Bhawana Haritwal, Senior Software Engineer (Quant Platform) @ T. Rowe Price and Lead at Women Who Code London, shares strategies for successful behavioral interviews, reminding you that the interview should remain a dialogue versus a monolog and structuring your answers using the STAR method. She also shares how to participate in Women Who Code’s Mock Behavioral Interview Program.
Mock Behavioral Interview Program is a Women Who Code London initiative to help and support our members in acing their behavioral interviews. This is my perspective, and I'm not representing the views of my current or former employers. Behavioral interview questions are about how you behaved in the past—strong, persuasive behavioral interviewing skills transferable across various industries and roles. A lot of the time, candidates prepare very well for technical interviews, and behavioral interviews are overlooked. When questions are asked, "Tell me about a time when you had a conflict with a co-worker and what did you do to resolve them?" It's tough to come up with a story on the spot. You can knock your behavioral interview questions by having the right tools and framework. From an interviewer's perspective, these are important because they allow them to ascertain the behavior or experience they seek in a candidate to deliver in a job. Skills like leadership, the ability to perform under pressure, and failure management are difficult to get out of a CV. That's why they are essential for the interviewer. As a candidate, it allows the candidate to differentiate themselves from other potential candidates.
You should have one or two scenarios for communication and one or two for leadership skills, teamwork, and collaboration. That should cover you, and you can use that as a toolbox that you have when asked the question to answer them. The STAR method is an interview technique that gives you a straightforward format that you can use to tell a story. The S is a situation, T is a task, A is action, and R is results. I also like to add preparation before going into the STAR technique because it's normal to ask the interviewer to have a minute to think about your example and put points together. I would highly encourage you to take some time to think of an example rather than jumping to an answer.
The situation is where you set the scene and give the necessary details for your example. Describe the context in which you performed the job or the challenge you faced at work. It can be drawn from your work, volunteering experience, or other relevant event. Be as specific as possible and avoid using cliche techniques such as once upon a time. An example of answering a question would be, "When I worked as a senior software engineer for Company XYZ, with a team of four or five members," and then you explain your STAR or situation. Next is the task, which describes your specific responsibility in that given situation. Perhaps you had to help your group complete a project within a tight deadline or resolve a conflict. Share details of the same challenges and constraints you faced without exaggerating them. Action, which is the most important part of your story, is providing details of the steps that you took when you were in a particular situation or faced with a specific responsibility. Describe how you completed the task or endeavored to meet the challenge. Focus on what you did rather than what your team did. A good tip is to focus on saying, "I came up with a solution. I presented an idea," rather than "We did this, or We solved this challenge in a certain way." The result explains the outcomes or the results generated by the actions that you took. It may be helpful to emphasize what you accomplished or what you learned. If possible, quantify the results by saying, "I reduced the manual efforts by 30% or saved the team three hours' worth of work." The results may not always be very positive. You can have a negative impact, especially in a failure scenario. Stress the lessons learned rather than the inability. Using these four components to share your anecdote makes it much easier to share a story with your interviewer in a digestible yet compelling manner about what you did in a particular situation.
For a question like, "Tell me about when you demonstrated leadership." This example emphasizes that leadership does not map to a job title. You do not need to be in a leadership or executive role to demonstrate leadership qualities. That's with pretty much every behavioral question. You can exhibit specific behavior irrespective of the job role or the job title that you currently have. This is a basic example of a student who demonstrated leadership in her university. Instead of responding simply by saying, "I tutored kids in math," provide context for your interviewer and show your skills through an engaging example or a story. In this case, the situation is, "When I was a junior in high school, several students in my math class were struggling with some of the more difficult and complex concepts." The task was, "With an upcoming national exam, I was asked by my math teacher to start an after-school session to assist the other students." This is the responsibility in this case. The situation was that students struggled. What was the responsibility of the candidate? To start an after-school session to assist the other students. Again, the action is the most important part of the story.
Avoid using internal company-specific technical jargon in your answers. Speak with clarity. Use simple generic terms and have a little bit of a story arc. Paint a picture and tell your interviewer what you did when faced with a particular situation. This cannot be easy if you are on a multi-month or year-long project. You need to think about the things that you want to highlight. What do you want the interviewer to know about you in that particular situation? That's why it's essential to prepare for these questions and have some bullet points to ensure you maximize that opportunity. The R is the happy ending. Every good story has a happy ending, a positive outcome. And this could be a concrete result, which is very effective. It can also be a bit more anecdotal. Like, "The customer was pleased. I received great feedback. I was able to complete the project within a tight budget or much ahead of a timeline." A positive outcome gives your story a nice arc, a little bit of a hero's journey of what you did from the beginning to the end to achieve those results. Also, one or two minutes is the sweet spot for any answer. After two minutes, you lose your audience, even if your content is excellent. It's important to remember that an interview is a dialogue rather than a monologue. If your interviewer wants to know other details about your story, they will ask you. Try to limit your answer to one or two minutes and cover most of your account with the actions rather than taking too much time to set the background and the premise. Many behavioral questions will give you or will challenge you to talk about your failures or pessimistic scenarios.
How can you take part in the Women Who Code Mock Interview program? The first stage is joining the Women Who Code Mock Interview Slack channel. Both the candidate and the interviewer join the Slack channel. The next stage is requesting an interview. The candidate sends a message in the Slack channel, providing the required details, which will be found in our GitHub repository. The process of participating in the mock interview channel has been documented. The GitHub repository has all the detailed steps. We have some resources in our GitHub repository to help the candidate and the interviewer prepare for these behavioral interviews. The last stage is the feedback stage. We request the interviewer to complete the evaluation form for the feedback, and we ask the candidate to complete the behavioral interview feedback form to know if the program was helpful for the candidate and what can be improved in the future.