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August 14, 2020
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How to Prepare for Behavior Questions?

Interview Series

Hello guys, how are you all? If you remember, our article previous was focussed on how to prepare for coding questions. This was more on the technical side because coding questions are technical or logical. During interviews, companies also rely on the non-technical capabilities of a candidate. So this article is focused on how to prepare for behavior questions. Whether it’s a phone interview or an onsite interview, behavioral questions are generally asked. Such questions are asked to judge the personality of the candidate. It also helps to understand the resume in a better way and is also useful in easing the candidates into an interview. Such questions are important in either way. So let us begin our discussion.

Firstly, allow me to begin by telling you the story of making the table of stories!

Guys, honestly tell me something. Was the title confusing? What is this fuss about storytelling and making the table of stories? Well, I was just checking your behavior! Fine, let me explain. Behavioral questions generally begin with something like, “What was the most challenging part of your last project” or “Tell me something about blah blah blah” or “Tell me about the time when you blah blah blah”. The interviewer might then ask for an example from your specific project that has been mentioned in your resume or might ask something from your last job position. To crack such questions, you should prepare a grid beforehand. This grid will give you a clear idea about what to answer when behavioral questions are asked. People call this grid as the preparation grid but I call it as the table of stories. Please have a look at the grid in the script.

Don’t be scared of this grid, it is quite simple. In the top columns, mention all your past projects and experiences. Along the side, list down all the common questions that are usually asked in the interviews. Some questions are already mentioned in the grid-like what you enjoyed the most, what you enjoyed the least, what was the best thing that you learned, the most difficult bug solved, etc. Once done with the list of questions, start filling up the empty cells by the corresponding story. Try to complete the story in a few words, it is only for your own reference. Few words will make the grid compact and neat. You can refer to the grid within minutes and recall the related story. So what is the advantage of this grid? You will be able to answer behavioral questions immediately and effortlessly. Have a look at this grid before appearing for the interview. With phone interviews, this grid could just be kept handy. Please note that during an interview, it is not necessary that the behavioral question would always be from the grid, but generally, such questions are quite common in an interview.

Secondly, know the technical trade-offs

Know every single thing that has been mentioned in your resume. During interviews, many candidates fail to explain their own projects. This creates an impression that the candidate is simply boasting. If you are in a job right now, always be clear about your assigned project and also be clear about the tasks that your team is doing. Having a thorough understanding of the trade-off part is important. You should be able to answer a question like, I think that the other solution is better, why didn’t you adopt it? At that moment, you should be ready with a proper convincing answer. This is only possible if you are thorough with the trade-offs.

A proper answer would come out of your preparation. If such a question was asked to me, I would answer by saying that We did consider the other solution B at that time, but due to this particular constraint X, we weren’t able to implement it. We also know that our program suffered due to it, but our priority was C, so we had to sacrifice D. By answering in such a way, It won’t seem like a debate because there are trade-offs everywhere. Every solution will have some minor or major constraint, there is no solution with zero constraints.

Thirdly, shine like a star by following the STAR Principle

To understand the STAR Principle, let us consider an interview question as an example.  “What is the hardest problem you’ve ever encountered?”

As per the STAR Principle, S stands for Situation. When did it happen and where did it happen? Is it important? For example, the problem occurred in our remotely operated server room during the time of Christmas when the onsite traffic was pretty heavy. Now T stands for Task. Mention the tasks that were undertaken to solve the problem. 

A stands for Action. What were actions taken by you during the problem-solving mission? What part of the mission was your responsibility and what did you do? Like a meeting was called, the server had to be shut-down, etc. In this step, also mention that who did you work with or teamed-up with. The last alphabet R stands for Result. What was the result of the action? Like when the server was shut-down, the transactions stopped and we got some more time. Then we solved the problem by doing this X thing.

Always discuss an example where you were successful in solving it. This would make a good impression.

Do You Know What is the Amazon Leadership Principle?

Amazon’s Leadership principles are quite awesome. They aren’t just inspirational, they are implementable because Amazon itself implements it to create their unique corporate culture. We have discussed quite a lot about Amazon’s technical interview process in our previous articles. But this is about the behavior interviews. The candidates are assessed as per these principles. So if you are able to prepare yourself as per these principles, then there are good chances of you being hired by the company.

Let us now have a look at these 14 principles.

1 Customer Obsession

2 Ownership

3 Invent and Simplify

4 Are Right, A Lot

5 Learn and Be Curious

6 Hire and Develop the Best

7 Insist on the Highest Standards

8 Think Big

9 Bias for Action

10 Frugality

11 Earn Trust

12 Dive Deep

13 Have Backbone; Disagree and Commit

14 Deliver Results

Now let us discuss how to incorporate Leadership Principles into your answers?

