The 67 Competencies that Apple Uses to Test You in the Interview
And Why You Shouldn’t Apply for Too Many Roles
You could say that it’s easier to get into Harvard than it is to get into Apple. With around 25,000 applications for every role and at #31 for the best places to work in 2021, Apple is one of the most lucrative companies to work for.
But, what exactly does the application and interview process entail? What should you expect, and how can you prepare?
We sat down with one of our top coaches and former Apple People Leader, Rich Hutton, to unpack the hiring process and clue you in to what they’re looking for. Read on for insights!
1. The ‘Secret Sauce’ of Apple’s Interview Process: Behavioral Interviewing
One of the key elements of the interview process at Apple is assessing you on behavioral competencies.
Behavioral competency refers to any behavioral skills, measurable characteristics, personality attributes, or technical skill sets a person has that influence how they act in a situation and can determine how successful a candidate can be in the job they’re applying for.
Examples of behavioral competencies include:
- Decision Making
- Interpersonal Skills
- Openness to feedback and constructive criticism
- Analytical Skills
- Leadership Skills
The type of interview questions you’ll be asked are ones that tend to be open-ended – and sometimes vague – in order to assess your response. Here are some sample interview questions that measure behavioral competencies:
- What an example of a time you have failed?
- What’s an example of a time you’ve had to be made humble?
- When has telling the truth been the more painful option (but also the best option in that situation)?
At Apple, behavioral interviewing accounts for around one third of the interview process (100% if you’re applying for a retail position), and this interview style is used both externally for hiring new candidates as well as internally for career development, coaching and mentorship. Side note: the other two thirds of the interview could be on topics such as problem solving and case studies, or also technical interviews if you’re going for a programming role.
In fact, there are 67 behavioral competencies that Apple pulls from to use in interviews, and you will likely be assessed on anywhere from 6-16 of them over the stages of the hiring process. The competencies you will be assessed on are ones that are relevant to the role you are applying for.
Now, 67 is a gigantic number of competencies to study for an interview, especially when you can’t anticipate which ones will be covered. So, how should you prep?
Rich weighs in, “It’s overwhelming. People [who research all 67] start critically analyzing themselves and go down the rabbit hole of second-guessing their thoughts. It can be very dangerous. Instead, the first thing I recommend [for preparation] is to think about the brand. Think about what Apple represents as an organization, which are things like honesty, integrity, passion, truly wanting to help people, and doing great things. These are the things you should be thinking of as a candidate and should be the reasons why you’re applying to Apple.”
Apple wants people who are passionate about doing great things for the company and the customer. They’re looking for passion, vulnerability, and a person who is always willing to go above and beyond what is unexpected of them. Keep these aspects at the forefront when you’re crafting your responses to any of the questions to show elements of these qualities.
Now, if you do want to at least get a sense of this style of interviewing, Rich recommends prepping by looking up the Lominger Competency Model to understand what behavioral interviewing is and the kinds of questions you’ll come across, without unnecessarily over assessing yourself. At the end of the day, keep it simple.
2. The key follow-up question you’ll be asked is “Why”?
Another way you can prep for your interview is to assume that your values and responses will be challenged. You will likely be asked to elaborate or explain your response in more detail, so make sure that whatever response you give is one you stand by firmly.
Here’s a real-life example of a dialogue between a hiring manager (HM) and a candidate at Apple:
HM: On a scale of 1-10, 1 being autocratic and 10 being democratic, what kind of leader are you?
Candidate: I’d say a 7. I tend to lead towards being more democratic.
HM: Could you ever be a 1?
Candidate: Mmm sure, I guess there are situations in which I could be a 1.
HM: But you just said you were a 7.
HM: What about a 5, could you ever be a 5?
Candidate: Yes, I could see situations in which I’d be a 5.
HM: Really? First you said you’re a 7, then you said you can be a 1 and now you’re saying you could be a 5. Which is it?
Candidate: I can envision circumstances where I’d need to adjust my leadership style. Sometimes circumstances change and it’s important to adapt to what is needed in the situation.
This is an example of an interview where a hiring manager pressure tests the candidate by asking dynamic questions.
In this example, the candidate passed the interview because he was able to explain why his answers were changing based on his core value of situations requiring adaptation. This shows that the candidate stood by his answers and demonstrated that he understood the importance of being flexible and adaptable to changing situations.
Candidates who do not pass this style of pressure testing are those who respond by trying to pick a definitive answer (i.e. picking and staying with 5). This is because it shows uncertainty, second-guessing, and a lack of confidence in core values.
And truth be told – most candidates leave interviews after encountering a question like this feeling as though they failed, because pressure tests are designed to, well, pressure you. It’s a test, and sticking to your core values is the answer.
3. Impress the interviewer by asking questions
The two things you can do to impress an interviewer is show a natural curiosity, and ask for feedback.
“Any question that shows natural curiosity is a good question. Questions like ‘What for you is the most rewarding or fulfilling part of this role?’ might sound standard, but it’s a naturally curious question that is going to add value to your experience.” Rich explains.
“The other thing that I would suggest is asking questions that are ultimately going to help prepare you for the next round of interviews. Asking for feedback is key, like ‘How did I do? What concerns do you have? What feedback do you have?’ Apple is one of the most feedback-centric organizations in the world. They teach you feedback for days on end in your training classes. That’s how dedicated they are, so always always always ask for feedback. The good hiring managers will be prepared to give it to you, and chances are, they are going to have notes on you, so if you can show that you can learn and grow by the next interview, that will be impressive.” Rich says.
4. They’re looking for someone they can be proud to hire
Hiring managers are looking for people they can be proud to hire. They’re essentially looking for someone who could do the work as good, if not better than they could themselves.
“I found out that a guy I hired at a retail store went from a part-time salesperson on the floor to a store leader, which is the highest position you can get in a store. He went from making a small amount of money per hour to being in charge of a 60-70 million dollar store. It’s unheard of, but this is the kind of pride that recruiters have at Apple when they can hire people and put them on the path to greatness.” Rich reflects.
“The person that you’re hiring is someone who you want standing next to you in the toughest times that you’ll go through. When you all have to pull all-nighters. When you are facing the most adverse conditions like a tough customer or project deadline, you want to be able to say you’re proud of the person standing next to you. That’s a good filter that people have when hiring individuals for roles.” Rich says.
Extra tips from Rich
“Understand that you are not the only one applying for the role, and that Apple really only hires the best for the role. If you get turned down, don’t be disheartened. With the sheer number [of applicants], it’s so hard to get selected that even getting a call back is really impressive. It should inspire you to get more knowledge and experience and come back the next time around. I’ve hired people who had interviewed 2-3 times and failed and they came back and knocked our socks off.”
…and don’t apply for an excessive amount of roles!
“Don’t apply for every single role. People can see that and can see you’re desperate. The most I’ve ever seen someone apply for was 126 within a 1-2 month period. Your name will get known, but for the wrong reasons.” Rich comments.
So there you have it: expect to be assessed on behavioral competencies, asked dynamic questions, evaluated on character, and selected for your ability to grow in your role.
Ready to apply for a job at Apple? Make sure you schedule a session with Rich so he can review your resume or help you prepare for your next interview!
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