One of the best ways to prepare for behavioral interviews is to be proactive and play offense. How do you achieve this? In short, you should leave nothing to chance.
Leaving nothing to chance means you put in place a vetting process to ensure that the role and company are aligned with your goals and you’re prepared to seize the opportunity when it arrives. This is a continuous cycle since when you’re defining the role you want to go after, you’re already preparing; and as you prepare you know more about the industry, company, and people, and so you’re able to make more informed decisions, i.e. you’re vetting to make sure the opportunity is the right one.
This cycle shouldn’t feel like two separate motions, but a continuous flow. You’re always jumping from vetting to preparing and from preparing to vetting. This can only happen if you’re thinking ahead or, in other words, if you’re being proactive and playing offense.
Even though this is a continuous cycle we can establish three steps to help follow it.
Defining your goals is about deciding what you’re going after. It’s simpler said than done though since it requires clear thinking, deliberation, and planning. Plus, to define your goals you need to know about yourself, which is not an easy endeavor.
Nonetheless, using a vetting approach can help. You can find the thing that you value/ want to go after by understanding what are the things you’re not willing to give up or do. For example, you might want to work as a Product Manager at a tech startup, but you also know that you want to work for a company with values aligned with yours and a meaningful product, in a specific industry. Or you might want to be able to be home (or log off) by 6pm everyday so that you can be with your family, exercise, or simply relax. As you define your criteria and add more layers, this type of reasoning helps to define goals that are attainable for you and aligned with your aspirations, and which companies are going to support you in achieving them.
A lot has been written about defining one’s goals and career plan so we won’t go into too many details here, but if it’s helpful we do recommend “Principles” by Ray Dalio and “the Career Manifesto” by Mike Steib. The practical approach of these books stands out and that is why we believe they are good references to consider.
Assuming you were able to define your goals, it makes sense to know exactly what you are getting into when you’re preparing for an interview. That is why a thorough research, starting with the industry and down to your future team is extremely important.
Knowing the industry helps to gather the whole picture of the ecosystem the company operates in. This is important not only to perform well throughout the interview process but to understand the expected behavior of folks within that industry. Consulting and finance, for example, are known for their focus on top talent, long hours, and a desire to always achieve more. Knowing this, you should ask yourself if this is in line with your goals.
Where to find industry information? Industry information can be found in many places. Google is always a great place to start. Reading industry reports from leading research companies, annual reports from companies in the industry, and other less formal sources, like discussion forums and review websites, can provide a good enough picture. The goal is not to become an expert but to acquire a level of insight that allows you to form an opinion and to have an informed conversation with interviewers down the road
Even though industry is a good starting point, you need to know about the company too. If you can’t answer “Why company x?” you’re not playing offense and you’re setting yourself to fail. You must be able to know why you’re interested in the company you’re interviewing with. To answer that question, you should focus on the company’s history, its mission and vision, along with its values, and products/ services. You should be able to speak about these, how they resonate with you, and why you’re a good fit.
Where to find company information? Learning about the company can be done alongside the industry research. For example, when reading industry and annual reports. Leveraging online information (company website, specific review websites, other content online) probably delivers the highest ROI, but speaking to folks is also an invaluable source of information.
When you read about the company, you should keep in mind that written words don’t tell the whole story. It's important to focus on the people and culture too. Especially the people that you will work close to - manager, peers, key stakeholders, x-functionals. If you’re able to elaborate on why you’re a great fit within a particular team you’re certainly going to leave an impression on your interviewer
Where to find information about culture and people? It is difficult to learn about the company’s culture (what it’s like in reality) and its people. Luckily, today there are quite a few ways to do this. Glassdoor, for example, provides employee reviews that can be eye opening. LinkedIn is also another relevant tool that you can leverage to reach out to shared connections that work or have worked on the target company (or industry) to gain insights. If possible, another way to check the culture is to visit the company in person. Tip: if offered the role, it’s fair to ask to speak to a few members of the team or key stakeholders with the pretext of learning more about the company/ role before making a decision. In fact, some companies offer this option proactively for undecided candidates
Preparing the answers is key. As written in the “Prepping” section, having a Story Library is strategically smart and allows you to shine during the interview. We can’t recommend doing this enough. But, equally important is having questions to ask. When you’re given the opportunity to ask questions, it’s your time and you should make the most of it. Don’t waste it by not being prepared.
Ahead of the interview, create your library of questions - this is simply a list of questions to ask. When you write down your questions, it should not be done with the goal of “sounding smart” (although it’s important to avoid sounding dumb), but should be done in a natural, effortless manner to show a truthful desire to learn and know more about the company, role, or topic at hand. Good news though - plenty of questions should have organically surfaced when you investigated the industry and the company. The initial effort comes full circle!
Bonus points if you can align the questions to the interviewers. For example, if you’re meeting with the hiring manager you might ask about his/ her goals, challenges, and priorities for the team; while if you’re meeting with a cross functional partner you might ask what he/ she is looking for in a partner. Know that you’ll not be able to think of every possible question as some might only arise during the interview. That is okay and might even be a good sign. It might mean you were able to get into the specifics.
Remember too that asking questions is an opportunity to address any concerns you might still have about the role or company. Even in the final stages of the interview it’s not too late to back away if that is what feels right - interviews are two way streets. Hopefully this is not the case, since you’ve probably done a good vetting process.
Being proactive and playing offense are no more than proxies to putting the time, effort, and energy into going after it wholefully. Know that it’s hard work and ultimately it’s a personal choice - no recipe or list is going to do it if deep down inside you don’t truly want it. So do invest time upfront in finding the opportunity that is right for you, the one you really want!
Get sample interview questions & example answers from PMs and consultants at Bain, Microsoft, BCG & more. Plus, guidance on how to structure your answers!