A behavioral interview at a big tech company can be nerve-racking. Knowing the questions you may face can help.

If you're applying for a job at a tech company, you know how the interview process is likely to go. First, there'll be an online screening process, then a phone interview with HR. If that goes well, there'll be a technical interview to see if you have the right skills for the job. If you do, there's a final interview, the behavioral interview, where your prospective new employer decides if you're a good fit for the company's culture.

The behavioral interview can be truly challenging. Unlike the technical interview, there are no right answers. The interviewer is trying to see into your soul, to determine what kind of person you are and where your values lie. No wonder most job candidates find this process particularly uncomfortable.

To help you prepare for your next behavioral interview, Pathrise, a "career accelerator" that offers training and consultation to people seeking jobs at tech companies, has assembled a list of 47 actual questions specific companies have asked during behavioral interviews. It also provides some excellent guidelines for answering them.

You can find the full list here. These are some questions the biggest-name employers are asking:

  1. Amazon: Describe the project that you had the most trouble with. What would you have done differently?​
  2. Apple: Talk about a time where you had to make a decision in a lot of ambiguity.
  3. Dropbox: What was the biggest takeaway from your current job that you'll carry with you throughout your career?​
  4. Expedia: How do you keep your team engaged?
  5. Facebook: Give an example of how you set goals and achieve them​.
  6. Google: Tell me about a time when you solved a conflict at work.​
  7. HubSpot: Give examples of situations where you have shown effectiveness, empathy, adaptability, and humbleness.
  8. IBM: Why do you want to change jobs? Why now?
  9. LinkedIn: Share an example of how you were able to motivate employees or co-workers.
  10. Microsoft: What do you do when the requirement from the stakeholder is vague?
  11. Netflix: How do you make a case for your vision and opinion?
  12. Oracle: How do you stay organized?
  13. Pinterest: Give an example of an occasion when you used logic to solve a problem.
  14. Salesforce: What do you do if you don't know the solution for a certain problem and nobody can help at the moment?
  15. Slack: Have you handled a difficult situation with a coworker? How?
  16. Spotify: How do you experiment?
  17. TripAdvisor: What websites do you spend a lot of time on?
  18. Uber: What do you do if you disagree with your boss?
  19. VMware: Talk about a time that you failed.​

What's the best way to answer questions like these? To begin with, consider that at a time when unemployment is at a historic low and jobs--especially at tech companies--are plentiful, you may not be doing yourself any favors if you go to work at a company whose culture doesn't fit your values or your personality. The likelihood is high that if you kept looking, you would find a job at a place that you'd like better. With that in mind, you might want to answer with enough honesty to give the interviewer some idea of who you are as a person so that both of you can make an informed decision. 

With that in mind, here are Pathrise's tips for how to ace a behavioral interview:

1. Follow the protocol. 

"Every behavioral interview has the same structure: introduce yourself, resume deep dive, specific questions, why this company, your questions," according to the Pathrise blog. With that in mind, you should be ready with a one-to-two-minute introduction. It should cover your education, work experience, some projects you've worked on and provide a little information as to why you want to work at this company.

Later on, when you answer that why-this-company question more fully, it goes without saying that you shouldn't mention salary or perks. Instead, begin by talking about the company's mission or product, and then its approach.

2. Be succinct, specific, and high-level.

Being succinct and high-level may seem to be at odds with being specific, but you can do both at once. Pathrise offers this as an example:

"There were 3 core features that I implemented to help us. At a high level, they were a revamped landing page, social media sharing, and referrals. Happy to go in more detail on any one of them if you'd like. With these features, we reached 100,000 views in a week."

You're always better off having the interviewer ask you for more detail than overloading him or her with more information than is needed or wanted.

3. Mix "I" and "we."

If you say "I" too often, you don't sound like a team player; if you say "we" too often, you can leave the interviewer wondering what you actually did. So use both, and talk about both your team's accomplishments and your own specific contributions. Pathrise also suggests you talk about how much you learned and how grateful you are to avoid sounding like you're bragging.

4. Never be negative.

In a behavioral interview, you are likely to be asked about a challenging time, a failure, a conflict, or other difficult episodes from your past. Even when talking about something that went truly wrong, find a way to stay positive, Pathrise advises. So let's say you launched a product and it flopped. Instead of putting it that way, say something like, "We introduced the product and many of our customers loved it. However, to get significant adoption, we would have had to offer it at a price point that was unprofitable. So we decided to retire the project but were able to incorporate some of its best features as premium add-ons to a different, well-established product."

No matter how much they make you talk about failure, you can always focus on the positive--the valuable lessons you learned and how you applied them next time, if nothing else. Do that, and chances are your behavioral interview will lead to an attractive offer.

Published on: Jun 24, 2019
Like this column? Sign up to subscribe to email alerts and you'll never miss a post.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.