Some of today’s most sought-after jobs are at a handful of big tech companies known as FAANG (Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, and Google). These companies receive thousands of applications per year, and they have their pick of top talent. Believe it or not, stellar technical/business skills and experience aren’t enough to guarantee a FAANG offer... These are merely prerequisites. What makes or breaks a candidate is their culture fit with the company's core values.
Companies test for culture fit (as well as a whole range of interpersonal and professional skills) in what's known as the behavioral interview. Here are a few behavioral questions asked at Google, Facebook, and Amazon in recent weeks:
- Tell me about a time you convinced someone to change their mind.
- What project that you led are you most proud of and why? Watch an expert answer this question here.
- Tell me about a time you were not satisfied with the status quo. Watch an answer to this question here.
Chances are, if you're aspiring to work at one of the big tech companies, you'll be applying to many. So, how can you best prepare for a variety of behavioral interviews, all testing for different qualities? To help you do just that, we wrote this handy guide on how to fit into FAANG and ace any behavioral interview question that comes your way! Let's get to it!
What are Behavioral Interview Questions?
These questions aim to test your behavior, specifically how you'll act in the role you're interviewing for. Often, interviewers will ask about your previous experience and performance, including not-so-pleasant work experiences and even your failures. Here are some common buckets you may be asked about:
- How you work in a team
- How you handle conflict and/or stress
- Times you took initiative
- How you solve problems and adapt to change
You're virtually certain to be asked some of these, so let’s prepare.
How to Answer Behavioral Interview Questions
First, Study Your Target Company's Core Values
What you will see in common across all the FAANG companies (and most startups) is that they have formally expressed a set of core values that they expect employees to embody. Studying a company's core values first will help direct your behavioral interview prep, as there are many ways tell your stories; emphasize aspects that your target company values when practicing your responses, and you'll do it naturally in the interview.
Also, think about how you personally align with these values before your interview. Some companies, like Airbnb, will ask you how you embody their values in your personal life as well as professional, so have a few anecdotes ready. And remember, most behavioral questions assess how you hold up against these values. It can be surprisingly hard to find these, but if they're not listed on your target company's careers page, they'll probably be found along with company history, on an "about us" page, or even hidden in investor relations. Here are a few that we run into often:
Next, Map Your Stories to Core Values Using the STAR Method
Before we dive into actual question-and-answer practice, it's good to pull together a list of stories that you could tell to show how you embody each of your target company's core values. This can be a great time-saver, as you won't know in advance what questions you'll be asked – but one powerful anecdote can serve as an answer to many different questions.
Behavioral interview questions are complex and open-ended, so candidates can really benefit from frameworks that lend structure to answers. Hit the important points, and you're done - no room for rambling!
You may find success using the STAR Method, a popular interview question framework well-suited for behavioral questions. STAR is a four-part framework with the following structure:
- Situation. First, define and explain the situation. Describe the company where the situation occurred along with the task involved.
- Task. Then, provide more details regarding the task itself.
- Action. Now, outline the action or actions you chose to complete the task or provide a solution. This part of the STAR method is often the most important part of your answer, as it’s your opportunity to display your domain expertise, decision-making, and initiative.
- Results. Finally, elaborate on the results of your efforts. Clearly define how your chosen actions lead to demonstrable results, and include data if you can.
To give you a better idea of how to use STAR during your FAANG interview, here is a real-world example answer to the question "Tell me about a time you made a mistake."
Note: This is a hard question! In addition to culture fit, interviewers are looking for honesty and authenticity (so don't expect to get away with a "I work too hard"-type answer) as well as evidence that you are able to analyze your decisions and the effects your actions have on others, learn from mistakes, and apply your learnings going forward.
- Situation: "There was a time when the release of our in-house product was 2 days away, and we were scrambling to meet the deadline.
- Task: In the midst of all of that, with time and resource crunch at our hands, we discovered a product bug that would impact the customers once released. The date was already committed to the customer, and there were business implications to which we were not allowed to extend the deadline.
