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Behavioral Interviewing

While there are a number of definitions, for our purposes, soft skills are all of the skills that are not technical. Meaning - the you that shows up the interview, as well as your technical ability. Your interview is composed of your technical prowess, as well as your soft-skills and ability to answer non-technical questions around teamwork, leadership, failure (yes), ability to adapt, timeliness, and communication skills.

If you have heard of the airport test - when hiring managers ask themselves would I want to be stuck in an airport with this person? - your non-technical stories will help them answer that question. In short: non-technical questions will ask you to tell a number of stories that supplement your technical mastery.

Interviews are subjective, based off of who’s interviewing you. When you prepare for soft-skill questions, understand the value that you can bring to a company as well as your goals and interests. You will deliver better answers and be more confident, which interviewers interpret as competence.

Interviewers can - and will - ask a number of questions based on their own interests and intention. So while we can’t prepare for every possible question, the STAR method is a framework that allows us to answer any question with confidence and structure:

S – Situation, background set the scene

T – Task or Target, specifics of what's required, when, where, who

A – Action, what you did, skills used, behaviours, characteristics

R – Result – Outcome, what happened?

Framing Your Answer: The STAR Method

Non-technical interview questions are often categorized as behavioral: questions that are based on your past experiences and behavior in a given situation. For example, Describe a time when you disagreed with your direct manager. Employers ask these types of questions in an effort to predict how you might behave in the future.

The STAR Method offers a framework for answering any behavioral question thrown at you. Simply define a past Situation that you were in or Task that you needed to accomplish, then the Action that you took to address that situation or task, and, finally, the Result of your actions.

Situation or Task Describe the situation that you were in or the task that you needed to accomplish. Be specific, providing a real, relevant example from a past job or school project, a personal project, or volunteer experience.
Action What spection action(s) did you take?
Result What was the result? What did you accomplish or learn?

One perk of behavioral questions is that they’re open-ended, which means that, when using the STAR Method, you can choose any situation or task from your past. Of course, it’s logical to only choose situations that shine a positive light on you.

Common Non-technical Questions

Non-technical questions can run the gamut from “tell me about a time when you had to manage conflicting instructions on a project” to “where do you see yourself in five years?” Reviewing application materials, job descriptions, and public company info will identify potential interview questions, and help you prepare your own practice questions. To prepare, we will run through a few common questions, and how you can apply the STAR Method to frame your response.

Sample Question: Tell Me About Yourself

“Tell me about yourself” is almost always asked during the soft skill portion of an interview, often kicking off the conversation. This allows you to highlight the pieces of your own background that are relevant to the job. And the great news: the answer to the Tell me about yourself question is also your personal pitch that you refined earlier.

Because the prompt is open ended, it can feel difficult to know how much you should disclose to the interviewer. But it’s simple! You only need to communicate the following: your background, the evolution of how you got into software engineering/data science, and your specific qualifications for the job that you’re interviewing for (which can be determined based on the job description).

Sample Question: Why Are You Changing Careers?

Employers want to know your motives—and also see if things ended badly with your last job—which could be a warning for them. Stay positive. Talk about your enthusiasm for the roles that you’re pursuing now rather how you disliked your past jobs, coworkers, employers, pay, etc.

Sample Question: Why Do You Want to Work Here?

Employers want to work with people who are enthusiastic about their company and team—not just any company. To answer this question well, learn about the company that you’re interviewing with and find things that you like about its product, people, and mission, etc. Articulating your knowledge of and excitement about the company that you’re interviewing for shows the interviewer that you take the interview seriously and are on the same page as them.

Sample Question: What Are You Looking For?

Employers ask this question to determine if you want the same thing—if you’re interested in the job that you’re interviewing for... or if you just want to use it to get to the job that you really want or will take whatever you can get. Obviously, they want someone who is happy to work indefinitely at the job that you’re interviewing for so that they won’t soon need to be rehiring for this position.

To show the employer that you want the job that you’re interviewing for, include its title in your response. E.g. if you’re applying for a front-end role, you could say, “Right now I’m interested in a junior role as a front-end developer.” Optionally, include something about company culture that’s important to you, E.g. the opportunity for mentorship.

Sample Question: Why Should I Hire You?

Different candidates have different pros and cons, and employers want to know why your pros would be more advantageous than other candidates’ pros. Come prepared with stories of how you have excelled in other jobs or areas of your life; show the employer that you have a track record of being the best.

Sample Question: What are your weaknesses?

Companies ask this question to get a sense of your self-awareness and emotional intelligence. Find a good balance between being honest, modest and positive. There is no one right answer for this question, but there are many wrong answers. Avoid saying things like, "my biggeset weakness is I work too hard/care too much/etc." Even if it's true, it often sounds disengenuous and employers can see right through it. Instead, be honest about a weakness you have, and explain specific, concrete steps you are taking to work on said weakness. For example, you might say, "my weakness is that I sometimes jump right into code too early. I have been remedying this by being conscious of taking a step back and thinking about my problem solving processes before writing code. Additionally, I have utilized pair programming to help with slowing down and talking about my thought process before jumping in too quickly." This answer shows that you have reflected on a perceived weakness, and identified and took action on the necessary steps to improve.

Sample Question: What are your salary requirements?

Talking money can be awkward and uncomfortable, however, it is a vital part of the job hunt. Be prepared for the topic to come up during the first phone screen or in person interview. However, ideally, do not give a figure until you have a written offer in your hands. This way, you are in the position of power, and have more room to negotiate. Of course, this may not always be the case. If you're asked about salary before you have an offer, counter with something like, "I would like to see the full benefits package before making a decision on monetary compensation, should the time come." If they keep pushing you, provide a range. Read more info on salary negotiation.

Asking Questions

Interviews are like first dates; they’re an opportunity for both parties to learn more about the other and determine if they’re a good match. For this reason, you should also come prepared to ask the interviewer questions. One of the biggest red flags to employers are when candidates to not ask their interviewer any questions. Do not be this person!! You also don't have to wait until the end of the interview to ask questions. Feel free to ask them at any point in the interview - this will also help with turning the interview into more of a conversation.

External Resources

Questions to Ask During an Interview

30 Behavioral Interview Questions to Prep For

Types of Job Interview Questions

How to Research a Company Before an Interview

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