Behavioral interviews are one of the most overlooked interview rounds, especially for software engineer interviews. Whilst technical interviews are complex and require a lot of time to prepare for, the importance of behavioral interviews cannot be understated.
There are however a few common challenges faced when preparing for them: How to prepare when there are so many different types of questions that could come out? Indeed, it's impossible to fully prepare for any behavioral question that could come out, since interviewers can ask anything they want. However, we can categorize the most common questions into a few main themes and tackle them methodologically. What is the best way to conduct yourself to showcase "fit"? Many candidates struggle to appear likable in an interview setting and to connect with the interviewer. We will cover some tips to tackle this based on our experience.
In this article, we will cover:
In big tech companies where structured behavioral interviews are conducted, interviewers are often trained to conduct behavioral interviews in a specific manner.
They are provided specific guidelines, which commonly include:
Below, we present the typical behavioral interview evaluation criteria as well as the typical level expectations for most companies. The recommended preparation strategy provides suggestions on how you might prepare based on these criteria.
Behavioral interviewers are typically required to give a rating on a few broad categories, such as Collaboration, Proactivity, etc. For each evaluation category, they are provided with criteria as to what should constitute a good or bad rating. Ratings are commonly done on a 5-point rating scale, such as one of Very good / Good / Sufficient / Poor / Very Poor.
In addition to these, interviewers can also mark if there wasn't sufficient information to make a judgment, or if they didn't manage to ask a question that touches on a specific signal as they ran out of time.
Ratings have to be done with regard to the situation's complexity. A more difficult or complex situation handled well will typically receive a higher rating and leveling recommendation.
At the end of the interview do they reconcile all the ratings and qualitative feedback to decide:
The implication of the above is that we can typically expect behavioral interviews in big tech to have some structure, as interviewers will try to ask at least 1 question from each category to evaluate candidates.
Additionally, it is important for candidates to avoid rambling on for long periods of time on one question as interviewers may run out of time. Poor communication or missing the point of the question could also constitute insufficient signals.
Apart from that, interviewers are typically encouraged to utilize follow-up questions to dig deeper into the candidate's actual motivations and understanding behind their surface-level actions.:
Hence, candidates should also prepare a solid understanding of each alternative mode of action's advantages, disadvantages, and reflect on their intrinsic motivations.
Here are the common evaluation categories and criteria from our experience conducting behavioral interviews for software engineers in big tech companies:
Behavioral interviews is one of the interview formats where it is possible for interviewers to assess the candidate's maturity — from Junior Software Engineer all the way to extremely senior positions depending on the stories they tell, their responses and decisions made. Raw number of years of working experience doesn't necessarily equate to specific levels as some people mature faster than others. Leveling guidance is usually made with a consideration of raw years of experience and leveling expectations. The levels mentioned below are based on Google and Facebook's levels where L3 is the equivalent of Junior Software Engineers / fresh graduates.
Understand the expected behaviors for the commonly-defined engineering levels and craft your responses ensuring they match your current level or the level you are targeting.
As mentioned above, based on the evaluation criteria we can typically expect behavioral interviews in big tech to have some structure, as interviewers will try to ask at least 1 question from each category to evaluate candidates.
Apart from these questions, we can also expect general but common questions such as "Tell me about yourself" or "Why join this company".
There is quite a lot of variance in terms of the questions that could be asked. While it is too time consuming to prepare for all of them, we can categorize the 80% most common questions into themes and tackle them methodically, per our following guides:
The general strategy to tackle the large variance of "Tell me about a time when..." questions to be asked is to prepare 3-5 general and well-thought out stories that could be used to address multiple required traits. For instance, an experience collaborating extensively with others could display your traits in communication, team work, leadership, conflict management, etc. Whenever an interviewer asks you a question, you could run through the stories you have prepared and adapt them to answer the specific question.
Here are some tips to select and prepare good project experiences as stories:
Having prepared a story you could use, you need to structure them well when answering specific questions. One requirement interviewers are always asked to look out for is the candidates actual ability to communicate during the interview (as opposed to what they claim), which is evaluated as follows:
To achieve the above, you need to structure your answers well to ensure that it is concise and gets to the point below 3 minutes. One rough guideline you could use is a framework like STAR:
Here is an example of applying STAR to answering a behavioral interview question "Tell me about a time you had to manage multiple conflicting priorities and how you handled it":
In my current job as Front End Engineer in a startup, I was once in a situation where I had to deliver several important features for an e-commerce campaign at very short notice, since different teams were making feature requests at the time.
As I recognized that it was not possible for me to achieve all of them with good quality and also in a timely manner. I had to find a way to deconflict their priorities.
With this co-prioritization and planning effort, I was able to achieve all the required features by the stipulated timeline.
A final note — in order for the interviewer to follow your thought process or understand how brilliant your solutions were, it is VERY important for them to understand the context, purpose and situation. The problem or situation should be described very clearly and it should assume NO prior understanding. Many candidates fall into the trap of assuming the interviewer can follow their stories without giving enough context, especially when problems are domain-specific like fintech or blockchain. In such situations, interviewers might end up marking you as having bad communication, or rate the category as having insufficient signals.
After preparing your stories and having a rough sense of STAR, practice using your prepared stories and the STAR format to answer our list of 50 common behavioral interview questions. Instead of memorizing the answers, practice just answering them verbally each time. This allows you to cement your stories and familiarize with STAR.
Some candidates think of behavioral interviews as a test or an exam, where you have to study or memorize to get the right points or answer. That is not what the interviewer is looking out for. To understand how interviewers themselves feel, try to picture yourself interviewing someone to join a project you are actually currently working on. That is, put yourself in the hiring manager's position.
A behavioral interview usually happens after the technical rounds are completed. Candidates that have passed the technical rounds are considered technically competent. However, as a manager, you hardly really know this stranger (the candidate). Interviews are a conversation for you to get to know this stranger as a person. It's just like a typical chat in a social setting, somewhat like a speed date, except the interviewer needs to get to know you enough to decide if you can work well.
Understandably, as an interviewer, you would generally try to sieve out:
If a candidate were to recite answers back to you or appear stoic and unexcited, would you hire them into your team? Probably not. For interviewers, it's as much about seeing you as your true, natural self as it is to know if your thinking process is aligned with their goals.
Interviewers always mention team "fit" as a criteria for evaluating you. But there are so many different teams out there — how would you know how to conduct yourself to display fit?
One way to do so is to ask the recruiter or other interviewers in prior rounds to the behavioral round. Commonly, prior to starting the resume screening / interview process, the hiring managers would have aligned internally on the key criteria they are looking out for in the new candidate. For example, they could be looking for someone who is primarily more proactive as they want more independent drivers in the team. As such, interviewers will tend to look out for those specific traits and ask questions to sieve out those traits.
However, some fail-safe, general tips to conduct yourself