The interview is going smooth. You have shown your technical prowess by answering all practical questions in a fraction of the stipulated time. And then, slowly yet suddenly, the hiring manager leans in…
“So, tell me more about that one time you submitted a bad code and…”
And the time freezes! You DID NOT anticipate this! What happens next depends on what you say. You get all hot and bothered and start sweating bullets over fabricating the perfect answer for your actions.
Job interview prep tips typically include a thorough understanding of the relevant concepts, creating an elevator pitch, and confidence over what you have to offer to the organization. However, since many companies do not look for an overworked husk in recruits, hiring managers like to throw a few curveballs like this from time to time.
Dedicate the next quarter of an hour and learn the following to ace your interview with the big shots.
What are behavioral interview questions?
Behavioral interview questions are open-ended and characteristically test the situational awareness of the interviewee. The questions revolve around employment-related situations such as challenges or mistakes, and how the applicant tackled the task.
The primary notion behind asking interview situation questions is that the applicant’s past behavior dictates how he/she might behave in the future when presented with a similar situation.
Behavior-based questions usually start in a conversational tone, with questions like “describe with an example”, “discuss a situation”, “give an instance”, “have you ever”, etc.
Behavioral interview vs. technical interview: How are they different?
In many ways, behavioral interview and technical interview are quite similar. As in, there isn’t much difference in the actual format of the interview. The usual interview prep tips apply here as well; look presentable and approachable, be confident, you know the rest.
What’s different is the approach that the interviewer has and the questions asked. In the technical round, the questions revolve around various concepts and your practical competence. The answers will be direct and subject-oriented.
Thus, you will be asked questions related to your preferred programming language, debugging methods, the difference between stubs and mocks, function points, project estimation techniques, modularization, cohesion, etc.
In the behavioral round, the interviewer looks for the pre-requisite characteristics mandated by the job profile. During this round, the hiring manager will be looking for role-specific qualities such as ethical practice, leadership, business acumen, critical evaluation, communication, etc. with concrete examples.
Behavioral questions are now an essential part of Google interview preparation courses and preparatory courses for other major corporations like Amazon and Netflix.
What is the interviewer’s objective behind asking behavioral questions?
As mentioned above, the main objective behind behavioral interview questions for managers is to find if the interviewee possesses the skills required to achieve the company goals efficiently. Thus, for a managerial role, they will look for leadership, management, problem-solving attitude, and so on.
Usually, the interviewer will check the following in the applicant during a Google behavioral interview:
Why prepare for behavioral based interview questions in advance?
Individuals’ technical proficiency is based on their knowledge of the concepts involved, so there isn’t much ground to play here. However, the behavior round gives you the much-needed opportunity to shine and exhibit that “YOU” are the perfect fit for the organization.
Preparing in advance eliminates the possibility of you ending up in hot waters when such a curveball is suddenly thrown at you. Most behavioral interview questions tread along the same lines, so the problems can be predicted more often than not.
Given the erratic nature of such questions, the ball is in your court. Thus, you can prepare thoughtful sketches that solidify your skills and accentuate your problem-solving abilities.
How to practice for behavioral interview questions?
“The devil is in the details.”
Always keep in mind the objective of the behavioral round; the interviewer is looking for fact-backed skills.
They will forget 90% of what you say in your answers. Instead, they will look for skills that you exhibit in your solutions. Here is a step-by-step practice session template, but feel free to add your own spices.
How to answer behavioral based interview questions?
Here’s a little secret we are going to let you on…
For all the interviewees present on a single day, the interview situation questions remain the same more or less. It is the interviewer who is under extreme pressure; he/she has to ask the questions unbiased to each and every one of you.
But how can you use this to your advantage?
Most applicants will either get dry-mouthed and stutter or prepare generic solutions that highlight no special skills at all.
This provides you with an opportune moment to exhibit that you can go above and beyond the specified roles.
Focus on YOUR skills and highlight YOUR contribution to a project. You can very well conjure a story where you come out the hero at the end.
“Why fit in when you were born to stand out.” – Dr Seuss
Consider this question:
“Tell me about a time when you took ownership of a project. Why did you do it? What was the result of you taking the challenge?”
A generic answer to this would have been something along the lines of the following:
“My boss made me in charge of X project when my T.L. was on maternity leave. I introduced time management ideas and arranged some tasks and distributed the workflow accordingly. We were able to deliver the task before the deadline. My boss was happy with my performance.”
Now, this is a ‘meh’ answer. It lacks PERSONALITY. It is bland, and you are forgotten.
Instead, use the STAR method to enhance your answers.
But what is that?
Let’s find out.
How to answer behavioral based interview questions using the STAR method?
The methodological approach, STAR (sometimes referred to as PAR) is an acronym for Situation, Task, Action, and Result.
“But what does this mean and how will it help me formulate an answer that simply has no match?”
Let’s de’code’ it then.
Situation: Create a SITUATION and include specific details about the background. Do not go overboard with technical terms; sprinkle them here and there to increase credibility.
