Interview Prep Deep Dive - Behavioral
One of the most "under-prepared" product interviews
In the Interview Prep Deep Dive series, I’ve covered:
Feel free to revisit! In this post, I’m going to dive into the next focus area: Behavioral Interviews. In simply 3 sections:
🍭What is a Behavioral Interview?
🔍What Are Interviewer’s Expectations?
📘How Do You Best Prepare?
🍭What is a Behavioral Interview
It is the specific interview style that focuses on your actual experience and real “behaviors” as a product manager, in (common or unique) key scenarios.
Some companies name it differently, such as “Leadership & Drive”, or “Situational Interview”. Or there might not even be a name, but with behavioral style interview questions blended into other focus area interviews.
The starting formats are commonly seen as follows:
Tell me about a time when…
Do you have experience with…
How do you deal with…
Which requires you to not only mention but dive deep into your related actual past experience, and explain your approaches. Don’t be caught off guard if it doesn’t start exactly the same ways.
Like any other interviews, expect a behavioral interview to be highly interactive as well. Expect back and forth conversations between you and the interviewers, where you could be asked to selectively dig into a specific part of your story.
Think of it as a combination of a job interview + a “regular conversational” interview.
A job interview in that it does test your qualification and match with the specific job role and the company you interview for
A conversational interview, like a celebrity going on The Tonight Show interviewed by the host, it’s meant to be a good informational conversation as well (OK maybe not as entertaining…).
🔍What Are Interviewer’s Expectations
Of course, the interviewers want to understand your “key behaviors” as a PM. But what does it mean? Let’s just say the expectations are primarily 4 things: Communication, Effectiveness, Culture & Value Fit, and Actual experience.
Communication: Do you communicate clearly, concisely and structurally? Are you a good story teller? Can you articulate something that the interviewers are not familiar with (e.g. your product, the technical concept, the business, etc.) in a way that’s so easy to understand?
Effectiveness: Are you effective as a PM in major phases of the product life cycle? E.g. your ability to influence your team, align stakeholders, resolve conflicts, unblock your team, handle project delay, etc. etc.
Culture & Value Fit: Beyond effectiveness. Is the way you deal with specific situations align with company’s core values and what they want in their employees? E.g. yes you “effectiveness” got a decision made or launched a product in time, but did you do it collaboratively and respectfully, or were you a total jerk and burnt every bridge?
Actual Experience: bottom line, do you really have the experience you said you had? Are you being truthful by being able to articulate and elaborate all the details that were poked, or did you make them up?
📘How Do You Best Prepare
First of all, let me start from 3 principles:
Principle #1: Do NOT under prepare: Sound sure enough? Well I can tell you how frequently I see candidates fail this interview because they under estimate it. I get it, this feels like an interview you are supposed to just show up, relax, and do well. In reality, it’s harder than you think to search the memory and come up with the right story on the spot for a specific question. Not to mention that getting the right story is only 20% of the game, and you still have to hold yourself together and remember to communicate well, and respond intelligently.
Principle #2: Cache stories upfront: Continue what’s said above, you want to reserve your live energy during the interview for communicating super well, and not waste it on searching your memory. So the best way is to prepare good enough and good amount of stories before the interviews (more on this below).
Principle #3: Tell a story AND have a conversation: Step into the interview being mentally ready to switch between two modes: Storytelling and Conversations. You start from story telling on a question asked, and then you immediately switch into being conversational, meaning that you stop to listen attentively, see where interviewer is going, follow along and respond in a targeted fashion.
Now lets talk about 1) Pre-work, 2) Story, 3) Structure, 4) Response
Before preparing your stories and fit them into structure, you want to do your homework so you will have better educated guesses on what you might be asked about, and what they might want to hear. You want to research:
The company. Pay attention to their advertised culture and core values. What types of employees do they say they want to hire? How do they say they operate? What do they value the most?
The job description. For this specific role, among all the PM qualifications out there, does the JD highlight or stress on any specific qualities?
