As IT professionals we realize that technical screenings are a big part of the interviewing process. Technical interviews can be a serious cause of anxiety for several different reasons. From worries about how many people will be there, to what kinds of questions will be asked, it can really be nerve wracking! How many people will be asking questions? One? Nine? Nineteen? There’s nothing quite like the feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when you walk into a room and see ten people on the other side of the table when you expected two. Second, what will you be asked? Will the questions be ‘easy’? This simply translates to: ‘Will they ask me stuff I happen to know?’ Will the questions be ‘hard,’ ie, ‘Will they ask me stuff I don’t know,’ or ‘Will they ask me about stuff I’ve never even heard of?’
Having been on both sides of the technical interview table, we’d like to share four tips for those being interviewed. At the end we include some interviewing ‘best-practices’ regardless of the type of interview you will be participating in.
No good interviewer expects you to know everything. The problem is, you’re not always going to be interviewed by someone who’s good at it. Sometimes, the person who’s giving you a technical interview was given no time to prep. Maybe they’ve never interviewed anyone before, or maybe they’re just in a bad mood. If you’re asked a question you just don’t know the answer to, don’t try to BS your way past it. Trust us, it will be obvious. Never fear though, this is the moment you’ve been waiting for! Shine by explaining to the interviewer how you would do your homework on how to answer that particular question. It’s more about being able to figure out how to get the information.
Be prepared for a practical technical interview. A wonderful, reliable way to quickly find out whether you know what you’re talking about is to see you actually perform regular (and maybe some not-so-regular) tasks. They can ask you about technology and make you take all the computer-based exams in the world, but it all comes down to performance. Be prepared to prove you belong on your interview day.
Be professional, even if your interviewer isn’t. Once, in a group interview an applicant handled four questions from the first four members of the hiring committee beautifully, then faced a particularly unfriendly tech for a question. The tech had the same pool of questions we did for the interview, but decided to go off script… Yikes. He asked a convoluted question that would have made Bill Gates’ head swim. When he was done, the candidate answered: ‘You can’t do what you just described.’ The tech quickly went on the defense at which point it became obvious he hadn’t been able to follow his own question! The interview went into a bit of a tailspin from there. You need to understand right now that there are some unprofessional people out there giving technical screenings. Be prepared for it, but rise above the temptation and be professional.
Being professional covers a lot of ground, so here is a quick list of other aspects for you.
Show up 5-10 minutes early. Nothing makes a technical interviewer surlier than waiting for the applicant. (But don’t be too early.)
Dress to impress. The way you look when you walk into a room plays a larger part in your interviewer’s first impression of you.
Don’t chew gum during the interview. That will distract the individual interviewing you, and it does not look professional.
Don’t be arrogant. There is a definite difference between ‘arrogant’ and ‘confident.’ Being confident in an interview is a must, but don’t come into the interview room acting like you’re better than everyone else in there. Remember, if you’re successful these people will be your co-workers.
Finally, relax. Take a deep breath and know that the majority of interviewers you’ll ever meet are going to be professional. After all, this is part of their job. The interview won’t be ruined if you miss one question. If you were not qualified on paper for the job, you wouldn’t be in there.
Interviews are great. Look at it as an opportunity to prove you know what you’re talking about! With the proper mental attitude, your technical interview will be a springboard to the next step in your career!