Discuss and determine with the client the KPIs (key performance indicators) and specific metrics of the position.
  • Discuss and determine with the client the job duties and any skills and qualifications required to perform them.
  • Discuss and determine with the client the behaviors required for top performance in the position.
  • Write the behavioral interview questions with client input.
  • Conduct behavioral interviews and provide comprehensive feedback along with a summary of answers provided by the candidates.
  • Present the client with a short list of candidates qualified through the behavioral interviews.
  • Provide extensive interaction with the client throughout the interview process.

At this stage, we’ve established quite a bit of important information working with the client:

  • KPIs (key performance indicators) for the position.
  • Job duties and the skills and qualifications needed to perform them.
  • A prioritized list of behaviors needed for top performance in the position.

All of this information will help us write the questions we’ll ask during the behavioral interview. We write the questions, getting further input from the client as needed. Clients are extremely relieved when they find out that they don’t have to execute this difficult step! It’s one of the things that makes Key Corporate Services a different kind of executive recruiting firm.

So how do we write the questions? We’ve undergone special training in behavioral interviewing, and we’ve also had years of experience in doing so. There is a knack to writing the questions that is difficult to explain in the scope of a blog post, but I can provide an example of our thought process.

Let’s suppose that the No. 1 behavior we’ve identified is tenacious team leadership. We know that the team is going to be facing a big year, and we need a leader who will monitor, mentor, and motivate all team members on a consistent basis. The following might be a question we ask to see if candidates have exhibited this behavior in the past:

Tell me about a time when your team faced a big challenge and you helped the team overcome that challenge.

In the answers to this question, we will be looking for not only examples of individual input (i.e., doing one’s assigned task) but also examples of leadership (i.e., catalyzing the efforts of others on the team). If the candidate being interviewed was in the past a team leader or in a similar position, we will definitely want to hear a compelling story of leading the team. If the candidate was not in a team leader position, he or she still has the opportunity to tell us how he or she took the initiative and exhibited the behaviors of a leader.

In this way, we customize the behavioral interview questions to test for the behaviors we know are needed for success in a position. This is a targeted approach to the interview that goes far beyond assessing the candidate for likability and other surface qualities. It delivers simply better managers and leaders for the long term.

The next step in KCS’ executive hiring process is Performing behavioral interviewing for our clients saves them time and finds them better candidates.

The Key Corporate Services Blog Team
Handy guide to our blog post series