Interviews

A Guide to Behavioral Interviews

Though often overlooked, behavioral interviews are a crucial part of recruiting—they can make or break your impression with a hiring manager, and can be the difference between walking out with an offer or a rejection.

Shri Kolanukuduru
Published: (Updated: ) - 6 min read

The easiest way to set yourself up for success in a job interview is to understand its goal—what is the recruiter trying to learn about you? This is actually pretty simple. Interviews are usually broken up into two types: technical and behavioral. We'll cover both of these in separate pieces—keep reading to learn how to ace your behavioral interview.

Behavioral Interviews

Oftentimes the first step of the process, behavioral interviews are generally casual conversations between the prospective employees and their respective recruiter(s). They’re generally geared towards understanding more about the person’s motivations, previous achievements, and values. Crucially, behavioral interviews assess your fit with the company/team you’d be working on. Behavioral interviews are typically conducted in one of two ways: over the phone or in person/Zoom.

Preparing For Behavioral Interviews

As we mentioned above, the general goal of a behavioral interview is to get a sense of who you are as a person and how you might fit with the team you’d be assigned to – or how you’d impact company culture overall. That being said, the biggest mistake that people make during behavioral interviews is being too general—i.e., not reflecting on how they might actually contribute to a particular community culture or a specific team’s vibe.

Some things that are safe to assume that most recruiters/hiring managers look for in behavioral interviews are as follows (expand the toggles to read more!):

Desire to make a difference

Startup or FAANG, people want to work with colleagues who have a drive to make an impact and achieve. Do you set ambitious goals? Are you scrappy and tenacious? Do you get complacent? High-growth roles demand disciplined, focused, and persistent individuals.

Humility and Character

You would be surprised at how much being a good person will help you (in getting hired and beyond). Hiring managers are usually looking to see if you have the ability to talk about and learn from failures and a willingness to learn from others. Beyond this, they may try to gauge your awareness of your own goals, strengths, and development areas.

Do you REALLY want to be here?

Remember this?

That being said, the biggest mistake that people make during behavioral interviews is being too general...

This is what we meant. Demonstrating a lack of research regarding the company/role/team is the easiest way to bomb a behavioral interview. Conversely, having a deep and genuine understanding of the role, what it requires, and perhaps even the company mission is the easiest way to stand out.

Executing the Behavioral Interview

Having read through the above information on behavioral interviews, you’re now (hopefully) armed with enough information to tackle behavioral interviews. Think of this next section as a way to parley the above information into a tangible result (in other words, how to tie it all together)!

Behavioral interviews are all about encompassing the admittedly broad points listed above in stories that you tell. As a rule of thumb, do what feel right/most comfortable to you—it generally yields the best results. However, we’ll also be including a general framework here for how to effectively tell your story — what we call the STAR framework. We’ll also tackle a common interview question and walk through it briefly with our framework!

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Example: Talk to me about how you work on a team.

S: Situation

The first step is to identify a relevant situation. Are you using this answer to demonstrate your fit with company culture? A specific team? Do you want this to speak to your ability to persevere?

After you decide on what you’re using the answer to do, it’s time to set the scene. Your goal here is to paint a clear picture of the situation you were in and emphasize its complexities, so that the result you touch on later seems that much more profound. Keep things concise and focus on what’s undeniably relevant to your story.

Good: In my last role (engineer @ XYZ company), I worked on a team on 7 people...
Bad: When I was 8, I played in a flag football league in my hometown of Dallas, TX.

While the flag football anecdote might work on me (only if you played QB), it’s important to remember that you’re interviewing for a professional role, and your experiences should be relevant.

T: Task

Everyone knows the convention “actions speak louder than words.” In a way, the same hold true here! Hiring managers (and especially founders and VC’s) value demonstrated value—i.e., point to things you’ve done in past roles or in school that tangibly display the qualities you’d like to share. There’s no rigid way to pick a task, so use your best judgement!

Good: Within my first week on the team, we were assigned a to conduct due-diligence on the market and competing projects, to be finished within 14 days/2 weeks.
Bad: My responsibilities primarily included research.

The “bad” here isn’t nearly as egregious as in the Situation, however it lacks the necessary detail to provide the interviewer a sense of your value. A more detailed explanation of what you were tasked with sets you up for a more fluid end to your answer.

A: Action

Now that you’ve given the interviewer a sense of what your role was, it’s time to explain what you did. What steps did you take to reach that goal or solve that problem? Resist the urge to give a vague or glossed-over answer like, “So, I worked hard on it…” or “I did some research…” This is your chance to really showcase your contribution, and it’s worthy of some specifics. Dig in deep and make sure that you give enough information about exactly what you did.

Good: The team was struggling to make headway—the engineer heading up the due-diligence was still familiarizing themselves with the industry. Although I was new to the team, I studied Mechanical Engineering in college and have built some projects on the side. Therefore, I felt comfortable being vocal and stepping into a leadership role to devise and document a 2-week plan. In addition to this, I set up a daily primer where I helped explain my findings and learnings with the team. Here, we were able to leverage each team member’s strengths to build an effective deliverable.
Bad: I did most of the work myself, putting in 8+ hours a day...

The “bad” is immediately incorrect. Remember, the question was about how we might work on a team. Speaking about how you monopolized a project on a team with 5+ people is about the farthest thing you want from the right answer.

Conversely, the “good” answer is detailed, highlighting your own strengths—a technical background, good organizational skills, and being a team player—while also demonstrating that you care about involving your team and delivering a quality product.

R: Result/Response

Finally, tie it all together. How did your action—taken in response to the task assigned to you in a certain situation—help you generate a tangible result? How does it showcase the desired trait? Does that mean you can’t tell stories about problems or challenges? Absolutely not. But, even if you’re talking about a time you failed or made a mistake, make sure you end on a high note by talking about what you learned or the steps you took to improve.

There’s no real “good” or “bad” ways to do this!

After the Interview

Congratulations! You followed through the framework, concisely identified a situation that demonstrated the desired trait(s), and broke down your response and result in an efficient fashion. Now that the interview is coming to a close, what else can you do?

Ask for Feedback

When the interviewer asks “do you have any questions for me?” Feel free to ask them how they thought you did.

Example: Thank you for taking the time to chat with me! I enjoyed learning about ${CompanyName}, and only really have one question for you—do you have any feedback for me?

More often than not, your interviewer will be happy to offer feedback—usually in the form of things they liked, and things that you could have done better. Use these comments as ways to pat yourself on the back and be better prepared for your next interviews respectively.

Ask about things that are unclear

Most interviewers take it upon themselves to give you a general overview of what the company culture is, how the team you’re interviewing for operates, and more. However, while trying to pack so much information into a short period of time, they might forget to elaborate sufficiently on a certain topic. Feel free to use the time after the interview to get a better understanding of things they said.

Example: Thank you for that. I was hoping to hear a little more about the culture at ${CompanyName}. Would you be able to walk me through the general day-to-day of ${RoleAppliedFor}?

Keep these tips in mind for your next interview – you've got this. Best of luck!