Behavioral Interview Questions: 5 Things Every IT Candidate Should Know

IT candidates need to take special interest in the most popular behavioral interview questions—and also the soft skills that they’re meant to reveal.

They’re the kind of interview questions most people dread.

“What’s the biggest misconception your coworkers have about you, and why do they think that?”

“What the most interesting thing about you not on your resume?”

These are actual interview questions cited in an e-book just out from LinkedIn as being among the most popular behavioral interview questions used today. More specifically, they’re among most effective questions used to determine whether you will be a good culture fit at the next firm you interview with.

The Unique Importance of Soft Skills to IT Candidates

Just how important is “culture fit”? LinkedIn’s survey found that 89% of hiring failures are due to a poor culture fit. That’s a pretty alarming statistic. Why does this matter to you as an IT professional? Because these soft skills—the very skills these questions are intended to test—have even greater significance because of the unique demands, stresses, and pressures that technology consultants face on a daily basis. Their importance also speaks to an employer’s investment in the recruitment process and, worst case—reinvestment—when having to replace IT talent.

LinkedIn’s findings were of particular interest to me since soft skills are a distinct focus of Benchmark IT and a core part of our mission. We’ve seen time and again that not devoting sufficient time to soft skills does a tremendous disservice to both our candidates and our employers.

With that in mind, I wanted to share my impressions of the LinkedIn study– not only some of the pertinent interview questions, but also some of the underlying skills they’re intended to reveal. IT candidates should be aware of both, not just for the immediate benefit of improving your performance for tomorrow’s interview, but also as basis for the valuable self-assessment that leads to a true personal and professional fit.

Adaptability is The “Soft Skill” Employees Most Value

LinkedIn’s survey of 1,500 hiring managers focuses on six soft skills:

  • Leadership
  • Collaboration
  • Culture Fit
  • Prioritization
  • Growth Potential
  • And most important: Adaptability.

Here’s one of the most popular questions used to assess it:

“Recall a time your were assigned a task outside your job description. How did you handle the situation? What was the outcome?”

How would you handle a question like this? How much of your answer would truly be based on your skills, as opposed to your personality or attitude?

Poor Culture Fit is The Biggest Risk

As mentioned previously, about 90% of hiring failures are attributed to poor culture fit. How do hiring managers screen for this? Here’s one way:

“Tell me about a time in the last week when you’ve been satisfied, energized, and productive at work. What were you doing?”

The risk here is obviously mutual; a poor culture fit is not only the employer’s loss, but yours as well. Assessing a given “culture”—especially from the outside—isn’t always easy; but it’s crucial. That’s why at Benchmark IT, we take the time to fully understand our client’s culture and how it fits with your expressed needs before we present you to a client. Check out more of our approach with job seekers here.

Replacing You Won’t Be Easy — or Inexpensive

LinkedIn’s study mentions a statistic you’ve probably already heard or seen before: replacing a departed employee typically costs employers 150% of that employee’s salary. Not surprisingly, several soft skills point to the importance of retention, especially leadership and growth potential. For instance:

“Recall a time when your manager was unavailable when a problem arose. How did you handle the situation? With whom did you consult?”

Again, beyond trying to formulate a response to a question like this, how much thought have you given to the area, or areas, you’d like to move into? What current skills, experience and training dovetail with your plan and what new skills will you need to add to make that happen?

You’re a Package Deal — Like it or Not

Among the research results LinkenIn mentions: “97% of employees and executives believe that a lack of team alignment directly impacts the outcome of a task or project.” Not exactly the most groundbreaking finding of our age, is it? Maybe not, but it highlights the importance of collaborative skills and how interviewers gauge them:

“Tell me about a time when you were communicating with someone and they did not understand you. What did you do?”

I probably don’t need to belabor the special challenges IT professionals face in the areas of collaboration and communication. Those challenges, as you well know, involve both technical and non-technical skills. This kind of question, though, should make you think about your own communication style and your broader skills as a collaborator and team member.

Time Is on Your Side — Maybe

How surprised were you to see prioritization mentioned as a soft skill? You’d probably be even less surprised to hear that the ability to prioritize is even more prized among IT professionals. But how is that skill measured?

“Tell me about a time when you had to juggle several projects at the same time. How did you organize your time? What was the result?”

Yes, you probably already anticipate hearing a question like this from an interviewer; but what kind of thought have you given to your answer?

Just one more thought in terms of all these questions—and the associated skills. One of the key findings from LinkedIn was unmistakable: interviewers don’t want to hear you opine on hypotheticals. They want to hear about actual situations and actual results. This is where you really need to put in some preliminary time and thought; no one else can do justice to your actual experience better than you. That’s probably the hardest part of soft skills assessment, but also the most valuable.

If you’d like to discuss any of this further with me or any Benchmark IT recruiter, please don’t hesitate to reach out. We’d love to take the time to review these questions with you so that you’re prepared and confident in your next interview.

Until then, wishing you all the best,

John