Demystifying the behavioral interview: Part 4 - Win-Win

Demystifying the behavioral interview: Part 4 - Win-Win
Photo by Bunsim San / Unsplash

Welcome to the fourth and final part of our series on demystifying the behavioral interview, where I want to emphasize and expand on a single idea:

Interviews are win-win scenarios

Everyone involved in the interview process has a lot to gain if it leads to an offer that the candidate will sign:

  1. You are joining a team you want to work with.
  2. You are happy with your compensation.
  3. Your team hired someone to help with technical tasks and grow the team.
  4. Your company doesn’t need to interview for this role anymore (saves time and money).

This is the win-win scenario in a nutshell.

There is no win-lose or lose-win scenario. If you walk out of the interview process feeling like your potential employer is taking advantage of you, you can drop from the process, not sign the offer, or even quit shortly after you start working. In the case where you “win” over your employer by being dishonest or misrepresenting your skills, your team and manager might be disgruntled and you won’t have a nice working environment. An unhappy workplace is not a fun place to be for anyone, and if you are deemed to be the cause of it, you might not last long in the role. There is nothing in the middle; if the interview is not a win-win it’s automatically a lose-lose. The company will need to restart the process with new candidates and you will have to do more and more interviews until you find the right fit.

So what can you do to maximize mutual success?

Take careful notes

Inform your interviewers upfront that you’ll be writing stuff down. Your interviewers are also keeping notes that they reference later (e.g. when they fill up your scorecard), so it’s absolutely fine for you to do the same. One obvious benefit is that you keep interview questions for your archive so that you can practice later. A more subtle one, but very important during the interview, is that you gain a few extra seconds to mull over the question and formulate an answer.

I use my interview notes to come up with interesting questions for my interviewers. This is a strategy that helps me uncover more about the position and my future colleagues. Furthermore, it reinforces the fact that I am seriously interested in the role; otherwise, why would I ask insightful questions?

Ask questions!

It’s customary for your interviewers to devote 10 minutes of the interview time to the questions you have for them. You must come prepared with questions! Moreover (as I pointed out above), try to be alert during the interviews and write down any new questions which might pop up.

Some of the more generic questions are:

  1. What is the outcome I am expected to contribute? How will my impact be measured?
  2. What are some things that the organization rewards and what are some things that are frowned upon?
  3. What is the team structure? Which roles and at which level are we? Senior, Junior, etc.

Specifically for hiring managers, you can ask:

  1. Have you helped other engineers grow and get promoted? How many? What is your approach? Is there an established career progression framework? Can you describe it?
  2. Were you in a position where you had to fire people or let them go? Either because of bad performance or because the company had to cut down on costs? How did you handle the situation? Did you propose alternatives (in case of layoffs)? How was the communication with the person affected?

And if I feel I can have some fun with my interviewers, I reflect their questions at them. For example:

  1. What was your proudest moment, your best achievement in the company so far? Could you describe it?
  2. What are examples of some challenges you experienced at the company, in this role? What is the support structure to help with those challenges?

I won’t get into details here, but I hope you can see the value of asking questions like the aforementioned ones. I might create a specific post just for this section, so feel free to subscribe and get notified!

Make it a discussion

Imagine that you are not having an interview but instead are trying to solve a challenge with your colleagues. How would you behave during that situation? Can you now try and keep this behavior during the interview process? Can you show your future colleagues how you will be working with them? I believe that this approach impresses interviewers and makes interviewees more relaxed.

If your interviewers allow this, you can ask questions at any point during the interview and not only at the end. This way you are involved in a dialog with back-and-forth questions, which feels more natural to both parties.

In case you don’t have an answer to a question, or if you get blocked, simply mention it. Don’t stop there though! Offer alternatives. If, for example, you’re asked about a specific situation or experience, compliment your “negative” answer: “I don’t know if I can answer this question explicitly, but would you be interested in this experience I had instead?”

If you don’t understand a question, you can ask your interviewers to paraphrase or ask something different. It’s important to distinguish between not knowing and not understanding. Be clear in your communication.

Finally, be on the lookout for what your interviewers like and get them involved in your response. For example, if they talk about frameworks, then elaborate on one such framework when you reply and explain how you applied it.

Be genuinely curious

When you are having the interview try to be 100% there, fully engaged, and curious. Employ active listening and try to understand:

  1. What does the team/company celebrate?
  2. What does the company stand for?
  3. Are they happy? Are they thinking of leaving anytime soon?

You can ask these questions explicitly. Get to know your future colleagues and manager as much as possible before signing the offer. The more you know upfront the better chances you have for a good fit in the team.

And there we have it folks! Thanks for paying attention and devoting your time! I hope you enjoyed our series on demystifying the behavioral interview. Don’t forget to check out the other parts in the series as well as my talk at DevFest Greece & Cyprus 2022.

Other parts in the series:

Preparing for the behavioral interview in tech jobs
Cultural fit is an integral part of the software engineering interview process; here we explore the strategies for maximizing success
Your guide for success in the behavioral interview
An in-depth analysis of popular questions software engineers are asked during the behavioral interview with sample answers from expert sources.
Mastering communication skills for the coding interview
A guide for navigating the coding interview with grace and impressing with your communication skills