How to Use Behavioral Interview Questions in a Technical Interview

During a job interview, digging into a candidate’s technical depth is just as important as determining cultural fit.

Recently I was looking over the shoulder of a CTO of a small, fast-paced Silicon Valley firm. He had asked me to help him polish the job responsibilities he had for a senior technical hire he wanted to make.

The responsibilities looked like this:

  • Develop and refine specification of the micro- circuitry for the digital architecture
  • Analyze performance, power and area tradeoffs, and make implementation choices
  • Work with Architecture and Design teams to ensure micro-circuitry and design is fully verified/validated across multiple platforms
  • Implement, verify, and validate the design an FPGA platform
  • Once validated, lead the design efforts to and verify the design in silicon
  • Is in tune with industry trends and contributes to consistent roadmap decisions

Once he had decided on these responsibilities, I asked him what type of questions he would ask to determine if a person could accomplish these responsibilities. To my surprise, one by one he went down the list and turned each one of them into a behavioral interview question.

Base the Behavioral Interview Questions on the Technical Responsibilities

To do what my CTO friend was able to do, one must first understand the structure of the behavioral interview question. It starts with knowing how to design a request for information in such a way that the candidate has to look into their past experience for the answer.

To create a question out of any job responsibility, add an introduction to a situation related to that responsibility.

1) The beginning or introduction

This is most often a phrase like:

  • Tell me about a time when …
  • Tell me about how …
  • Give me an example of …
  • Describe for me ho …

2) The situation

    • Develop and refine specification of the micro-circuitry for the digital architecture
    • Analyze performance, power and area tradeoffs, and make implementation choices
    • Work with Architecture and Design teams to ensure micro-circuitry and design is fully verified/validated across multiple platforms
    • Implement, verify, and validate the design an FPGA platform
    • Once validated, lead the design efforts and verify the design in silicon
    • Is in tune with industry trends and contributes to consistent roadmap decisions

By combining these two elements, my CTO friend was quickly able to construct the following questions:

  • Walk me through a time when you developed specifications of the micro-circuitry for the digital architecture.
  • Give me an example of when you have had to analyze performance, power and area tradeoffs, and make implementation choices
  • Tell me about a time when you have had to work with Architecture and Design teams to ensure micro-architecture and design is fully verified/validated across multiple platforms
  • Give me an example of a time when you have implemented, verified, and validated the design of an FPGA platform
  • Tell me about a time when once validated, you led the design efforts and verified a design in silicon
  • Describe for me how you stay in tune with industry trends and advances

Dig Deeper for More Information

When I asked my friend how effective he felt his questions were, he said they usually get him most of the information he is looking for. However, with a candidate who is not particularly talkative, he might have to dig for more information.

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He does this by asking about the problems that they were facing, the actions that they took, and the results that they achieved. Otherwise known as the PAR technique.

  1. By examining the problem the candidate was facing he can more readily understand the level of complexity they can handle.
  2. By examining the actions the candidate took he can more readily understand their capabilities and willingness to take action.
  3. By examining the results the candidate has attained, he can more readily understand their orientation toward getting results and achieving goals.

After each question, he said he listens carefully for each of these three components in their answers and asks for more information about the ones he does not hear.

He uses these examples to complete his interview evaluation form.

The Takeaway

Use the responsibilities section of the job description as a foundation for your behavioral interview questions. This can turn in any bone-dry technical interview into a useful conversation.

Simply combine an introduction with a technical responsibility and you will likely have a behavioral question.

 

image from fastasista/freedigitalphotos.net

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1 Comment on “How to Use Behavioral Interview Questions in a Technical Interview

  1. Nicely done John. It’s rarely I see a post that offers the best of what is known about behavioral interviewing and turns it into practical advice without diluting or even reversing the message. This post avoids that, offering powerfully practical steps.

    However, to really move the needle and gain the full power of behavioral interviewing science, I have concluded that removing the interviewer is the low cost high value option. Objective Interviewing deploys video interviewing to ask GoldStandard(tm) behavior description questions scored via natural language analytics. You can learn more about it here > https://app.emaze.com/@AZLTRQQF/objective-gamification?fullscreen

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