Advice > Software engineering

11 most-asked software engineer behavioral interview questions (+ answers)

By Tom Parry on September 29, 2023 How we wrote this article
male software engineer in video call with female SWE recruiter

Below is a list of 51 behavioral interview questions that were asked at Google, Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft, Airbnb, or LinkedIn.

We identified these questions by analyzing a dataset of over 300 Glassdoor interview reports that were posted by software engineers interviewing at those companies.

The first thing you'll want to know is which of these questions are the most common. We've picked out 11 of the most typical questions and explained how you should approach each, with example answers included.

Let’s get started.

Click here to practice with ex-interviewers from top companies

11 most-asked software engineer behavioral interview questions.

The behavioral questions below come up very frequently in software engineer interviews. Prepare an answer for each and you'll be well on the way to acing the behavioral part of your interviews.

Click on a question below if you want to skip straight to it.

  1. Tell me about a time you worked well within a team
  2. Tell me about a time you dealt with conflict on a team. How did you solve it?
  3. Tell me about a time you failed at work
  4. Why do you want to work here?
  5. Walk me through your resume and relevant experience
  6. Tell me about an interesting project you’ve worked on recently
  7. Tell me about a time you faced a really hard problem / a challenge at work
  8. Tell me about a time you showed leadership
  9. Tell me about a time you had to meet a tight deadline
  10. Tell me about your biggest weakness
  11. Tell me about a time you had to prioritize projects under pressure

You'll see that we've structured most of the example answers using an answer framework. You can read more about that in Section 3 below.

1. Tell me about a time you worked well within a team

This is a very common question for software engineers. You might want to look back through your resume and use one of your most impressive achievements as the basis of your answer to this. After all, it's very likely you worked in a team to achieve it.

Your answer should showcase your collaboration and communication skills, not just your technical skills. Show that you're a team player but don’t forget to include specific actions that you took.

As always with "Tell me about a time" type questions, it can help if you craft your "story" using a framework, as we've done in the example below.

Example answer:

(Situation) 

"In my previous software engineering role, our team was tasked with developing a real-time data analytics platform for a major client. 

(Problem) 

The project had a tight timeline and required integrating multiple complex systems, including data ingestion, processing, and visualization components.

(Solution) 

To be as efficient as possible, we adopted an Agile development approach. We held daily stand-up meetings to discuss progress, address challenges, and prioritize tasks. I took on the role of the Scrum Master, facilitating the meetings and making sure that everyone had a clear understanding of their responsibilities.

One particular challenge we faced was the need to integrate a third-party data visualization library with our custom backend solution. I took the initiative to organize a brainstorming session with the front-end and back-end developers, UX designers, and data scientists.

Together we explored different integration approaches and identified potential roadblocks.

(Impact) 

We were successful in delivering the real-time data analytics platform within the given timeline. What’s more, the client was delighted with the platform’s user-friendly interface, real-time insights, and advanced visualizations.

(Lessons)

This experience taught me how important communication skills are in my role. As a software engineer, I had previously thought that the most important skill I had was my ability as a programmer. But this project taught me that by communicating well with other people and other teams, I could have a far greater impact in the company than I could just through writing code.”

2. Tell me about a time you dealt with conflict on a team. How did you solve it?

This is a real favorite among interviewers across all industries. Conflicts can cause real problems, especially if they’re not dealt with properly. However, conflicts can also be constructive if they’re centered on work. In many industries strong differences of opinion are an everyday occurrence.

The interviewer will want to see that you have the empathy to understand both sides of a conflict and the communication skills to solve it. The interviewer wants to see that even though you may not be applying for a management role, you're going to have a positive impact on how the team works together.

Example answer:

(Situation)

“Unfortunately I’ve found that conflicts can often arise from clashing personalities. When I was at a fintech startup, one of the new engineers, Rob, told me that he had a hard time working with another coworker, Benji. 

(Problem)

He explained that Benji was consistently rude and demeaning to him, to the extent that Rob was ready to change teams or even leave the company.

(Solution)

I'd been at the company a while and had a good relationship with everyone on the team, including Benji. So with Rob’s permission, I brought this up with Benji in private the next day. Benji admitted that he likes to joke around and tease his coworkers, but that none of it was ill-intended and he didn’t feel that he had done anything wrong.

I encouraged Benji to speak to Rob directly and suggested that he should apologize for the misunderstanding. I gently suggested that he might want to keep his interactions with Rob more matter-of-fact in the future.

(Impact)

Benji said he'd do what I suggested and thanked me for the heads up. I checked in with Rob in the weeks following and he reported that his working relationship with Ben had greatly improved.

(Lessons)

The experience showed me that people can perceive the same situation very differently, and often the key to solving conflicts is simply talking it through and listening actively. I also learned that even though I wasn't in a management position, I could still have a really positive impact on team harmony and in this case, avoid what could have been a really negative situation.”

