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Behavioral Questions

Series:Acing The Interview

Hello and welcome to the first post in my new series, Acing the Interview! If you've already been following along with my prior series, Switching Career Paths, welcome back! If not, I would highly recommend reading through that series as a precursor to what will be a very informative series on what to study before your interview. Throughout this series, we'll be discussing topics like behavioral and technical questions, as well as design patterns, algorithms, and data structures. We will also cover areas such as mock interviews, how to discuss your projects, and what to expect during the day of the interview.

Studying for an interview is much like studying for a test. You need to figure out the topics that will be included, such as the job description and common programming topics, and then study those until you have a deep understanding of the content. That's all it is. There's no magic that happens in an interview, or unknowns that should scare you. There are many different areas that could be studied before an interview, all depending on the type of position you are going for, the position level in the company, and the company itself. Don't panic; there's plenty of resources out there to help you study and the job description from the company should give you some great insight into what you need to know.

One of the biggest resources of help I found while preparing for my own interview was the Cracking the Coding Interview 1 book by Gayle Laakmann McDowell. This book was invaluable to my process and I know can be helpful to you as well. If you are feeling pressed for time, just be sure to study these topics in the order that I present them to you, as I've summarized several of the books topics in this series with some of my own experiences and insight. If you have the time though, I would highly recommend purchasing the book and thoroughly reading it to be prepared for your next interview. We have a lot of information to cover so let's get started with one of the more important topics: Behavioral Questions.

"Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom."     -Aristotle

Behavioral questions are where the interviewers really get to know you as a person. This can be one of the most difficult topics to cover properly in an interview, as it requires a lot of self awareness and the ability to reflect on your past experiences. When an interviewer asks you "What were some challenges you had with implementing change X in your company", simply answering "I worked long hours on difficult tasks to successfully complete the project" will never be enough to impress an interviewer and show them that you are the right candidate for a job. You need to wow them with the work you did and the outcome of your tasks, all while keeping your response short and concise so as not to drown them with details. Most interviewers won't want to be bothered with a dissertation whenever they ask you a question on a past project or responsibility, but they will want enough details to know what the issue was, the work you put in to resolve it, and the outcome of all your hard work. If you're able to answer their question with all of those details in just a couple of minutes, you will know you've done well. This doesn't mean you shouldn't be prepared to give more details though. As you're discussing a past project, identify areas that you find interesting and let the interviewer know that you can go into more detail on a specific topic, if they would like you to.

There are many different questions that an interviewer can ask you in this section but I have included some more common questions that could come up in an interview below:

  • Challenges: Moments in the role/project that were challenging and how I overcame those difficult moments
  • Mistakes/Failures: Where did things go wrong with a project or task, because of a decision you made
  • Enjoyed: Moments that you truly enjoyed and were happy working on
  • Leadership: Situations that you showed tremendous leadership to move forward or overcome
  • Conflicts: Issues that arose no matter where they came from, whether that be management, peers, or your team
  • What Would I Do Differently: Where would you do things differently, given a second chance

Remember though, no matter which topic you are answering in the interview, always be sure to give enough details to provide insight into the topic but only enough details that you can talk to and put yourself in a good light in the eyes of others. For example, if you had challenges in a recent project due to a coworker, don't go into detail on how you feel they are so incompetent that they probably wear penny loafers because they don't know how to tie their own shoes. Instead, focus on how you worked with them and led the team to overcome the obstacles, deliver the project on time, and meet customer expectations.

The best way I have found to answer these questions is through utilizing the STAR⭐ format, which is a common methodology used by interviewers to ensure they receive a full response from the interviewee. The STAR format is a simple approach to providing the Situation/Task that you were working through, the Action that you took to resolve that item, and the Result that came from your action. When utilizing this format to answer the interviewer's questions, it's recommended to focus most of your answer on the action that was taken as the interviewers will be looking for how you handled a situation, not so much the situation itself.

I've provided a simple grid format below, referred to as an Interview Prep Grid, which can be used to capture your responses to the common interview questions. Feel free to add any extra topics you want to prepare for to your Interview Prep Grid and ensure you have enough time to study them before the interview.

Interview Prep Grid
Common Questions Project/Position #1 Project/Position #2 Project/Position #3
What Would I Do Differently

By filling out this grid before an interview and studying its contents, you will be exceedingly prepared to answer any behavioral questions the interviewer may throw at you. If you're interviewing for the right company, one that cares more about their employees than their profits, your responses to the behavioral questions will be exponentially more valuable than your ability to implement Dijkstra's algorithm for adjacency list representation with O(n log(m)) time complexity (If you don't know what that is off the top of your head, don't worry because I didn't either😉).

If you enjoyed the post, be sure to follow me so that you don't miss the rest of this series, where I dive deeper into preparing for the interview, and what to expect the day of, so that you too can Ace the Interview! The links to my social media accounts can be found on my contact page. Please feel free to share any of your own experiences with the interviewing process, general questions and comments, or even other topics you would like me to write about. If this series of posts help you land that dream job of yours, be sure to let me know as well. Thank you and I look forward to hearing from you!👋


  1. McDowell, G. L. (2021). Cracking the coding interview: 189 programming questions and solutions. CareerCup, LLC.