Task: Mention the specific TASK that you were assigned. Dive into the detailed objectives and add data wherever necessary.
Action: Provide specific details regarding the ACTION that you took. Talk about your contribution to the project, steps that you took, or changes that you enforced.
Result: Discuss the RESULT of your actions. Again, give data about the increase or decrease in parameters that were an outcome of your initiative.
Want to see STAR enhancing the solution above in action? Here we go!
“When my T.L. went on a maternity leave, I was named in charge of a project for one of our oldest clients. Since I could look at the solution with a new set of eyes, I created a spreadsheet focusing on different parameters. I set up a debugging channel at the end to ensure that no faulty codes ended up being delivered. My team was able to deliver the project in 27 days instead of the allotted 30.”
This answer emanates your personality and provides data to back it up as well. This is precisely how YOU stand out.
Category wise common behavioral based interview questions with answering tips
If you are unsure what questions to expect and what the interviewer is expecting, here are some category-wise answering tips for behavioral interview questions. Use the STAR interview method mentioned above to add your own spin to it and spice it up as you wish.
Maybe throw a joke here and there, but be careful not to overstep your boundaries.
Teamwork and conflict management
Approach: Think about personality clash and team conflict. The key to answering teamwork-based behavioral interview questions is narrating stories that involve you working with your teammates under challenging situations. Remember not to bash your former colleague. Instead, focus on harmony.
Keywords: [Colleague - disagreement – miscommunication – discussed the situation – made amends - work ethics – maintain professional environment – apologized (if necessary) – now work together – praised by others for teamwork]
Let’s help you out. Here is a sample solution to question #1.
“I once had an outspoken disagreement with a colleague that stemmed from miscommunication on client feedback. However, to maintain a professional work environment, I discussed the situation and made amends over lunch within a week. We now have a good working relationship and often collaborate on projects, and my co-workers even praise our teamwork every now and then.”
Now why don’t YOU use the STAR method to prepare the next four solutions yourself!
Client facing skills
Approach: Think about the time you represented your team or office in front of your clients. Talk about how you were the key person behind your team delivering excellent customer service.
Keywords: [Sudden and urgent requirement - communication - deadline – provide relevant information – good vs. excellent customer service – attention to detail – listen to requirements – apologize for any inconvenience – arrange solutions – stayed on the line – maintain professional attitude]
This is how one solution to question 1 would be:
“It was a Friday at 5 pm when one of our most important clients asked for an urgent U.I. update that would surely stretch over the weekend. I worked alongside a handful of my team members without weekend plans. I made sure that they got their leaves reassigned and also paid for their lunches over the weekend. Ultimately, we were able to deliver the update within the deadline. The client was impressed with our dedication to work, which further solidified his relationship with the company.”
Now, you frame the next solutions and practice your delivery skills.
4 Superb tips to maintain harmony in your workplace
Adaptability, flexibility, and problem-solving attitude
Approach: Think about pressure, crises, and failure. Interviewers will be looking at how you handle failures, and for ways in which you were able to find a silver lining out of a terrible situation you faced at work.
Keywords: [Crises – added responsibilities – high stakes – silver lining – innovative thinking –presence of mind – being an asset to the organization – prioritizing deliveries – client satisfaction]
Here’s how you would answer the first one.
“One of my co-workers resigned during peak season, almost immediately after signing one of the largest clients in our firm. Although I was already managing high-priority clients, I was assigned this new client as well. I analyzed the situation and found a way to manage time efficiently, worked and took calls over the weekends and made sure that the project was delivered on time. Our client was quite happy with the dedication and immediately signed a massive contract worth <$xxx> with us.”
Time management and multi-tasking
Approach: Time management behavioral interview questions revolve around juggling multiple responsibilities and still delivering within the deadline. Since hiring managers will judge your experience based on this answer, your aura should bleed confidence in these answers.
However, resist the urge to brag.
Keywords: [problems throughout the project – due dates (deadlines) – multi-tasking – objectives – compartmentalize – attention to detail – prioritize – break down into smaller tasks – allocate tasks according to priority and time – boost productivity – complete more jobs in a day]
Here’s another secret. There are no right or wrong answers. These are commonly asked Amazon interview questions and Netflix interview questions and are mostly a personality check, where hiring managers like to know your approach to a task.
Let’s show you one possible answer to the first one so that you can try the next ones yourself.
“I believe the secret to handling multiple responsibilities (multi-tasking) is effective prioritization. Each major task can be broken down into smaller ones and sorted according to a priority sequence, much like a software source code. Multi-tasking is more about ‘instantly’ coming up with the correct priority sequence and focusing on these tasks first. Once I figure out which task is of the utmost importance, I channel my focus there, assign jobs accordingly, and complete all my duties in the stipulated time.”
Communication interview questions
Approach: Since communication is a part of everyday life, the answer to communication-based interview situation questions can stray away from strictly professional settings, albeit within limits. Talk about your thought process, explanation, and presentation.