For more help on answering this question, read our specific guide: 5 ways to answer "Tell me about a time you had a conflict"

3. Tell me about a time you failed at work

Every engineer makes mistakes. The key to acing this question is to show that you’re the kind of SWE who owns their mistakes and sees failure as a learning opportunity.

Don’t shy away from talking about a real failure, or an important mistake you made. That will be far more powerful than choosing something inconsequential. 

Explain what went wrong, why it went wrong, and how the experience has helped you become better at your job.

Example answer:

(Situation)

“Last year I was working on a project where I had to implement a new online booking feature for a client. I had a tight deadline and was working under pressure to get it done. I was in such a hurry that I didn’t take as much time as I normally do to check my code for bugs. 

(Problem)

Unfortunately, it did have a bug and it caused a lot of follow-on problems on the client’s website.

(Solution)

I tried to solve it but I quickly started to feel a bit out of my depth, so I decided to ask for help from my manager as well as a more experienced colleague. We worked together to identify the root cause of the issue, and we came up with a plan of action.

We had a very frank meeting with the client where we laid out the extent of the problem and the steps we were going to take to fix it.

(Impact)

We had to work some long hours to get everything fixed, but in the end, we were successful. We only narrowly missed the deadline and our relationship with the client actually improved in the long term as they appreciated how committed we were to fixing the problem and how transparent we’d been with them.

(Lessons)

I learned three things through this experience. One, don’t skip testing code properly or you’ll pay for it later on. Two, it’s important to always be transparent and honest, in this case both with my manager and then with the client. And three, I learned that when you have to own up to a mistake, it’s a lot easier if you can also explain what you’re going to do to solve the problem.”

To dive deeper into this question, read our guide: 5 ways to answer "Tell me about a time you failed".

4. Why do you want to work here?

Okay, technically this isn't a behavioral question (it's not asking about a past experience) but since you're almost guaranteed to be asked it, we've included it in this list.

Interviewers want to know that you're genuinely motivated to work at the company, and not just because of the paycheck. Fail to offer a convincing answer to this question, and it could be a big red flag early on in the interview process.

Interviewers also want to know whether you’ve done enough research and preparation ahead of time, and this question can be a good gauge of that.

Let's take a look at a strong example answer and then we'll link to further resources.

Example answer:

"I'm really excited about the idea of being a part of Apple, and there are three main reasons why:

Firstly, Apple is all about making technology seamless and user-friendly. I love building things that people find useful, and I'm totally on board with Apple's mission to go above and beyond in giving users top-notch experiences. Imagine being part of a team that's always pushing the boundaries of what's possible in tech – that's what grabs my interest.

Secondly, the way Apple values design and pays attention to the small details resonates with me. I've always believed in the power of great design in software. Joining a place where creativity is embraced, and where we can collaborate to create products that not only work great but also look awesome, is something that would excite me.

Lastly, the sheer impact that Apple has globally is immense. Millions of people use Apple products daily. As a software engineer, contributing to projects of this scale and making a difference in people's lives is the kind of challenge that excites me. Imagine writing code that's used by people everywhere, it's a big motivator for me."

To learn more about how to answer this hugely important interview question, check out our "Why Facebook?" interview question guide (the advice is totally applicable no matter which company you're targeting).

5. Walk me through your resume and relevant experience

Not exactly a behavioral question but also extremely common and worth including here. You'll want to give an answer that is concise, clear, and compelling - and you can only do that if you've prepared your answer carefully ahead of the interview.

Firstly, try and come up with a personal story that responds to both a) what the company wants and b) who you are.

Research the company, re-read the job description, and work out what kind of engineer the company is looking for. Then think about what your particular strengths and experiences are, and try to label yourself in a way that aligns all these things.

You should also aim for a clear sense of progression in your answer, showing how you've been taking on greater responsibilities. Also, highlight any achievements that show leadership qualities.

In the example answer below, the candidate has seen that the company values "bias for action" and "scrappiness" highly and so aims to transmit these traits.

Example answer:

"Sure, let me give you a snapshot of my journey.

I started my career at X start-up, where I developed a keen eye for optimizing code efficiency. One notable achievement was streamlining our platform's codebase, reducing load times by 30%, which directly improved user satisfaction.

Budgets and resources were always tight so we always had to overcome obstacles and think of different ways of getting things done, which was actually a great learning process for me.

I then moved to ABC Tech, which is where I am now. It's a really fast-growing company which can be chaotic at times, but it's given me a lot of scope to seize the initiative and suggest projects myself rather than just executing. I've worked with people in lots of different teams and led some complex projects: one of my proudest moments was leading a cross-functional team to deliver a critical feature ahead of schedule, resulting in a 20% boost in user engagement.

