What makes cross-functional interviews different?


Today’s post comes courtesy of Pathrise, a career accelerator that works with students and professionals 1-on-1 so they can land their dream job in tech. Fellows in the Pathrise program are matched up with career and industry mentors, based on the roles they’re interested in. Pathrise currently works with software engineers, web developers, product designers, data scientists, and product managers.

As you move through the interview process with companies, you might be surprised by just how many people interview you (often at the same time in a panel). We’ve worked with hundreds of people to successfully navigate their job search and find a great tech role. These days, the process usually looks like this:

  • Phone screen with a recruiter
  • Technical assessment
  • Technical phone interview with 1-2 team members and/or hiring manager
  • Onsite interview, which can last all day and includes technical, behavioral and cross-functional interviews

What’s your “risk factor” as a candidate?

A lot of the reasoning behind multiple interviews goes towards mitigating risk. Each person you speak to gives you a rating and that is what the stakeholders look at to make a decision on the candidate. If an interviewee gets average confidence or above, then it’s a successful interview.

interview risk factors

Mainly, they are trying to mitigate risk as much as possible. There is much less risk in turning someone down who would be a good match than hiring someone who is a bad match, which is why they take the ratings really seriously. If they have below average confidence in hiring you, you likely will not get the job, because it’s too risky. 

There are three types of interviews that you will likely come across: technical, behavioral, and cross-functional. The technical interviews are meant to measure your background and how you will handle the tools, languages, and type of work you will be doing. Prepare for these by practicing the types of questions you’ll be asked, like these 93 software engineering interview questions.

Behavioral interviews assess how you’ll add to the company culture. Prepare for your behavioral interviews by researching the company and getting a good understanding of their mission and values. If you’re looking for inspiration, here are some example answers from FAANG hiring managers.

The factors that matter in cross-functional interviews

The last type of interviews are fairly new additions to the process: cross-functional. The goal of these sessions is to measure whether someone is a team player or not. Emotional intelligence and collaboration are often major factors. This is especially true at startups and smaller companies because there are many more opportunities for people to work together across disciplines.

Therefore, software engineers will often meet with a product manager and designers will often meet with product and engineering team members, so that they can get a sense of how the teams interact with one another and if this candidate would be a good asset.

Most of the time, they want to see if the candidate has the empathy that’s necessary to work on inter-disciplinary tasks and teams. Likely, they will ask questions about the candidate’s experience working on these types of cross-functional teams and how they would react in certain situations. Here are some examples of these types of questions:

  • What would you do if a product manager made a request that you thought was impossible?
  • How do you deal with design criticism from someone who is not a designer?
  • Talk about a time when you had to prioritize work within a cross-functional project.

When answering these questions, it’s important to stay positive, even if you are describing a difficult situation or a conflict. Never blame other team members or use negative words like lazy, stupid, annoying, or useless. Explain the situation briefly and move quickly onto how you worked well with other people to solve the issue and then highlight the result. 

These interviewers might also ask more general questions about how you work on a team, if you find yourself acting a leader or a follower, and how well you work autonomously. These types of questions are often behavioral in nature and also connect to how they perceive how you’ll add to the culture.

Keep in mind that your responses should be succinct and specific. You should always err on the shorter side. Curb your answers by giving the interviewer the opportunity to ask for more information by saying, “I’m happy to go into more detail, if you would like.”

If you follow these tips, you should be able to prepare for all of your interviews by researching the company, practicing your responses and understanding the process. When you feel ready, you’ll go into these sessions with confidence and your interviewers will see that. Good luck!

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