Preparing for a Behavioral Interview

Simple recommendations and techniques that might help you succeed in job interviews at your dream company.

Intro

Since I became an engineer, the most difficult part of the job interview was the technical skills test. Necessity to remember programming language specifics, solving algorithmic tasks and doing technical assessments were always the main part of this process. And succeeding on these steps meant a success for the whole hiring procedure. It looked like the only thing that matters is your technical knowledge and ability to write code, and no matter what exact person you are. And it felt like a big flaw as it is really hard to find a company with pleasant corporate culture. It is okay to be rude and toxic as long as you work hard and accomplish your tasks.

It was like this while I was living in Russia, but things changed after I moved to Germany.

During a series of interviews with different companies, I realised that personality is more valuable here than technical skills. Moreover, usually it is a separate session within a series of other interview meetings. It is called behavioral interview. At first, I wasn't well enough prepared, but later I managed to develop a simple and optimal approach to passing this type of challenge. In this article I would like to share my key ideas and practices that helped me to succeed.

Behavioral Interview

It is easy to test candidate's technical expertise, but it is quite difficult to test soft skills. You can't just ask if a person is toxic or not. Everybody would understand what is the most socially acceptable answer, so they will always choose it. That’s why companies came up with a strict methodology – a behavioral interview.

In general, during behavioral interviews you are asked to provide examples from your past that illustrate some of essential soft skills. In addition, you can also be asked to explain your actions to certain fictional situations involving ambiguous choices. Your answers and reactions help to test your professional adequacy, personality attributes and compatibility with company’s working culture. Finally, you can be asked to provide examples of your successes and failures in previous jobs.

Cheat Sheet

Talking about your past experience might sound easy, especially if you have some rich professional background with a lot of cases of active communication with other people. But in reality it turns out that it can be really difficult to remember something specific. So I came up with a solid idea: I prepared a cheat sheet that contains a list of the most generic behavioral questions with examples of corresponding tasks and projects that I participated in. You can use this list as a boilerplate for your own cheat sheet and keep it in front of you during the online interview session.

Here is the list of the most common questions:

  • When you tackled with a difficult challenge?
  • When you demonstrated your leadership skills?
  • When you made mistakes / failures? What would you do differently?
  • When you had to resolve conflicts with your colleagues?
  • When you gave a bad feedback?
  • When you received a bad feedback?
  • When team members disagreed with your position?
  • When you convinced your team to accept your position?
  • When you showed that you really care about the product?
  • Projects that you are proud of?

Tips

Don’t Tell You Have Never Had Conflicts

If you are asked to provide an example of some conflict cases and you have never encountered anything like it in your career before, don't give a one-word answer. Even if it is really true and you are the kindest person in the world, it is not what interviewer wants to hear. His goal is to clarify that you are capable of handling controversial situations in future, and your goal is to convince him that it is really true.

Be honest: admit that you have never encountered such a problem due to lack of experience. Stay on topic: try to ask for some leading questions that will help you to simulate a similar situation and describe your actions. But don’t try to cheat: it is unlikely that you will be able to pass off a fictional story as real.

Practice Is Everything

On the employer's side, it should be obvious that you feel comfortable to tell about your past experience. Otherwise it might seem that you are hiding something. Feeling nervous during job interviews was a big problem for me as well. It may sound trivial, but the best solution is to participate in more interviews.

I follow a simple rule: before I start interviewing for companies that I am really interested in, I start with less attractive ones. This approach allows me to relax and concentrate exclusively on my behavior and the way I answer the questions.

Learn How to Sell Yourself

Every company is in search of a candidate with as many good qualities as possible. You don’t need to be an ideal person, but you should think about how to expose all the best things that you have. Use this abstract list as a reference point, that can help to sell yourself:

  • Is able to communicate well in a team.
  • Intelligently expresses his thoughts.
  • Is not afraid to ask questions.
  • Knows how to react to conflict situations.
  • Can compromise.
  • Knows how to deal with negativity at work and avoid it himself.
  • Is initiative and can show leadership skills when necessary.
  • Knows how to admit own faults.

Explore the Company’s Culture

Don't be lazy to research the hiring process of your chosen company. It is possible that while you're gathering information about the company, you will discover clear guidelines on how you should prepare for the interview and what you should emphasise.

Outro

It is not a rocket science to learn technical skills. But improving soft skills probably would require a lot of collaborative work with psychologist: if person is toxic, it is quite difficult to explain him, that he has some behavioral problems. That’s why behavioral interviews are so important for modern IT companies. Everybody wants to work in a healthy environment with good corporate culture, especially if their daily work consists of interacting with people. Otherwise, the team can quickly disintegrate and there will be no one to do the project.

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