Now I would love to work for a company like Y where I could work on more ambitious, large-scale projects that push boundaries. I'd also love the opportunity to learn from really top engineers."

Of course, the better your resume is, the easier it is to talk about it effectively. Check out our software engineer resume guide and make sure yours is up to scratch.

6. Tell me about an interesting project you’ve worked on recently

As part of your preparation, you should look back at some successful projects and pinpoint the actions you took that demonstrate certain skills that the job description is looking for. If possible, give some metrics to quantify your impact.

Not everything about the project has to be a total success - talk about what you learned and how you'll be able to do better next time.

Example answer:

(Situation)

At my previous company, I had the opportunity to lead a crucial project with guidance from my manager.

(Problem)

The challenge was to create a seamless and efficient real-time editor that allowed multiple users to edit a document simultaneously, ensuring synchronization in real-time.

(Solution)

We opted for a microservices architecture, using technologies like Node.js and WebSockets to establish real-time communication. We also employed Operational Transformation algorithms to handle concurrent editing and conflict resolution. A thorough load testing was conducted to ensure the system could handle a large number of concurrent users seamlessly.

(Impact)
The project was a success, and the real-time collaborative editor was integrated into the platform, significantly enhancing the remote collaboration experience for our users. We observed a 35% increase in user engagement with the new editor, and user feedback was overwhelmingly positive, with users commenting on its efficiency and ease of use.

(Lessons)

On a technical level, this project reinforced the importance of a scalable and robust architecture. It taught me the significance of comprehensive testing, especially when dealing with real-time applications.

On a personal level, this project gave me a lot of confidence in my ability to lead. Before this, I'd had little experience of leading meetings and taking responsibility for coordinating projects, but since I've led quite a few more. I've got much better at anticipating other people's doubts and seeing where bottlenecks might occur, and I've lost the shyness that used to prevent me from taking an active role in team meetings."

If you can pick a project that you led, like the one above, that's ideal as it makes it easier to demonstrate leadership skills. If you can't, don't worry, just be sure to demonstrate other soft skills such as collaboration, time management, adaptability, or problem-solving as well as technical skills.

7. Tell me about a time you faced a really hard problem / a challenge at work

Employers at competitive companies want to know how you’ll react under difficult circumstances. Your SWE resume may be full of impressive achievements with quantifiable impacts, but that doesn’t necessarily show that you can thrive when the going gets tough.

Don’t make the mistake of spending too long explaining the problem. Succinctly outline the situation and the problem/challenge, then spend the bulk of your answer talking about what you did, the impact your actions had, and what you learned.

Example answer:

(Situation)

"In a previous role, I faced a significant challenge while working on a large-scale e-commerce platform.

(Problem)

The system started experiencing intermittent performance degradation during high-traffic periods, severely impacting user experience and potentially resulting in revenue loss. The problem had two main aspects: optimizing the system to handle a massive influx of users during peak times and identifying specific bottlenecks causing the performance degradation.

(Solution)

In coordination with my manager, I led a comprehensive analysis, utilizing various profiling and monitoring tools to pinpoint performance bottlenecks. Once we identified the critical areas, we orchestrated a focused effort on code refactoring, optimized database queries, and implemented caching mechanisms to enhance response times.

Additionally, I worked with my superior to restructure the system's architecture to incorporate load balancing and auto-scaling strategies, ensuring it could handle higher traffic loads.

(Impact)

The efforts resulted in a substantial performance improvement. The platform demonstrated remarkable stability even during peak periods, showcasing a 50% reduction in response times and zero downtime. Users were notably pleased, and the platform successfully handled subsequent peak traffic events smoothly.

(Lessons)

For me, this experience underscored the importance of proactive performance monitoring and scaling strategies. It's worth investing a bit of time earlier on to protect yourself later from unexpected traffic surges and the like.

I also learned a lot from being in meetings with my manager and heads from other departments as she briefed them on our progress. She was very effective at giving high-level, simplified information that responded to their concerns, rather than getting lost in the technical details, and I definitely took that on board as something to work on myself."

Notice how the answer sets up the situation and problem very quickly, giving the candidate time to focus on the solution, impact, and what they learned. There is a nice balance here between a focus on their individual actions and demonstrating a collaborative approach.

8. Tell me about a time you showed leadership

Across any industry, leadership is one of the qualities that interviewers are likely to assess you on, even if you’re not applying for a leadership role. Why? Because a good leader not only does their job well, but helps others do their job better. Their positive impact on the company is therefore multiplied.

A junior software engineer, for example, won’t know how to lead a team of engineers. But there may be an occasion where they can lead a process, or lead a meeting, and doing this well has an impact on the wider team.

If you’re applying for a senior or management role, you may be asked a more specific version of the question, such as “Tell me about a time you led a team through a difficult period’. Prepare an example that shows you as someone with some key leadership traits: determined, empathetic, decisive, good motivator, etc.