Keywords: [disagreeing co-workers – understand the situation – adapt to change – prepare – brainstorming – communicate – coordinate – build relationships – ability to empathize and work with diverse people]
Soft skills are quite essential in day-to-day lives, so ideally, there should be many instances you can narrate. If you still find difficulty finding an example, here is one you can use as an answer to question 1 above.
“I once had to explain the fundamentals of a new program my team developed to new sales employees at my previous job. During the presentation, I explained the technical jargon in brief related to the product. However, I quickly shifted the focus to the usability of the product using a feature vs. benefit chart I prepared it the night before. I explained how different benefits of the product could affect the day-to-day lives of prospective buyers so that they could use it in their pitch. In this role as well, I intend to use my skill to empathize with people and help them understand technical concepts.”
Encouragement and values
Approach: The real curveballs, seemingly random questions can be used to judge what motivates you as a professional. Hiring managers will be looking for personality qualities in your answer, and consider if you are the perfect fit for the role. Make sure you address the question directly without beating around the bush.
Keywords: [dissatisfaction – deadlines affecting quality – challenge – integrity – determination – perseverance – anticipation – learning on the go – attention to detail – achievements]
Did you see how the questions do not seem to focus on one particular value? This is the perfect opportunity to show your unique approach to problems at work. Here is one possible answer to question 1.
“I try to maintain high working standards at all times, and will not submit a file that I am not completely satisfied with at all. Tight deadlines should not affect the quality of the work at any cost. There was an instance with one of our prestigious clients where I wasn’t satisfied with the final interface design output. After preliminary submission, I approached my manager and told her about how adding a few lines could potentially increase user interaction. Although we had a tight deadline, I implemented the changes and luckily was able to submit the file on time.”
Approach: You understand that motivation is contagious. Hiring managers are usually looking for people with strong technical and leadership backgrounds. Exhibit confidence in your technical skills, and show that you are ready for the next challenge and lead a team as well.
Keywords: [Leadership – accountability – optimism – integrity – discipline – motivate – influence – create goals – measure performance – respond to suggestions – give presentations – manage priorities – quality vs. quantity – risk management]
Self-confidence is a superpower.
Here’s a sample solution to question 1 using the STAR interview method. Feel free to add your spin to it and try forming the next ones yourself.
“I believe an effective technical team lead should not only be technically sound, but should also possess the skill to motivate the team members to achieve better results. Throughout my career as a programmer, I have refined and gained confidence over my coding skills. I found out that I can empathize with my co-workers and explain complicated concepts to my co-workers to help them troubleshoot tasks and complete their objectives.”
Work ethic interview questions
Approach: Think reliability and determination.
Every hiring manager will be looking for applicants with a strong work ethic and desire to deliver only the best results every time. Instead of the dictionary definitions such as moral ethics, show that you can be a reliable asset to the company. Try to judge the most important characteristics during the interview and frame your answers accordingly.
Keywords: [ethics – initiative – reliability – determination – team orientation – time management – creativity – problem-solving attitude – conflict management – result-oriented]
A lot of work ethic questions also relate to other qualities, depending on which value matters the most to the company culture.
Let’s show you a possible answer to question 1 so that you can frame the next few on your own.
“Given the rapid pace of innovation, I think keeping up with the latest developments is of the utmost importance. I set aside a bit of time each day to research about advancements in the software field and its repercussions on everyday lives. I have also subscribed to RSS feeds and newsletters from notable publications and innovators to have news on any development directly delivered to my email. Apart from diversifying my knowledge base, keeping in touch with the latest trends also helps me motivate my team members.”
Intercultural smoothness interview questions
Approach: Think all the categories discussed so far.
Hiring managers are looking for qualities promoting harmony in the workplace, and your approach to people from different upbringings. This is not only a test of your qualities; it is a test of your morality as well. Instead of faking emotions, build and show genuine affection to people, irrespective of their backgrounds.
Keywords: [social behavior cues – cultural awareness – empathy – acceptance – affection – cross-cultural communication – globalization – embracing diversity – shun discrimination]
You may be asked questions based on intercultural smoothness and cultural diversity to gauge your ability to work with people from different backgrounds. Here’s a sample answer to the first one. However, remember to keep true to yourself while answering the rest.
“Actions prove why words mean nothing. One of the gravest mistakes I have noticed is that while organizations have written policies to tackle discrimination and unjust cultural supremacy, very few of them actively take steps to implement these policies and make sure that no malpractices occur in the workplace. Leaders need to show cultural awareness and embrace people from different backgrounds, within their team and the company. I think I can be that leader. There needs to be consistency in what we say and what we do. Only then can true globalization be achieved in an organization.”
Unlike common belief, job interviews are not a test of your knowledge, but a test of how you apply it in real life. Behavioral interview questions can be a great storytelling experience for everyone involved. So, make sure not to over-prepare. You are not writing or reciting a script.
Approach the questions head-on.