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A Developer's Guide to Running Behavioral Interviews

A Developer's Guide to Running Behavioral Interviews

A short guide to running rewarding behavior-based interviews for a range of developer roles.

Engineering Teams

Interview questions can make or break the chances of a candidate getting the job. Behavior-based interviews can be one of the hardest parts of hiring to get right, especially if you're new to the process.

Most companies incorporate this type of assessment today because soft skills are high indicators for the capacity to grow.

Behavioral interviews are based on the logic that how you behaved in the past will predict how you will behave in the future — past performance predicts future performance.

Set expectations

It’s important to be transparent — many companies embody transparency as a core value. We think that sharing some type of instruction is the best way to kick off a behavior-based interview. 

Start by prefacing, “I’m going to ask you a few behavioral questions that will help me get an understanding of your experience and way of thinking.” Let the candidate know that specific examples, or situations, are preferred. If a candidate doesn’t remember details, ask them to imagine a scenario.

Candidates who aren't new to interviews like this will know how to respond. You might notice some use methods like STAR as a way to respond in a structured way. Others might take a less methodical, storytelling approach. 

The STAR method is a structured manner of responding to a behavior-based interview question — interviewees can describe the specific situation, task, action, and result.

  • Situation. Describe a specific situation that you were in or task that you needed to accomplish. Don’t give a general description of what you have done in the past. This example can be from a previous job, or any relevant experience.
  • Task. Explain the task(s) that you had to complete. What goals were you working toward?
  • Action. Describe the actions that you took to address the situation. What steps did you take? What did you contribute? Don’t describe what the group did when talking about a project. Use the word “I,” not “we,” when describing actions.
  • Result. Describe the outcome of your actions and don’t be shy about taking credit for your behavior. What did you accomplish? What did you learn? Make sure your answer contains multiple positive results. 

Regardless of the candidates’ technique, it's important not to make them feel rushed — you want to hear their best answers, so make them feel comfortable.

Choose the right questions

In traditional interviews, the Q&A is fairly straightforward. Interviewers ask common questions like what your strengths and weaknesses are? What major challenges have you faced? How would you describe your work ethic?

In behavioral interviews, an employer is looking for specific skills and asks questions that get at how you did behave in a situation, as opposed to how you would behave. How have you handled challenging situations in the past?

To get you started, here are some examples of questions to ask in important areas like problem-solving, communication, and giving and receiving feedback:

  • Share a situation when you saw room for improvement in your organization. How did you go about it?
  • Share an example of when you got constructive feedback — how did you react to it?
  • What was the last new task or skill you learned? How’d you learn?
  • Share a situation when you weren’t able to keep your word.
  • Share an example of a situation where you missed a deadline. How did you behave?
  • Have you had to convince a team to work on a project they weren't thrilled about? How did you do it?
  • Share a situation where you had to work particularly hard to persuade someone to your point of view.
  • Describe an issue that involved you having to handle information from a number of sources.
  • Share a problem that required you to make analysis outside of your own area of expertise.

Watch out for bias

There are different types of hiring bias to look out for. 

Confirmation bias. 

People often want to believe they’re right about their instincts and first impression of the candidate. A study done by researchers from Old Dominion, Florida State, and Clemson, found that 60% of interviewers will make a decision about a candidate’s suitability within 15 minutes of meeting them.

Effective heuristics. 

This is when the recruiter makes assumptions about a candidate’s ability to do the job — without carefully examining all of the “evidence” first.

Halo effect

This occurs when the recruiter zeroes in on one positive aspect of a candidate, like if they went to any ivy league school, instead their whole background and experience.

Horns effect.

This is opposite to the halo effect — a recruiter might not be able to move beyond a seemingly negative aspect of a candidate.

Conclusion

As an interviewer, you’re representing the company and also creating an opinion about the company among candidates. Before engaging in conversation remember that:

  • Candidates talk to each other. If a developer tells their friends about an unpleasant conversation and this information spreads, you could potentially lose candidates.
  • The candidate can come back. There are chances that the candidate gains relevant experience — don’t ruin your chance at building a talent pipeline.
  • The candidate thinks of you as their supervisor. How you behave is being assessed by the candidate.

While running a successful behavioral interview takes work, it really pays off as predictability of candidate behavior increases significantly. 

Be curious and try to get a clear understanding of the situation, motivation, and actions that were taken by the candidate — remember to focus on key priorities of the job requirement. When making the final decision of who to hire, consider feedback collected from the head (rational brain), heart (emotional brain), and gut (intuitive brain).


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