25 “Tell Me About a Time When” Interview Questions

Clients hire you for your expertise in the recruiting process. Being knowledgeable in recruitment means you know how to source candidates, ask the right questions, and provide other valuable insights. If you are heavily involved in the interview process, make sure you ask the right questions.

“Tell me about a time when” interview questions ask candidates how they reacted in past situations. This way, you learn more about how the candidates actually acted on the job instead of how they might act in a hypothetical situation.

What are “tell me about a time when” interview questions?

As a recruiter, you want to interview candidates well so you get to know their characters.

“Tell me about a time when” interview questions are behavioral interview questions. They encourage candidates to share stories about their past jobs, education, or even personal lives. What the candidate shares can indicate whether they would be a good fit for the job at your client’s company.

“Think of a time when” interview questions are more in depth and personal than basic interview questions. For example, “Tell me a time when you had to work under pressure” reveals more real-life experiences than “Do you work well under pressure?”

You should ask positive and negative “tell me about a time when” questions to learn about your candidate’s strengths and weaknesses. And, you can find out whether the candidate learns from their mistakes. For example:

  • Tell me about a time when you made a change at work. (positive)
  • Tell me about a time when you failed at work. (negative)

Ask both general questions as well as ones that relate to the job order. Make sure to take notes so you can compare what candidates say.

When should you ask “tell me about a time when” interview questions?

You can ask “tell me about a time when” interview questions during the pre-interview screening and interviewing steps of the recruiting process.

Telephone screening helps you narrow your candidate pool. You can ask a few “name a time” interview questions during screening and relay the information to your client.

You might be present during face-to-face interviews, too. If so, you and your client should focus on “describe a time” interview questions. You can observe the candidate’s body language when they tell you about their past experiences.

List of interview questions: “Tell me about a time”

The questions you ask will depend on the job order. Typically, the format for “tell me about a time” interview questions is:

  1. Ask the candidate to talk about their real-life situation
  2. Prompt the candidate to talk about what they gained/learned from it

Hopefully, these questions will encourage candidates to think of how the situations relate to the open position. You can follow up with questions that relate to your client’s company. Here are 25 “tell me about a time when” interview questions you might use.

1. Tell me about a time when you reached a goal at work. How did you reach it?

2. Think of a time when you set a goal that you didn’t reach. Why didn’t you reach it? How did you handle it?

3. Tell me about a time when you were behind on your work. Why were you behind? What did you do to catch up?

4. Tell me about a time you led a team at work. Did any problems come up? How did you solve them?

5. Describe a time when you had a disagreement with your manager. What happened?

6. Think of a time when you didn’t get along with a co-worker. Did this impact your work?

7. Tell me about a time when you weren’t prepared for something (presentation, meeting, etc.). What did you do?

8. Did you ever have to adapt to a completely new system at work? Tell me about what you did to adapt.

9. Describe a time when you took initiative at work. Were the results positive? How did people react?

10. Tell me about a miscommunication with a co-worker. How did you work to prevent this in the future?

11. Describe the most stressful situation you have experienced at work. How did you handle it? Would you handle other situations like this in the future?

12. Tell me about a time when you had to solve a difficult problem.

13. Has there ever been a time you discovered a co-worker made a mistake? What did you do?

14. Tell me about a time when you made a mistake at work. Who discovered it, and what did you do to fix it?

15. Tell me about a time when you had to make a split second decision. How did it work out? Would you have chosen another option if you had more time?

16. Describe a time you regretted a decision you made at work. What would you do differently?

17. Tell me about a time when doing the right thing hurt you or your career. Would you make the same decision again?

18. Think of a time when you did something at work that went against your judgment. How would you react now?

19. Think of a time when someone personally attacked your work. How did you handle it?

20. Tell me about a time when you were juggling multiple projects at once. How did you prioritize?

21. Describe a time you encouraged someone (co-worker, boss, customer) to see things your way. Was the outcome successful?

22. Tell me about a time you were part of a team that you didn’t like. Why did you dislike the team? How did you cope?

23. Tell me about a time you were having a hard time balancing your personal and work life. What did you do to get through it?

24. Describe a situation where you had to problem solve.

25. Tell me about a time you wanted to quit. What did you do to motivate yourself?

Tips

When you ask “think of a time when” interview questions, you probe candidates to think deeper about their work ethic. But, you want to make sure you can use their answers to find the best fit for your client.

Ask each candidate the same questions. That way, you can compare answers to see who most closely meets your client’s vision. And, take notes in your recruiting software so that you don’t forget important details.