Remember that one shouldn’t directly mention the Leadership Principle in the answer. It would look like a deliberate, bookish or crammed answer. So the candidate should give a smart answer by incorporating the gist of the Leadership Principle. Let us understand this by two examples.

Example Number 1

This example includes a popular interview question. Suppose the interviewer asks the candidate, tell me your experience about the most difficult problem you have ever faced during your project? What was the problem and how did you solve it?

To crack this question, let us quickly go through some guidelines.

First of all, dive deep into the question. Don’t be in a hurry to give the answer. Investigate the question properly. Second, never underestimate learning and curiosity. The interviewer expects a positive response from you. So give an answer like you studied how to solve the problem because you were curious to take up the challenge and you finally solved it! Thirdly, never compromise on the high standards.Tell the interviewer that while you solved the problem, you ensured that the quality and standard procedure was maintained.Fourth, always Think Big! Never end your answer with the result. After solving the problem, you also knew about the consequences and you knew that certain problems would occur. So you already had thought about its preventive measures.

So the complete answer to the above question could be framed as follows :

Yes, I remember that our team was assigned a project and I had to work on a web crawler. The crawler scanned all the resources and analyzed them to check if there were any security flaws such as SQL injection. While this process was quite important, my task was to speed it up. The scanning consumed a lot of time. I took it as a challenge because the process never had any technical problems, logically it was perfect! The only thing was to save as much time as possible. I thought about the solution and came up with two things. Firstly, I changed the crawler to work in a Breadth First manner and implemented the analysis through multithreading. This proved to be efficient. Secondly, I had to ensure that other analysis components were working while crawling.

By following this approach, I was able to improve the time efficiency. But on the other side, I also expected some multi-threaded lock issues. I solved those issues and was able to improve time efficiency by 50%. I felt that this task was difficult because it was open-ended and the rewards were quite appealing. I had to improve an existing system which made the task more challenging.

Example Number 2 

The interviewer asked the candidate that “Tell me your experience when you were asked to deliver an important under a tight deadline?”. It is a totally different experience when you have to deliver a project under a strict deadline. So what should be the possible guidelines and the appropriate answer to this?

Firstly, be biased towards action. Here, the interviewer expects that under a strict deadline, you started working towards the competition. Here, diving deep and introspecting would not help. Secondly, focus on inventing and simplifying. The issue is complicated and has to be solved quickly, so you invented your own way to tackle it. You also simplified the problem. Thirdly, remember that you delivered the result. In spite of all the odds, you delivered the expected result on time.

So let us frame the answer according to these guidelines. Yes, I remember that I had a project during my internship and the timeline was pretty short. My task was to develop a prototype. The project was regarding the improvement of crawler speed. So I was asked to include things on how to improve crawler speed? I was told that the task was very important because everything was dependent on this prototype. So my seniors were waiting and there was no scope for creating blunders.

I immediately started working on it. Firstly, I understood how a web crawler works? Once I was clear about it’s working, my next step was to improve its efficiency. For this, I studied several enumeration methods. Out of those methods, I chose the method which was the best and the quickest. Based on it, I came up with a solution and was finally able to complete the task on time for ddl. This was specifically challenging for me because of the narrow timeline.

Conclusion

Let’s summarize here. We have discussed much on algorithmic and data structure in our previous articles. So this article is focussed on dealing with behavioral questions. The article begins with the discussion on making the table of stories. This table is helpful because all the basic events from your resume are included in it and you could refer to its corresponding questions. The table can be quickly referred before appearing in the interview as well. After that, we have discussed technical trade-offs and how important it is for the candidate to know everything that has been mentioned in the resume.

Then, we have discussed the STAR principle which could be used to crack the interview questions. Here, S stands for situation, T for the task, A for action, and R for the result. Amazon’s 14 principles are also quite interesting and effective. So we then discussed those principles in our article. Finally, after knowing the principles and methods, we have a look at how to incorporate these principles into the answers. We understand it by two practical examples or real-life scenarios of an interview. Ideal answers to the questions have been discussed as per the interviewer’s expectations. Overall, you can easily deal with behavioral questions if you know the expectations of an interviewer. The principles described in the article are invented by IT giants and are being implemented successfully. I believe that these principles are useful in an interview as well as in day-to-day life. So implement them and perform at your best!

Here is the link to the previous article of this series.

James Lee
James Lee
James Lee is a passionate software wizard working at one of the top Silicon Valley-based startups specializing in big data analysis. In the past, he has worked on big companies such as Google and Amazon In his day job, he works with big data technologies such as Cassandra and ElasticSearch, and he is an absolute Docker technology geek and IntelliJ IDEA lover with strong focus on efficiency and simplicity.

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