The past interview questions. Try to search online and see if there are questions shared by past candidates. Get just a sample of what was asked.
Now you get a sense of what to focus on. Start preparing for your stories. Look back in time across all your current and past experiences, including direct PM experiences (preferred for sure), and non-PM experiences that might be related.
The focus areas to prepare stories for obviously depend on what you find out from the pre-work. But I see the following most frequent “buckets” of questions that are the most common across the companies, (absolutely non-exhaustive, just to give you a good sample):
Conflicts and disagreements
Drive and ownership
Motivate and rally teams
Deal with ambiguity
Deal with low performer
I can go into each one at length, but you should get a good sense of the key categories. Make sure you prepare at least one story for each categories. 2 would be best if possible just because it’s usually best not to repeat the same story.
What makes a good story?
A true story (not a made up)
What you remember and speak to very well
What’s directly relevant to the specific category
What YOU play a critical role in
What can best demonstrate the desired quality in you
Write them down, by the category bucket, just with simple descriptions so you know what the experience was. Now move on to structure.
Once you have the stories, now it’s time to fit each one of them into a good narrative structure.
You might have heard the well-known “S.T.A.R” framework: :Situation, Task, Action, Result. It’s a good framework and feel free to make it yours if you’d like. I just want to make sure you’re clear about the key elements you have to cover:
The scenario (or situation), in a clear, concise, and easy to understand way. Only mention just enough context and details that are relevant to the topic and the rest of your story.
What YOU did specifically as a PM. Not what your team did, not what others did. What did YOU do to deal with the situation at hand?
The outcome (or result), after you did what you did. Was it positive, was it negative? Again be concise and specific, and mention the outcome that matters. (how does that impact your team, your product, your users, your business. Not your mood, how you felt, etc.)
What did you learn from this? This is the most overlooked. Regardless of the scenarios or the outcomes, you have to have learnt something valuable. What was it? How did it help you become a better PM?
Just like all other interview types, be structured, but don’t sound like a robot. (how does a robot sound like? Step 1: situation. Step 2: Task, Step 3: Action, Step 4: Result, Step 5: Fall asleep…hello? Are you still with me??”).
OK you’ve delivered your narrative in a structure in a concise minute or two. Now, like I mentioned, switch into conversation mode. It’s NOT time for the next question yet. Open your ears, listen up, and be prepared to respond.
You want to pay attention to a few things:
Interviewer’s reaction. Does interview seem to be content with what you said? Does she nod her head or thank you for your story? Or does she look confused, puzzled, unconvinced, or bored? Adjust your next response accordingly.
Interviewer’s question. Listen attentively (again) to every word and make sure you’re clear where she’s double clicking into. Ask her to clarify her questions if you’re unclear, before you launch into response.
Your own status. Check in with yourself. How are you feeling at this point of the interview? Do you still feel as confident as in the beginning of the interview? Do you feel more nervous? Do you find yourself rambling? Do you catch yourself being defensive toward interviewer’s questions at you? Pause, take a deep breath, calibrate your state of mind, and then proceed.
Your responses, just like your story, needs to be clear and concise as well. And importantly it has to answer what the interviewer specifically asked for.
Follow interviewer’s lead to have (or enjoy) and wrap the conversation. And then move on to the next question!
That’s about it for my behavioral interview guide! Just like other guides, it’s based on all my experience as a candidate, an interviewer, and as a coach. I wouldn’t share what hasn’t been well tested and validated. But just like any other guide written by anyone, it shouldn’t the only way to best prepare for the interviews. So while I hope the above is helpful, I do want you to read it with a grain of salt, and come up with your own approach that’s best for you and only you!
As always, I’m always here to help! If you’re interested in 1:1 coaching, contact me ✉️.
Or if you just want to ask a question, share your experience, give me your feedback, contact me also without hesitation!
Be on the look out for the next post in the Interview Prep Deep Dive series.