Don’t worry if you’re more junior and you’ve never held a leadership position before. Your answer can come from a situation in which you weren’t in a leadership position but demonstrated leadership nevertheless.

Example answer:

(Situation)

Recently in my current role, an intern joined our team, called Mo. I had a very high workload at the time and so was grateful to see an extra pair of hands join the team. 

(Problem)

However, Mo lacked experience in some of the key tools we used daily, such as GitHub and Django. He was also very shy. After the first week, he hadn’t completed many of the tasks he was given and people stopped asking for his help. Our manager was so busy that he didn’t pay much attention to the situation.

(Solution) 

I decided to sit with Mo at lunch and ask him about his experience with coding. I gradually realized that while he’d never worked in a team like ours before, he was a talented programmer. I told him what I was working on and he seemed confident he could help.

I delegated some of my tasks to Mo over the next couple of days, making it clear that if he didn’t understand something, he should just ask. He completed the tasks very well. By now he came to sit with me every lunchtime and was starting to come out of his shell. I used the time he’d saved me to show him some things on GitHub and Django, and I made sure I told everyone about the great job he’d done for me. 

(Impact)

The rest of the team started sending him tasks again and this time Mo completed the tasks much more successfully, occasionally asking me for help. Three months later, his internship ended and he joined the team full-time.

(Lessons)

The experience with Mo made me realize that when somebody joins a team, it’s really important that they have someone to go to when they don’t understand something or have a problem. It also taught me how crucial it is to take the time to ask and listen, instead of dismissing people after a bad first impression.”

This candidate demonstrates various leadership skills with this example: in particular a lot of initiative and empathy. The interviewer could easily imagine this candidate as a future manager who will do a great job helping his team members reach their potential.

See more example answers to this question in 5 ways to answer "Tell me about a time you showed leadership"

9. Tell me about a time you had to meet a tight deadline

This question helps employers assess your ability to handle time-sensitive projects and manage competing priorities.

Demonstrate your proficiency in project management, and problem-solving, and your commitment to achieving successful outcomes under pressure.

Use an example of a time when the odds were stacked against you - it will make for a more interesting and compelling answer.

Example answer:

(Situation)

"In the final quarter of last year, our team was tasked with delivering a critical module for a high-profile client, promising to revolutionize their user experience. This project had an unusually tight deadline due to an unexpected product launch by the client, leaving us with only three weeks to deliver what would normally be a two-month project.

(Problem)

The short timeframe was further complicated by unforeseen technical complexities that arose during the initial stages. We were faced with a massive amount of coding, rigorous testing, and integration tasks. The pressure was mounting as we couldn't compromise on the quality and functionality of the module.

(Solution)

To navigate through this challenge, we immediately held a team meeting to re-evaluate our project plan. We swiftly identified non-essential features and functionalities that could be temporarily deferred to subsequent versions. We also employed a parallelized development approach, allowing multiple team members to work simultaneously on different aspects of the module.

We implemented an Agile methodology, conducting daily stand-up meetings to address roadblocks promptly and ensure everyone was on track. I took on the role of a scrum master, ensuring efficient coordination and smooth progress.

(Impact)

Our collective effort and the adjustments we made were transformative. Despite the initial odds, we managed to deliver a fully functional module that exceeded the client's expectations. The success of this module significantly bolstered our relationship with the client and opened up opportunities for future collaborations.

(Lessons)

This experience reinforced the importance of adaptability and collaboration under extreme time constraints. It taught me the significance of quickly reassessing priorities and being flexible in our approach. It also highlighted the power of effective communication within a team."

10. Tell me about your biggest weakness

A classic interview question at all levels, and one that causes much anxiety for many candidates. It shouldn’t, it’s not a trick question. We all have weaknesses, and as long as your biggest weakness isn’t one that is vital for the job, you should try and answer honestly.

The interviewer is testing to see if you have the self-awareness to know what you’re less good at, and enough drive to actually do something about it.

So pick a weakness that is real and is relevant to your role, though not something critical. You can also use this answer to show that you’re good at taking on feedback - an important skill and one that your interviewer will be looking out for.

You might find it hard to think of a weakness that you're willing to open up about. To help, here's a list of possible weaknesses that could give you the foundation of a strong answer and would avoid red flags.

Possible weaknesses to mention in a software engineer interview:

  1. Not good at delegating: you struggle to delegate tasks effectively due to a desire to maintain control over the project, potentially leading to missed deadlines.

  2. Limited experience with a specific technology: you acknowledge a need to enhance expertise in a particular programming language or framework.

  3. Over-optimizing code: you tend to spend too much time refining and perfecting code before the core functionality is solidified, potentially affecting deadlines.

  4. Difficulty saying no: you find you agree to take on additional tasks, sometimes resulting in an overloaded schedule and affecting your ability to manage your projects effectively.