- Action: Because of the time crunch, I rushed my engineers to provide a workaround to the bug fix without externally testing and validation which we would normally do. The impact was low. We decided to pre-assume that we should be fine with only internal testing and acceptance was completed. When the product was released with the new version, the first customer that it was implemented on was unable to run ad-hoc reports in the tool, it was escalated, and many hours were spent by support teams and operations team to understand where could this be coming from. Eventually, we discovered it was the rushed patch fix we had applied to the release that was causing permission issues and eventually disabling the feature for the end-user to run ad hoc reporting.
- Result: We quickly engaged product teams, resolved the issue, tested it with our internal teams (via external access), and were able to roll the release out to all customers."
A follow-up to this question might center around how this person carried this lesson forward. STAR is all about keeping answers focused and brief, but it's not a bad idea to briefly summarize lessons learned and what you've done with your newfound wisdom after you discuss results.
In summary, the reason STAR is so powerful is that it helps candidates:
- Stay on track in the face of vague questions that are practically designed to induce rambling.
- Summarize a complex situation in a way that highlights their capabilities and contributions without being inauthentic.
- Show they’re results driven, by offering lots of opportunities to provide data points.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Now that you've done your core values homework and you've got a list of STAR-formatted stories to tell, try your hand at answering some of the below questions asked this month at Google, Facebook, and Amazon.
Google Behavioral Interview Questions
- How do you sell an idea to senior management? If you use slides, what would the content include?
- Tell me about a time when you worked on a project with a tight deadline. See our expert answer to this question here.
- Tell me about a time you had to convince engineers to implement a particular feature.
- An important feature of a product is not working on the day of the conference you are releasing it. What will you do?
- Tell me about a time when you made a decision based on data and you were ultimately wrong.
Facebook Behavioral Interview Questions
- When you didn't have enough resources, how did you deliver products? Watch an answer to this question here.
- How do you rally the team around an idea and get buy-in?
- Tell me about a time you received negative feedback and how you dealt with it.
Amazon Behavioral Interview Questions
Note: Amazon's interview process is a little bit unconventional compared to other FAANG companies. You'll need to learn the company's leadership principles. Learn more about the process here.
- Tell me about a time you had to make a decision to make short-term sacrifices for long-term gains. Watch an answer to this question here.
- Tell me about a decision you made based on your instincts. Listen to our co-founder and former Google PM answer this question.
- Tell me about a time you improved a complex process. Watch an answer to this question here.
- Tell me about a time when you raised the bar. Watch an answer to this question here.
- Tell me about a time you were not satisfied with the status quo. Watch an answer to this question here.
Tips for a Successful Behavioral Interview
Passive and Active Check-ins
There's no denying that much of the success in a behavioral interview comes with a natural one-on-one connection candidates make with their interviewers. Building rapport is key. But, of course, this is easier said than done. However, candidates can use passive and active check-ins to help them stay aligned with their interviewer throughout the behavioral portions. To do so, candidates merely need to check in with their interviewer from time to time. This way, they can confirm you have not gone off-track. It also gives the interviewer a chance to re-direct the question if need be.
Experiment with Other Answer Frameworks
While the STAR Method is an incredibly versatile behavioral interview framework, you may find that it is not necessarily the best for all questions... or you may just want to try something different. Lots of other options exist! Don't feel as though you need to pigeonhole every answer into this framework, especially once you're answering follow-ups which might take you into hypothetical territory where you're justifying your approach. One great framework for making a point supported by three different sub-arguments is called the Triangle Method. This method aims at keeping your answer succinct & making an impression on your interviewer.
Practice Interviewing Beforehand: Both Alone and with Peers
Whether you have completed dozens of interviews in the past or you're just starting out, it is always a great exercise to go through some practice interviews ahead of time. This could consist simply of reading some sample answers out loud to yourself or completed full mock interviews. If you're interested in some mock interview prep, you can use our peer-to-peer platform to be matched with one of the thousands of Exponent members to do just that.
Nail Your Behavioral Interviews at FAANG with Exponent
Interviewing at FAANG companies can be exhilarating and terrifying, and acing these interviews is no easy feat. So, to help give you the best foundation possible, we have developed many Interview Prep Courses for roles in Product Management, Software Engineering, Data Science, Product Marketing Management, Technical Program Management, Product Design, and more. Alongside those, Exponent also offers interview coaching sessions by many industry insiders at these very companies. Check out the list of available coaches here and book a session today!