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Ace Google's behavioral interview: Questions and tips for coders

While contradictory, it makes perfect sense: Some of the most important qualities we evaluate in tech professionals aren’t technical. After all, what help would your knowledge of libraries and languages be if you can’t cooperate with your colleagues? Acing the behavioral interview is essential to landing your dream developer job. Today we’ll talk about acing behavioral interview questions at one of the most desirable tech companies: Google.

Google is notoriously committed to hiring people who are a strong cultural fit for their company. Your level of cultural fit is what Google calls your “Googleyness.” Google takes their behavioral interviews seriously. If you take your interview prep just as seriously, you’ll not only pass with flying colors at Google, but you’ll be well-positioned to ace behavioral interviews at other companies too, such as Amazon and Microsoft.

We’ll cover:

Why you need non-tech skills for your tech job

Answering technical questions regarding data structures and algorithms is important. But every big tech company is driven by non-tech values. When you’re a software engineer candidate, it’s not enough to prepare for coding and system design interviews. After all, other candidates may have the same technical qualifications as yourself. You need to demonstrate that your personality and soft skills make you a strong culture fit for the company as well.

Technical interviews assess whether you’re a good fit for a company’s technology. Behavioral interviews assess whether you’re a good fit for a company’s people.

You may be productive when sitting at your desktop. But when it’s time for code reviews, collaboration, or a hydration break in the office kitchen, your people skills will be important to the success and morale of your coworkers and team members too.

What Google looks for in behavioral interviews

Part of Google’s interview process, like the coding interview, aims to unearth your technical skills. On the other hand, Google’s behavioral interview assesses what they call your “Googleyness.” When you’re looking at a job description, you might be excited about the particular details of the role, or perhaps the opportunity to work with your favorite Google product. But to consider your “Googleyness,” you’ll want to step back and relate Google’s company vision to your core values as a person.

“If we hire you based on your skills, we’ll get a skilled employee. If we hire you based on your skills, and your enduring passions, and your distinct experiences and perspectives, we’ll get a Googler. That's what we want.” - From Google’s How We Hire page.

To show that you’re a “Googler,” think about how you align with Google’s core values and philosophy. All the work you do at Google will connect to one of these core values, which include user-centered design and web democracy.

Here are some qualities that hiring managers associate with “Googleyness”:

  • Positivity
  • Sense of humor
  • Respect and inclusivity
  • Lifelong learning
  • Humbleness
  • Supportive team player
  • Conscientiousness and ethics

In addition to your “Googleyness,” you’ll want to highlight your unique values, passions, and standards for success too. Show your hiring managers the traits that make you stand out from the rest, and relate them to Google’s values whenever you can.

Top Google behavioral interview questions

As much as we’d like to offer common interview questions and answers, your answers are unique to your experience. Here, we’ll cover some questions you should prepare to answer, and some considerations to help guide your responses.

Behavioral interview questions are open-ended, so it’s helpful to have a structured approach to answering them. One recommended strategy for answering behavioral interview questions is the STAR method. STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action, Result. Use this technique to describe the situation you were in, the task you were working on, the action you took, and the resulting outcome.

Describe your work style.

This question shows your self-awareness and gives others an idea of what it’s like working with you.

Some elements to consider in crafting your response are:

  • Organizational skills: How you multitask and prioritize, the specific tools and techniques that you leverage to get the job done
  • Individual work vs team work: How you balance your individual tasks while remaining a communicative and collaborative team player
  • Project management skills: How you allocate your time between everyday tasks and long-term projects, how you ensure you meet project deadlines
  • Efficiency and attention to detail: How you get work done quickly without losing accuracy

How do you handle conflict?

Conflict happens in all areas of life, including the workplace. If you’re having trouble thinking of an example from your past work experiences, remember that it can be as tiny as a difference of opinion between you and a team member. You want to highlight respectful behaviors that contribute toward conflict resolution.

Here are some prompts to get you thinking about how you would respond:

  • What is your communication style during a conflict? How does this tie to your values?
  • Do you hear the other’s perspective on the matter? Do they feel heard by you when you respond?
  • When it comes to personal opinions in the workplace, are you able to be diplomatic and compartmentalize and filter your feelings and thoughts?
  • How do you steer the situation toward conflict resolution? > A sense of humor is a trademark of “Googleyness,” and is great for conflict resolution.

Tell me about a time you led a project.

This question aims to understand your leadership and project management skills. It’s important to highlight how you managed time, communicated with others, and worked calmly under pressure.

Implementing the STAR method, a sample answer could look like this:

  • Situation: I recently owned a development project that involved collaboration with developers across time zones.
  • Task: The aim was to create a software product for a client with several requirements on a tight deadline.
  • Action: I asked my team of developers to send me daily updates on their progress throughout the project timeline. I created a shared channel where we could communicate our roadblocks along the way.
  • Result: In the end, my project was completed on-time. Our shared and constant communication helped utilize our team’s collective strengths to resolve problems quickly, boost team morale, and minimize stress.

Be sure to practice answering your interview questions out loud. If you can, ask a friend or family member to sit with you for a mock interview.

Tell me about a time you had to take hard feedback.

You may have been proud of your project, but you received feedback asking you to change several things. While it’s great to take pride in your work, it’s also important to respond to feedback gracefully.

Keeping the STAR method in mind, reflect on a previous experience where you handled feedback. It could’ve been about your performance, your communication style, or a deliverable you executed. Be sure your answer shows that you’re a respectful communicator, a good listener, and that you’re flexible and responsive to constructive criticism.

Interview answers are more impactful and believable when you give real-world examples. Even if the interview question doesn’t prompt you to “Give an example,” it’s a good idea to connect to your previous experience whenever you can. If you don’t have much work experience, you can also share examples from your time as a student.

Tell me about a time you improved a process.

Think about a time where you identified a process that could be improved. Remember that the scope of this answer can range from your individual work process to larger processes affecting other stakeholders.

When discussing how you improved a process, consider highlighting these points, if relevant:

  • You considered the best interest of stakeholders and colleagues
  • You monitored the result of the new process, and adjusted according to feedback
  • You were enthusiastic about the opportunity to improve process for yourself and your team

Wrapping up and next steps

Congratulations! You’re one step closer to your dream job at Google. While behavioral interviews can be nerve-wracking, the right amount of preparation will ensure you come out of the interview round with “Googley” colors. Now that you’ve got the tools and tricks to ace your behavioral interview, you’ll want to be sure you check your boxes for the coding interview and system design interview as well.

To master all things interview-related, check out Interview Prep with Educative. Here you’ll find company-specific interview guides, coding interview tutorials with sample answers, as well as courses and blog posts to help you ace your interviews and land your dream job.

Happy learning!

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