  5. Overemphasis on independence: you have had a preference for working independently rather than collaborating within a team.

  6. Nervousness speaking: you find it difficult to present technical ideas or updates in a clear and engaging manner.

  7. Prioritization challenges: you struggle to effectively prioritize tasks and manage time during busy development cycles.

  8. Occasional lack of documentation: you haven't always consistently documented code and processes during fast-paced development.

These are all weaknesses that can hurt work performance, so you don't want to give the impression that it's something that comes with you as "part of the package". Instead, demonstrate that you're already taking steps to improve at it.

Let's take a look at an example to see how that might look. Notice that this isn't technically a behavioral question in that you don't necessarily need to talk about a past experience.

Example answer:

"One area I've identified for improvement is my tendency to over-optimize code during the initial development stages. At times, I find myself spending too much time fine-tuning the code for performance before the core functionality is solidified. There were a couple of occasions where this led me to miss deadlines.

To overcome this, I've adopted a more iterative development approach. I focus on getting the fundamental structure and features in place before delving deeply into optimization. This way, I ensure the code's functionality is robust before investing time in fine-grained performance enhancements. I've also sought feedback from senior colleagues to strike the right balance between optimization and timely project delivery.

Making this adjustment has helped me to deliver reliable solutions on time, while still maintaining a high standard of code quality. It's still something I need to work on and improve, but I'm definitely going in the right direction."

11. Describe a time you had to prioritize projects under pressure

Top tech companies are fast-paced environments, and hiring managers want candidates who will get the most important work done on time. This question is testing you on your time-management, decision-making and adaptability, as well as assessing whether you're someone who takes ownership of projects and accepts responsibility for meeting deadlines.

Example answer:

(Situation)

"I was once given just a weekend to fix a critical bug in a live system. The bug was causing intermittent crashes, affecting the user experience for thousands.

(Problem)

There was a lot of urgency, as every minute the system was down meant potential loss of customers and revenue. Additionally, pinpointing the exact cause of the crash was like finding a needle in a haystack.

(Solution)

Our manager quickly assembled a small team, including myself.  Each person assigned to a specific aspect of the system that could be a potential cause. We worked around the clock, running tests, analyzing logs, and discussing findings in real-time.

(Impact)

We identified the root cause late Saturday night and I took the lead in implementing the fix. The system was stable by early Sunday morning. Despite the tight deadline and immense pressure, we managed to resolve the issue, ensuring uninterrupted service for our users.

(Lessons)

This experience underscored the power of collaboration and focused effort under pressure. It taught me that even in the most demanding situations, a well-coordinated team can achieve remarkable results. Additionally, it emphasized the necessity of keeping a cool head and methodically approaching the problem, especially when time is of the essence."

2. FAANG + behavioral interview questions

The questions above are the most common behavioral interview questions. You could be asked them at any company you're targeting, but there are some differences between companies in the types of behavioral questions they like to ask.

Let's take a look at other behavioral questions asked at some of the very top companies (source: Glassdoor.com). Remember, you can answer all of these using the SPSIL framework that we outline in section 3, below.

2.1 Common software engineer behavioral interview questions at Google

2.1.1 Why do you want to work at Google?

There are lots of great reasons to work at Google aside from the prestige and the salary. Tie your reasoning to your own personal story to make your answer unique.

Check out our free guide to answering the "Why Google?" interview question (written for PMs but don't worry, it's totally applicable to SWEs)

2.1.2 What is your favorite Google product?

Google is a company that's very passionate about its products and technology in general and your interviewer will expect you to display the same passion. Research some Google products in detail so you can talk about them interestingly from an engineering perspective.

2.1.3 How would you approach a complex programming problem where you are not sure of the right solution?

Google wants to hire people who are comfortable with ambiguity and have a bias to action - having these qualities is part of what it means to have Googleyness. Show that you have a method for approaching complex tasks, such as breaking down problems into smaller chunks.

2.1.4 Tell me about a time you adapted well to change

Like most tech companies where priorities and methods are constantly in flux, Google values candidates that can show they are highly adaptable.

2.1.5 Tell me about a time you exceeded expectations

Having high standards is also part of Googleyness. Pick a project and discuss the steps you took, the challenges you overcame, and any innovative approaches you used.

Click here to see our Google software engineer interview guide.

2.2 Common software engineer behavioral interview questions at Meta / Facebook

Meta / Facebook ask a typical mix of behavioral questions with a slight bias towards questions about collaboration and resolving conflicts. This is because the company puts a lot of stress on creating a harmonious workplace and the interviewers will want to be sure that you'll be a positive impact in that sense.

2.2.1 Why do you want to work at Facebook?

There's lots of great reasons to work at Facebook / Meta aside from the prestige and the salary. Tie your reasoning to your own personal story to make your answer unique.

