TCW #003 | The Minimum Viable Interview Prep part 3 of 4: Mastering Behavioral Questions
Learn the 4 high ROI interview prep activities that got 93% of my clients through their first-round interviews at top-tier companies like Google, Airbnb, Microsoft, and Uber.
In today’s issue, we’ll continue our deep dive into the Minimum Viable Interview Prep (MVIP) system for passing first-round interviews.
Today, we’re diving into System #3: Mastering Behavioral Questions.
Most people believe they know everything about behavioral interviews if they know the STAR method. Those people stop reading, but not you. You have a growth mindset.
In this issue, I’m going to update you on the state of behavioral interviews (Surprise! They have evolved far beyond the STAR method!)
I’ll teach you the 3 most common types of next-gen behavioral interview formats asked today at top-tier companies, as well as how to answer each one.
Knowing STAR used to be enough, but companies are getting smarter and more discerning.
To increase interview signal, companies are evolving behavioral interviews. They’ve added new question formats. Each one has a different goal (and requires a different response approach).
There are now 3 common types of behavioral interview formats (and STAR only works on one type).
Today I’ll teach you all 3 types of evolved behavioral interview questions, and:
what the interviewer is looking for
how to spot each type in an interview
the ideal response framework for each one
Once you know how to answer all 3 types of behavioral interview questions, you’ll
get your interviewers genuinely excited to work with you
unlock stronger interview performance (“Strong Hire!”)
put yourself in a stronger negotiating position (including for that stretch role)
Let’s dive in.
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Pure behavioral questions
These are the canonical questions we associate with behavioral interviews, “Tell me about a time when…”. They ask about your past experiences to predict how well you’re likely to perform in the role.
How to spot them
Any question that specifically refers to your past work experience is a pure behavioral question.
Examples of pure behavioral questions
“Tell me about a time when you disagreed with your boss.”
”Tell me about a time when you failed to achieve a critical goal.”
”Tell me about a time when you had to make a decision without all the data.”
What interviewers look for
With pure behavioral questions, you get to pick the past career experience and tell the story however you like.
The interviewer will listen to your story and may ask follow-up questions. Then, they move on.
After the interview, they assess your interview performance by extrapolating from how you behaved in the past, to make a prediction about how you're likely to behave in this role.
Some of the key elements interviewers look for:
How your work ties to the Big Picture
Many people do their work without ever understanding how it ties to the strategy or business goals. Stand out by showing them that you understand the strategic and business implications of your work.
What YOU did
Lots of people get by at work by “being part of things that were successful,” but interviewers want to find the real change agents: people who will have an outsized impact and drive success.
Interviewers want to understand what you specifically did to drive results. This is what YOU did (individually) to drive results, not as part of a larger team. “I” not “We".
Details (and Data)
Interviewers want to know how engaged you are in your work. The best proxy for that is the level of detail that candidates are able to share about their past projects. Ever wonder why interviewers ask so many follow-up questions? They are digging for details.
Details show that you were really part of it. You can’t remember details if you never got into the weeds. As a bonus, when you share details with data, it also shows that you are analytical. And who wouldn’t want to hire a data-oriented person who gets deeply involved in their projects?
Top-tier employers hire for not only what you can do today, but for your potential to unlock growth and innovation for the business tomorrow. Show them that you are a living, learning growth machine who aims to improve yourself and to rise the tide for your teams, every day.
How to respond
The ideal response framework for pure behavioral questions incorporates all of the goals above. It starts with STAR (Situation, Tasks, Actions, and Results), which many of you may already know.
I will refresh your memory with a primer on STAR (skip if you know it):
S: Situational Context — establish what was happening at the time
This should include the company, the business context and the strategic goals, the complexity / challenges of the situation, and how success was measured. Set a strong shared foundation with the interviewer and engage them in your story. Quantify, quantify, quantify — numbers grab our attention.
T: Tasks — explain what you were responsible for in the situation (not just your title).
Explain what you were responsible for in this specific project and scenario. Hint: this isn’t just your title.
A: Actions — share what you did to deliver outcomes in the situation
The key here is what YOU did, not what the team did. What did you design, implement, oversee, drive, code, etc to bring about the results?
R: Results — the impact from a short-term, long-term, and strategic perspective (use numbers)
The results should speak to the success criteria that you established in the situational context.
Why STAR isn’t enough (anymore)
If you know anything about extrapolation from math class, you probably know that extrapolation is a dangerous game.
In any extrapolation problem, you want to minimize the distance over which you’re extrapolating. Interpolation > Extrapolation.
In an interview, you minimize extrapolation by giving them a new data point that is closer to the present.
Minimize interview extrapolation by adding the growth mindset into your response
After you walk through STAR, add:
+ Learning — what did you learn from this project?
Pick the learning that you’ve implemented most, ie the one that has most impacted your future approach to work.
+ Growth — how have you improved future projects, given what you learned in this one?
This is about showing (not telling) how you’ve grown and evolved since this project. Examples are powerful here, and you have two choices:
(1) tell about a future project where you used the lesson learned
(2) if you haven’t yet had a chance to implement your lessons learned, express how you plan to adapt your approach in future projects.
I call this extrapolation distance-minimizing response framework STAR++ (creative, I know)
Why STAR++ works
By sharing how you’ve grown, and by providing an example of how you’ve used the learnings, you give the interviewer a new data point that is closer to the present day.
Thus, you minimize the extrapolation distance for the interviewer. You’re telling them, “That’s what I did back then. This new data is how I behave now. I’ve grown.”
The secret to Pure behavioral questions is to minimize the extrapolation distance.
This is powerful because when you add your Learnings (+) and Growth (+), you:
preempt follow-up questions from the interviewer (fyi: the most common follow-up question is “What did you learn from this experience?”)
demonstrate that you are a living, learning growth machine
bring interviewers up to date on your approaches and work behavior (minimize the extrapolation distance).
Situational behavioral questions
These questions place you in an imagined but realistic work scenario and ask what you'd do.
How to spot them
Any question that puts you in an imagined scenario is a situational behavioral question.
Examples of situational behavioral questions
"You are the product manager for YouTube analytics. Yesterday, there was a 20% drop in user sessions. Tell me what you'd do."
“Let’s say you join this team. How would you ramp up on the role?”
“You find a major bug in the user experience for your product. What do you do?”
What interviewers look for
The interviewer is trying to understand how you react on the ground. They want to learn how you:
determine the next best steps