Job candidates with upbeat expectations: good. Candidates with unrealistic expectations about flying up the ladder, making a ton of money, and soon owning a remodeling company, maybe yours: not so good.

Behavioral interview questions help Prestige Custom Builders, in Seattle, identify when a job candidate “expects to go too far too fast,” says Jeff Santerre, president. Such personalities often run into attitude and productivity problems when they realize that the reality is somewhat more laborious.

Illustration: Stanley Hooper

In a one-on-one interview lasting between 1.5 and 2 hours, Santerre's human resources manager, Lesa Keller, reviews candidates' background and work experience, then asks questions intended to “determine things like how they make decisions, how they deal with stress, and their maturity level,” she says. Invariably, “[candidates] attach a story to their answer” that often reveals how they think and act — and how they'll continue to do so on the job. For example:

Q: How do you know when you're under stress? “You want to know if they pay attention to the early signals, or wait until a 300-pound weight falls on their head and smashes them flat,” Keller says. Strong candidates monitor their stress level and are able to adjust rather than become angry, she says.

Q: Tell me about a time when you were very patient. What made the situation special? The answer might reveal whether they can delay gratification — critical for painstaking, long-term projects. On the other hand, “if you're looking for someone who must complete things by the end of the day, you want them to be motivated to get things done,” Keller says.

One candidate answered that he had taken his mother to the hospital and “waited a whole hour in the car” during her appointment. Not the most mature response, but not necessarily a bad one for a laborer position.

Q: In your adult life, what accomplishments have given you the most satisfaction? And: What have been your greatest disappointments, and how did you respond? Again, the right answers depend on the position. Some answers are “profound and heartening,” Keller says. The interviews are enlightening and never adversarial, she adds. One candidate told her that the interview “was one of the most pleasant” he'd had in some time. Nevertheless, he didn't get the job.