Check out our free guide to answering the "Why Facebook?" interview question.

2.2.2 Tell me about a time you dealt with conflict on a team. How did you solve it?

Facebook put a lot of emphasis on collaboration and team harmony. Expect questions like this one where you will need to demonstrate empathy and good listening skills. For help, see our guide: 'Tell me about a time you dealt with conflict'

2.2.3 Tell me about a time you disagreed with someone at work. What did you do about it?

Again, a typical Facebook / Meta question that tests whether you're a good "fit" for the working culture at the company. Can you defend your point of view while also listening to people who disagree with you and taking their perspective into account?

2.2.4 Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?

We've seen this question come up quite a few times on Facebook candidate reports on Glassdoor. Show that your ambitions are aligned with the company and demonstrate long-term commitment to the organization. Try and strike a balance between being ambitious and sounding realistic.

Click here to see our Facebook / Meta software engineer interview guide.

2.3 Common software development engineer behavioral interview questions at Amazon

Amazon behavioral questions are centered around its leadership principles. Every question will be testing you on at least one leadership principle, and many will test for two or three. It's absolutely essential you read and absorb the principles fully and prepare your answers with them in mind.

2.3.1 Why do you want to work at Amazon?

There's lots of great reasons to work at Amazon aside from the salary. Tie your reasoning to your own personal story to make your answer unique.

Check out our free guide to answering the "Why Amazon" interview question.

2.3.2 Tell me about a time you disagreed with your superior

Amazon asks behavioral questions according to their 16 leadership principles. But some principles are tested for more frequently than others. This question tests you on the 'Have backbone: disagree and commit" principle.

Whereas at Facebook you might want to give an answer that emphasizes empathy and active listening, at Amazon you'll want to demonstrate that you're brave enough to argue your case when you believe you're right, preferably using data to change people's minds.

2.3.3 Tell me about a time you did something at work that wasn't your responsibility

This question tests you on the Ownership leadership principle. Amazon wants to hire people who have the initiative to grab the bull by the horns and solve the problems they come across without waiting for someone to tell them what to do.

2.3.4 Tell me about a time you had to make a decision with incomplete information. How did you make it and what was the outcome?

Here, the interviewer is testing to see if you have a bias for action (another key Amazon leadership principle). Interviewers often emphasize that what sets apart a good engineering candidate from an exceptional one is their aptitude for decisive action when confronted with ambiguity.

Demonstrating your ability to analyze different courses of action and make sound decisions, even in imperfect circumstances, is key here.

2.3.5 Tell me how you built a feature in an innovative way, give specific details

This question targets the Innovate and Simplify principle. Amazon wants to hire candidates who are capable of thinking outside the box, of challenging the status quo when necessary and showing the determination to solve problems when they seem unsolvable.

Click here to see our Amazon software development engineer interview guide.

We also recommend watching this video that Amazon have made to help software engineers answer behavioral questions (in fact it's worth watching even if you're not targeting Amazon)

 

2.4 Common software development engineer behavioral interview questions at Microsoft

Microsoft asks a typical mix of behavioral questions.

2.4.1 Why do you want to work at Microsoft?

There's lots of great reasons to work at Microsoft aside from the salary and the prestige. Tie your reasoning to your own personal story to make your answer unique.

Check out our free guide to answering the "Why this company?" interview question. It's aimed at Facebook candidates but you can apply the tips to any company.

2.4.2 How would you solve a problem if you were unfamiliar with the technology required?

Microsoft presents this question to assess adaptability and learning agility. They are keen on candidates who display enthusiasm for learning and can strategically approach unfamiliar technology. Express your eagerness to learn and highlight instances where you successfully navigated unfamiliar tech in the past.

2.4.3 How would you handle a situation where there is a disagreement among team members?

This is very similar to the 'Tell me about a time you dealt with conflict' in our top 11 list above.

2.4.4 Describe a project you worked on that involved collaboration with multiple teams

Microsoft asks this question to evaluate your ability to work seamlessly across teams, a critical aspect of their collaborative work culture. They want to see your aptitude for communication, coordination, and how you navigate challenges within a multi-team project.

When responding, emphasize effective communication methods, successful collaboration experiences, and highlight the positive outcomes achieved through cohesive team efforts.

2.4.5 Why did you start coding?

Microsoft wants to hire individuals genuinely passionate about technology. Share your enthusiasm for problem-solving and the satisfaction derived from building solutions.

2.4.6 Why are you a good fit for our company?

To answer effectively you'll need to know what Microsoft's stated values are, and demonstrate how your way of working and career goals align with them.

2.4.7 Where do you want to be 5 years from now?

Show that your ambitions are aligned with the company and demonstrate long-term commitment to the organization. Try and strike a balance between being ambitious and sounding realistic.

