What is a behavioral interview?
"Why this company?"
"Tell me about a time you were wrong."
"Tell me about yourself."
These are some of the more common questions that are asked during a behavioral interview. This kind of interview helps the interviewer understand the candidate's previous experiences and personality by asking specific questions that demonstrate the candidate's behaviors, skills, and abilities.
According to our seasoned career coaches and recruiters at Levels.fyi, throughout the interviewing process, the interviewers are trying to look for data points to support a hiring decision. You want to structure your answers so that the interviewers would think, "Yes, this is a good example and thought process, that I can tell my team what the interviewee did. It'll also show a positive data point to support their hire."
If you were to give a good answer during an interview, the interviewers will go back into the debrief afterwards to talk about how the candidate did. Each interviewer will probably go around in a circle and say, "Yes, I got good data points for these questions. It shows strength to make decisions quickly." If you were to give a somewhat poor answer, they could say, "No, this candidate explained a situation that was concerning for me, so I don't have good data to support a hiring decision."
The first step to prepping for a behavioral interview is to research the company. An easy way to start researching is to try to find the company's website and go to the About Us section. Within that section, you should be able to find the company's vision, goals, and culture. Even though you don't have to memorize every piece of information that is on the site, it is recommended that you remember the main points that make the company stand out. The information listed in this section will help you answer, "Why this company?"
Once you think that you have a good grasp of the company's vision and goals, then you could look up any recent news related to the company.
For example, if you're interviewing for a biotech company, you might want to look for any new clinical results or upcoming studies. Once you've done the research, come up with some questions that are centered around the research, which will show your keen interest in the company.
Some companies are known to have their behavioral interviews centered around their culture and beliefs. One such company is Netflix and we have written a blog post to explain their unique culture and philosophy. Another company to do this is Amazon, which is known for asking about their Leadership Principles.
Your resume can be as impressive as it can be, but if you're not a good storyteller, then you might not be able to convey your experience and capabilities to your interviewer.
When answering questions, we recommend using the STAR method. We have a blog dedicated to using the STAR method, but we will also quickly summarize it here. Although not every question can be answered with the STAR framework, it is still useful to know for the questions that require a story.
S - Situation [Describe the situation you were in.]
T - Task [Explain the task you had to complete.]
A - Action [Describe the actions you took to complete the task.]
R - Result [Close the story with the results of the actions taken.]
Using the STAR method not only narrates a story well but it also creates a compelling resume relevant to the job requirements, so we highly recommend using this framework to answer any behavioral question. Our blog post also gives examples on how to apply the STAR method.
It is not necessary for you to memorize a different story for each possible interview question. We recommend that you have just a few stories that can used for a variety of questions.
As you advance your career and interview for more senior positions, you're expected to mention data points and metrics. The interviewers will expect you to be able to make data-driven decisions that best benefit the company. Whether it's about saving an X% during a quarter or increasing accuracy by Y%, metrics are as important on your resume as they are during interviews.
Possible Questions that Require the STAR Method
"Tell me about a time you made a mistake."
"What was a time you had to navigate a difficult situation?"
"If you were to be assigned a project with vague instructions, what would you do?"
"When was a time you had to handle a difficult client or team member?"
"Give me an example of a time you had to prioritize certain tasks over others. How did you allocate your time?"
"Can you tell me about a time you had to learn quickly?"
"How would you explain a complex topic to someone with less subject knowledge?"
"Have you ever worked with team members who were very different from you? How did you manage?"
"Was there a time you disagreed with your manager? How did you handle the conflict?"
While it is important to practice your data structures, algorithms, and case studies, it is essential to not neglect the behavioral portion of your interview. The behavioral interview is where the interviewer can tell whether you'll be a good fit for the company in terms of culture. Even if you were to ace the technical interview but fail to do your research and effectively convey your resume, then there is a chance you might not receive the offer.
About The Author
Eva is a software engineer in the fintech space. She transitioned from retail banking into tech by going through a coding bootcamp and loves helping others transition into tech.