As a hiring manager for a software company, I interviewed using behavioral interview questions, also known as the 'STAR' technique. The candidate is asked to talk about a specific instance that demonstrated a capability or a response to some specific circumstance. The interviewer listens for these elements:

It wasn’t necessary for a candidate to have vignettes memorized, but the stories needed to exist so that I could draw them out with questioning. An inability to give good STAR stories, even if I led the candidate very clearly, was a showstopper for continuing in the hiring process.

Here are some examples of questions that I would use to lead these discussions:

Tell me about what you did in your most recent job?
I was listening for:

  • Was the candidate merely "in the room" when things happened or did they actually perform the work? Too much use of "we" versus "I" and/or the inability to give further details when asked is a red flag here.
  • Could the candidate explain why they were doing that task or how the task fit into the larger picture?

What was your favourite aspect of the role? Please give me an example of that.
I used this as an optional, supplementary question, used if the previous question did not draw out this answer. This is a second chance for the candidate to bring out a STAR story, especially if the first question failed to produce a good one.

Tell me about the accomplishment in that role that you were most proud of? and/or What would your supervisor tell me was your most significant accomplishment?
This question asks for a specific instance, so it ought to be a STAR. You should always have a response like this ready, even if the interviewer doesn’t ask this style of questions. You should strive to tell a story about a key accomplishment in every interview!

Please pick a technical topic that you feel you know well and can explain clearly, and then tell me about it. You can sketch if that will help.

  • I want to gauge how well you can explain a technical subject. If you get asked a similar question but feel that the focus is unclear, you might try to clarify: "Do you want me to describe how the customer sees it, how the code works, or what the components are?" However, I would likely respond "Whatever you think will help me to understand." as the focus that the candidate picks without guidance offers good insight into tendencies and skills.
  • An inability to draw at least a simple diagram of some sort (layers, modules, workflow, etc.) was always a concern here. I came to associate a diagram of two boxes connected by a cloud with "XML" written inside it with substandard candidates. Try to do better!
  • I always ask "What project elements were your personal focus?" This gets followed with drill-down questions based on that content, to see if the candidate really understands it. For example: "Tell me more about the box marked calculate".
  • More follow-up questions included "What was the best part of the system, and why?" and the obvious counterpart, and "What would you do differently if you were creating this system today?" Here I was looking for intelligent analysis, as well as a ready opinion which showed that the candidate had already thought about these things during their work.
If a candidate egregiously failed the above element of the interview it was "ease them out the door" time.

How do you learn best? Tell me about a technical topic that you had to pick up recently and how you got up to speed?

  • Folks who expected to have a long, formal ramp-up with extensive training were going to be disappointed in our environment, and thus, not offered a position.
  • Anyone who claimed to learn "hands-on" would be asked for a STAR story in support of that claim.
  • Follow up questions like "Who is your favorite author or publisher of technical books?" and "What websites do you recommend for technical reference?" rounded out this section.
  • "Uhm ... Google?" is a highly disappointing answer. Try to do better! A tech Q&A board like StackOverflow is better but will likely be followed up by "Are you a member?" so that I can look you up.

You've likely had a situation where there were competing demands for your time. How do you prioritize tasks? How do you balance your workload?
You might state that you would favor a customer-facing issue over an internal one. You should talk about communicating to stakeholders and team members if you need to delay a task or task-switch. You should mention asking for help or advice from appropriate leaders and peers.

Why did you leave your last position / why are you looking for a new opportunity?
This is standard stuff, see "exit statement". I ask it and then I poke at the answer a bit to see if I get a negative or non-linear response, which can be very informative.

On your resume you mention "skill X" as a particular strength. Please give me a specific example of using that skill.
Another STAR question, typically aimed at something that did not already get covered by previous questions.

What drew you to apply to our opportunity? What three elements would make a role with us rewarding and successful for you?

  • Does the candidate understand the basic, publicly available facts about the company, product, and environment?
  • Does the candidate have realistic expectations about the position?
  • Can I offer the candidate the level of challenge and reward that they expect?

Here are some similar questions that were not part of my routine, but which I have been asked during my current job search:

Give an example of risk that you had to take. Why did you decide to take the risk?
I haven’t got a good STAR here. YMMV. I had to go with the less-satisfying "I try to avoid risks and when I do take them I have fallback plans." which felt unsatisfying. More work required!

How do you keep team members involved and motivated? How do you help each team member to feel important?
Here I talked about the importance of ongoing communication and recognition for success, and about paying attention to what everyone says and asking them for their opinions.

Provide an example of a situation where you had to resolve a disagreement or a difference of opinion.
This was asked in multiple interviews in different forms. It is a straight-up STAR question, which you should have a good STAR for that shows your creative ideas and/or negotiating skills. Remember to close the STAR with a good, positive result.

Have you ever had to fire someone? What did you do? What was the result?
Obviously this is a management-focused question, it was asked in multiple interviews, though no one had a strong follow-up. I have the misfortune to have strong STARs here due to numerous termination events so I could answer this one at length.

Describe a time where you had to fight for an improvement or change that you felt was important.
Another straight-up STAR question, asked in multiple interviews.

Tell me about a time when you had to support a decision you did not agree with.
This one is tricky if you’re not prepared because it would be easy to go negative, which you want to avoid. Make it a chance to redirect to a positive STAR about how you were able to succeed in a new circumstance.

Tell me about a situation when you had to make a quick decision without all the facts.
This was asked in multiple interviews too. The best I could do with this was to talk about reacting to customer demands with a promise of remediation, but I still need to develop a better and more confident STAR to answer this one.

I hope that this helps!

To be updated as interviews progress....

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