6 - Behavioral Interview

Authors: Stefano Ivancich

During a job interview, one of the interviewer’s task is to explore the way you handled a “complex” situation in the past (preferably at the workplace). Let’s see how to prepare a stellar behavioral interview using the STAR-L method.

Example of behavioral questions:

  • Describe a time when you disagreed with a team member. How did you resolve the problem?
  • Describe a time when you faced a block at work and how you solved it.
  • Tell me about a time when you disagreed with a supervisor.
  • What is the most difficult/ challenging situation you’ve ever had to resolve in the workplace? Describe a time when you were able to motivate unmotivated team members.
  • Tell me about a decision that you’ve regretted and how you overcame it.
  • Tell me about a time when you tried something risky and failed.
  • Tell me about a time when you were consulted for a problem.
  • Explain a time when you took the initiative on a project.
  • What’s the best idea you’ve come up with on a team-based project?
  • Tell me about a time when you worked well under pressure.

The STAR-L Framework:

  • Situation: The context in which your experience occurred
  • Task (or Target): What you were required to achieve during the situation
  • Action: The action you personally took in response to the task
  • Result: The effect of your action on the outcome of the situation
  • Learn: What you learned from the experience

How to answer:

  • 2-3 min per question
  • STAR-L Framework: Situation, Task, Actions, Result, Learnings
  • Prepare for possible follow-ups.
  • Tell what YOU did, do not answer with “we”.
  • Always explain the impact that your actions had. If we have no impact (changing the world), computer science its just a mental exercise.
  • Tip: for each project/experience you had, prepare 2/3 stories.
  • Do not tell the name of the company unless its a well known company, but instead tell the industry and what the company does, for example:
    • NO: “I worked at Kamiri & Ermicht Financial LTD as software engineer”
    • YES: “I worked in a financial company that handle large quantity of data to predict risk of insurrance
  • Do not tell the name of the project, its confusing, just tell what it does.

Follow ups:

  • Who was involved
  • What you personally did
  • How you did it
  • What was the impact? Was it a minor success or did it has significant impact?
  • Where the results due to my impact or those results would have likely occurred without my involvement?
  • Why a particular thing was done, why not another way of doing it opted
  • What was the driving factor of decision
  • Explain something technical about the project. (e.g., you said you used UDP instead of TCP to solve the problem, now explain how TCP works)

Must know questions

  • So, tell me a bit about yourself…
  • Why do you want to work here?
  • Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
  • What do you do outside of work?
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?
  • Tell me about a project/class that you enjoyed/worked on. (for students)
  • Why are you leaving your current job? (not for interns/new grad)

Tell me about yourself

Answer like this in 2-3min:

  • “I am a ….. at ……”
  • “In college, I studied ___ at ____.”
  • “Then I worked for … where I ….”
  • “Then I worked for … where I ….”
  • “In my current job, I’ve accomplished….”
  • “Also, outside of work, I ….”
  • “I’m looking for …”

Example for students:

  • I’m a Master student in Computer Engineering student at University of Milan in Italy.
  • My Bachelor degree was in Mathematics.
  • During my studies, I’ve done:
    • An internship in a Financial Instutition, where:
      • Migrated a database and Improved logging and metrics of the system.
      • Using C++, Java and SQL
    • A research intership inside my University, where:
      • I’ve created a ML model to detectig imperfection in the Quantum Measurement of the telescope and Published a paper
      • Using Python, Fortran and Tensorflow
  • A the moment:
    • I organize competitive programming events at my university, such as Google Hash code, and Summer Camp for high school students.
    • I’m a tutor for Calulus 1 course
  • Also, outside of work/school:
    • Play chess competitions, ELO 3115
    • Working on some Crypto personal projects
  • I’m currently looking for: an Internship in ML

Amazon Leadership principles explained

Amazon Leadership principle, similar with other companies, are a good to way to answer behavioral questions. I’ve ordered by importance and similarity.

  • Bias for Action: most of the time in big tech you are given a project/task where you now nothing about, outside your domain knowledge and with minimal/ambigual/wrong information. So, instead of waiting for something to happen, you have to come up with a plan, talk with relevant people and execute.
  • Deliver Results: similiar to bias for action. No matter how many problems you had, people not helping you (or working agaist you), adversarial conditions, you have to complete your project.
  • Customer Obsession: the assumption that all big techs have is that if you create a good product that customers love (real user, your professor for a uni project, your manager, some other team in the company, …), they will gives us their money. So you have always to think how your actions and engineering decisions are going to satisfy the customer. Sometimes simple actions are better than complex enginnering solutions. Some other times you have to dig deep in complex engineering solutions to create an incredible product.
  • Insist on the Highest Standards: always raising the bar. Engineering excelence: code quality, documentation, design, peer review, efficient processes.
  • Ownership: You have to know what’s going on all aspects of the project and organization you are working on. Not just your tasks. And proactively influence them. This is not optional, it is expected.
  • Dive Deep: very similar to ownership. Leaders operate at all levels, stay connected to the details, audit frequently, and are sceptical when metrics and anecdote differ. No task is beneath them.
  • Think Big:
  • Learn and Be Curious: about new possibilities and act to explore them.
  • Invent and Simplify: look for new ideas
  • Frugality: Accomplish more with less. Constraints breed resourcefulness, self-sufficiency and invention. There are no extra points for growing headcount, budget size or fixed expense.
  • Earn Trust: by completing your task fast with good quality. Helping others. And be vocal about your results, most people are woring on their task and do not pay attention on what others do (especially your manager, he does know shit), so you have to present your results accurately.
  • Have Backbone (coraggio); Disagree and Commit: do not just obey orders. As written above, most of the times you are given ambiguous problems, with wrong and missing information. You are expected to understand if a solution proposed by someone else (even with more experience) is not correct and point that out.
  • Hire and Develop the Best: for students and early carreer is about tring to work with the best people and help them grow by sharing knowledge (like writing docs, tips, …) and mentoring them pratically.
  • Are Right, A Lot: this seems have no sense to me.
  • Strive to be Earth’s Best Employer: not relevant for interns and early career candidates.
  • Success and Scale Bring Broad Responsibility: not relevant for interns and early career candidates.