2.4.8 What is your favorite Microsoft product?

Microsoft will expect you to be passionate about its products or to have at least done your research. As part of your prep, investigate some Microsoft products in detail so you can talk about them interestingly from an engineering perspective.

Click here to see our Microsoft software development engineer interview guide.

2.5 Common software engineer behavioral interview questions at LinkedIn

From the interview reports we've seen, LinkedIn asks a mix of fairly typical behavioral questions. Let's take a look.

2.5.1 Why do you want to work at LinkedIn?

There's lots of great reasons to work at LinkedIn aside from the salary. Tie your reasoning to your own personal story to make your answer unique.

Check out our free guide to answering the "Why this company?" interview question. It's aimed at Facebook candidates but you can apply the tips to any company.

2.5.2 Why did you want to be a software engineer?

This is often used as more of an ice-breaker question but use it as an opportunity to demonstrate your passion for engineering and how much you enjoy your work.

2.5.3 Tell me about a recent / favorite project and some of the difficulties you faced

LinkedIn asks this question to understand your project management skills, problem-solving abilities, and how you navigate challenges in a project. They are interested in your ability to recognize difficulties and provide effective solutions. When responding, highlight the project, the difficulties encountered, your approach to overcoming them, and the positive outcome resulting from your efforts.

2.5.4 Tell me about the greatest accomplishment of your career

Discuss a significant accomplishment, how it impacted you, the lessons learned, and the growth or changes it brought to your career

2.5.5 Tell me about your biggest failure

LinkedIn aims to evaluate your self-awareness and resilience. See our guide on this question: 5 ways to answer "Tell me about a time you failed".

2.5.6 Tell me about a time you struggled to work with one of your colleagues

A typical conflict question, see our guide: Tell me about a time you had a conflict at work.

2.5.7 Tell me about a time you led a team

Leadership is an important quality for any candidate to display, irrespective as to whether you're applying for a leadership position. See 5 ways to answer "Tell me about a time you showed leadership".

2.5.8 Tell me about some of the biggest lessons you've learned in life

LinkedIn interviewers tend to ask questions that are less rigidly about work, with questions like this that seek to understand the way you approach life and what kind of person you are.

2.5.9 Tell me about your values and the kind of environments you thrive in

Before preparing an answer to this question you'll want to research LinkedIn's values and way of working to make sure that you are aligned.

Click here to see our LinkedIn software engineer interview guide.

2.6 Common software engineer behavioral interview questions at Airbnb

Airbnb questions tend to have a big focus on values, much more so than at similar companies. Let's take a look.

2.6.1 What are Airbnb's core values and how do they apply to you?

In order to answer this question you'll first need to have a strong understanding of Airbnb's values.

2.6.2 What does "belong anywhere" mean to you?/How have you made others belong?

Airbnb wants the values it communicates to its users to be present internally, so show that you take this seriously and that you're someone who embraces the idea of helping people belong.

2.6.3 Tell me about a time you've been a good host

Your answer doesn't have to talk about when you literally hosted someone in your house. A good way to answer would be talking about a time you helped a new coworker settle in and get up to speed.

2.6.4 Tell me about a past project and the impact you had

For help with this answer, see "Tell me about an interesting project you’ve worked on recently" above.

2.6.5 What is the most challenging project you've worked on in the last 6 months?

For help answering this question, see Tell me about a time you faced a really hard problem / a challenge at work above.

2.6.6 How do you give back to the community?

Airbnb talks a lot about the value of community. If you haven't done much volunteering work, think about other ways you interact with your community - perhaps through sport, buying local, going to school events, etc.

2.6.7 Tell me about something you’ve struggled with

This is similar to Tell me about your biggest weakness in the list above.

2.6.8 What do you like about Airbnb?

This questions tests whether you've done your research and whether you have a genuine interest in the company.

2.6.9 What is one thing you'd like to remove from Airbnb?

This question tests if you have a good product understanding. Give your answer from an engineering perspective to allow you to drive the discussion into relevant areas for you.

Click here to see our Airbnb software engineer interview guide.

3. How to answer behavioral question

When answering behavioral questions, you should focus on your most relevant achievements and communicate them in a clear way. An easy way to achieve this is to use a step-by-step method to tell your stories. 

3.1 STAR method

The STAR method (Situation, Task, Action, Result) is a popular approach for answering behavioral questions because it’s easy to remember. You’ll see it’s recommended by many articles you can find on Google similar to this one (they tend to copy each other!).

However, the STAR method has two problems:

  1. We’ve found that candidates often find it difficult to distinguish the difference between steps two and three, or task and action
  2. It ignores the importance of talking about WHAT YOU LEARNED, which is often the most important part of your answer.

To correct those two faults, we actually developed our own (very slightly different) framework that many of our candidates have used successfully over the years: the SPSIL method.

