Handling Behavioral Questions

Hello Everyone,

As stated earlier in previous blog (Behavioral Interview Preparation), interviews usually start and end with “chit chat” or “soft skills.” This is a time to answer questions about your resume or general questions, and also an opportunity for you to ask questions. This part of the interview is targeted not only at getting to know you, but also at relaxing you.

Be Specific, Not Arrogant

Arrogance is a red flag, but you still want to make yourself sound impressive. So how do you make yourself sound good without being arrogant? By being specific! Specificity means giving just the facts and letting the interviewer derive an interpretation. Consider an example:
» Candidate #1: “I basically did all the hard work for the team.”
» Candidate #2: “I implemented the file system, which was considered one of the most challenging components because …”
Candidate #2 not only sounds more impressive, but she also appears less arrogant.

Limit Details

When a candidate blabbers on about a problem, it’s hard for an interviewer who isn’t well versed in the subject or project to understand it. CareerCup recommends that you stay light on details and just state the key points. That is, consider something like this: “By examining the most common user behavior and applying the Rabin-Karp algorithm, I designed a new algorithm to reduce search from O(n) to O(log n) in 90% of cases. I can go into more details if you’d like.” This demonstrates the key points while letting your interviewer ask for more details if he wants to.

Ask Good Questions

Remember those questions you came up with while preparing? Now is a great time to use them!

Structure Answers Using S.A.R.

Structure your responses using S.A.R.: Situation, Action, Response. That is, you should start off outlining the situation, then explaining the actions you took, and lastly, describing the result.

Example: “Tell me about a challenging interaction with a teammate.”

» Situation: On my operating systems project, I was assigned to work with three other people. While two were great, the third team member didn’t contribute much. He stayed quiet during meetings, rarely chipped in during email discussions, and struggled to complete his components.
» Action: One day after class, I pulled him aside to speak about the course and then moved the discussion into talking about the project. I asked him open-ended questions on how he felt it was going, and which components he was excited about tackling. He suggested all the easiest components, and yet offered to do the write-up. I realized then that he wasn’t lazy – he was actually just really confused about the project and lacked confidence. I worked with him after that to break down the components into smaller pieces, and I made sure to complement him a lot on his work to boost his confidence.
» Result: He was still the weakest member of the team, but he got a lot better. He was able to finish all his work on time, and he contributing more in discussions. We were happy to work with him on a future project.

As you can see, the SAR model helps an interviewer clearly see what you did in a certain situation and what the result was.