Situational | Hypothetical | Resume-based
Behavioral interview questions exist so that companies can evaluate how you’re likely to perform in the role based on your previous experiences.
These interviews are about you - about what you’ve done and/ or how you behave in certain situations. They tend to be less prescriptive and more open ended than the typical case interviews - i.e. more ambiguous/ hard to evaluate. Nonetheless, they are extremely important for you (and the company) to get right.
Behavioral interview questions are conducted by a peer, hiring manager, and/ or cross functional partner. There are three main types of behavioral interview questions:
Let's get into these different types a bit more.
Situational interview questions are very specific and related to actual situations faced on the role. These are the typical “tell me about a time…” type of questions that reference your past experiences. They are meant to assess how you behave in/ deal with certain situations. The actual focus can vary, but the context is clearly laid out.
Hypothetical interview questions are also related to the role, but are set up at a more strategic level. These are less specific, but they always tie to a trait or behavior that is being assessed. They come in the shape of “if” scenarios.
Finally, resume-triggered interview questions are based on what is written on your resume. This can be done in a narrow approach to understand what’s in your resume, but more likely than not it also touches on the why, the outcomes and, perhaps more importantly, the learnings.
Another form of behavioral interviews are the cultural fit interviews. These are super (and increasingly) important. These are typically not related with situations on the role (although they can), but are focused on assessing your overall fit with the company (i.e. not just the role). Do remember that any interviewer, at any moment, is likely to be judging your cultural fit with the company.
In essence these are a version of the famous “airport test”, where the interviewer asks themselves “would I want to be stuck in an airport with this person?". Interviewers are trying to answer a similar question - “would this person be a good fit for our company’s culture?”
These interviews are usually conducted by folks outside of the team to ensure there’s no bias towards the same profile. Two great examples come from Google with the Googliness assessment, focused on culture, collaboration, and overall team work. And Gusto, with the Watermelon interview, where all candidates are interviewed by a member of the “watermelon team” and assessed based on a scorecard that is referenced by the hiring committee before making an offer.
These cultural fit interviews are specific to each company so there’s no one size fits all approach - each company has its own unique culture and tries to hire people accordingly. There’s no ultimate guide for cultural questions, but one good rule of thumb is for you to research the company, people and culture to see if it aligns with your goals. If it does, how excited are you with the prospect of working at that company, working on that product or service, within that environment, and alongside those people? If most sound great, then it’s likely a good bet to continue the interview process. Otherwise, there are many companies out there that might be a better fit and time is better spent investing in those.
Understanding the range of different behavioral interview questions - from straightforward role questions to cultural fit questions - is key for success in your interview journey.
Knowing that behavior is assessed through multiple people, formats, and continuously is why it is important for you to never relax too much. Thinking the “hardest part is over” just because you’re interviewing for cultural fit for example, is a mistake that can be costly.
Behavioral interviews are increasingly more important and, even though less tangible, these should be as much of a focus as the other more tangible parts of the interview process.
Get sample interview questions & example answers from PMs and consultants at Bain, Microsoft, BCG & more. Plus, guidance on how to structure your answers!