3.2 SPSIL method

The SPSIL method has a less catchy name, but corrects both of the STAR method’s faults. You’ll have seen it in action in the example answers in section 1, but let’s go through the five-step approach:

  1. Situation: Start by giving the necessary context of the situation you were in. Describe your role, the team, the organization, the market, etc. You should only give the minimum context needed to understand the problem and the solution in your story. Nothing more.
  2. Problem: Outline the problem you and your team were facing.
  3. Solution: Explain the solution you came up with to solve the problem. Step through how you went about implementing your solution, and focus on your contribution over what the team / larger organization did.
  4. Impact: Summarize the positive results you achieved for your team, department, and organization. As much as possible, quantify the impact.
  5. Lessons: Conclude with any lessons you might have learned in the process.

Of course, you should practice using whatever method you’re the most comfortable with. By all means, use the STAR method if you prefer, just don’t forget to mention what you learned.

3.3 Tips for answering behavioral questions

Finally, before we move on to some interview prep resources, we'd like to give you six helpful tips to keep in mind.

Tip #1: Get used to setting up the situation in 30 seconds or less

Use a timer while you practice to ensure you provide only necessary information. Spending too much time on the Situation step is one of the most common mistakes candidates make.

Tip #2: Stay focused on essential details

Interviewers hear a lot of behavioral stories a day. If you go into unnecessary details you are likely to lose their attention. Share your stories with a few different people before your interview and ask them what details they would suggest cutting.

Tip #3: Be proud and talk about YOU

This is not the time to be shy about your accomplishments. Concentrate on your impact, not what “the team” did. Not talking about YOU enough is another common mistake we see with a lot of candidates.

Tip #4: Adapt to follow up questions

Don’t be alarmed if your interviewer asks follow up questions; this is perfectly normal. Listen carefully to the way your interviewer is asking these questions, as there will often be a subtle clue about the specific skills they’re looking to assess from the next part of your answer.

Tip #5: Be ready to go off script

You should know your stories extremely well by interview time. But don't feel that you have to stick rigidly to a script. The interview should feel like a conversation, so if the interviewer takes you down an unexpected direction, go with it.

Tip #6: Mix and match

You'll probably have a lot of overlap with your stories. That's to say, a story you use to answer a leadership question could equally be used for a question on conflict or people management, etc. If you practice adapting stories so they can answer various questions, 10-15 strong stories should be enough to get you through even the toughest interview.

4. How to prepare for behavioral interview questions

Right, now that we’ve been through all the questions and the techniques you can use to answer them, we’d like to offer some resources to help you prepare.

4.1 Practice by yourself

Acing a behavioral question is much harder than it looks. You’ll stand out if you put in the required work to craft concise and direct answers.

4.1.1 Write down your stories

First, work out which stories you’d like to tell. Make a list of key moments in your career (e.g. accomplishments, failures, team situations, leadership situations, etc.) that you can use to answer one or multiple questions. Take a look at your target company’s main attributes and their core values, then find at least one story from your past that exemplifies each one. 

After you’ve finished your list, write out a story for each key moment in your career using the structure we've laid out in section 3. Be sure to emphasize your impact in each of these examples, quantify the results of your actions, and explain the lessons you learned from the experience. 

Once you have a bank of stories, go through the questions in sections 1 and 2 and make sure you’d be able to answer all of them either by using one of the stories you’ve written directly, or by adapting it on the fly. If you identify any gaps, add stories to your bank until you’re comfortable you can cover all the questions listed in this article.

4.1.2 Practice your stories out loud

After you've written everything down, a great way to practice your answers is to interview yourself out loud. This may sound strange, but it will significantly improve the way you communicate during an interview. 

You should be able to tell each story naturally, neither missing key details nor memorizing them word-for-word.

Play the role of both the candidate and the interviewer, asking questions and answering them, just like two people would in an interview. Trust us, it works.

4.2 Do mock interviews

Practicing by yourself will only take you so far. One of the main challenges of behavioral interviews is communicating your different answers in a succinct and clear way.

4.2.1 Mock interviews with peers

As a result, we strongly recommend practicing with a peer interviewing you. A great place to start is to practice with friends or family. This can be especially helpful if your friend has experience with behavioral interviews, or is at least familiar with the process. 

4.2.2 Mock interviews with top ex-interviewers

Finally, you should also try to practice behavioral mock interviews with expert ex-interviewers, as they’ll be able to give you much more accurate feedback than friends and peers.

If you know someone who has experience running behavioral interviews at a large company, then that's fantastic. But for most of us, it's tough to find the right connections to make this happen. 

Here's the good news. We've already made the connections for you. We’ve created a coaching service where you can practice 1-on-1 with ex-interviewers from a range of leading companies (Google, McKinsey, Accenture, etc). Learn more and start scheduling sessions today.

 

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