Success at any job interview is based on putting your best foot forward. But that gets that much more difficult when you have to prove your skill set on top of charming everyone in the room.
So what’s the secret to success in a technical interview?
Get the Game Plan
“The most critical thing a candidate can do to prepare for a technical interview is to ask the person organizing the interview what the game plan is,” said Janine Davis, principal at Fetch Recruiting in Los Angeles. Your job at that point, she added, is to determine if you’ll be doing a coding test, whiteboard session, or a server set up, and if so, what the exercise will involve, whether there’s a Q&A, and what topics will be covered.
Finding out who will be conducting the interview is essential, as well. Will it be one-on-one, or will you be talking to a group? What are the types of people that will be in the room, and how do they relate to the job?
If your contact doesn’t have company intel, Davis recommends sites such as Glassdoor for possible tips, or having off-the-record conversations with people who already work there.
Practice, Practice, Practice
If you are unable to find out how the interview will be set up, putting yourself in the moment is a strategy. Do some research online to find typical technical questions that might be asked. Whiteboard those at home, and make sure your process flows, so you won’t get rattled during the real thing.
John Reed, senior executive director of Robert Half Technology, advises you consider what kinds of questions the employer would want answered, and then, how you’d respond. Obviously some of them will be technical, Reed said, but they’ll also “be more thought-provoking because they want to see soft skills, to find out how you solve problems and communicate.”
To that end, he suggests you prepare by practicing your responses; the more you practice, the more polished and tight your eventual presentation. He suggested speaking out loud and having someone else listen; while doing that, keep in mind that clarity and accuracy are also critical in a tech interview.
“Ask whoever is listening, if you were clear,” Reed said. “Ask if there were there things you said that could have been expanded on, or things you shouldn’t have said at all.”
“Try being real,” stressed Davis, who suggests that you leave your cell in the car, remember to make eye contact with a firm handshake, and “strive to create a personal connection with the person interviewing you before the nuts and bolts of the interview start.”
If there are multiple people involved in the interview, Reed said, the candidate needs to recognize each person in the room. “Write down their name and their title as they’re doing introductions,” he encouraged. “Make sure you understand why they’re there. Is it the technical advisor or a supervisor you’d be responding to? If you understand those dynamics, you’ll understand where that person is coming from when they ask you questions.”
The hiring manager needs to be absolutely sure that you really and truly want this job. “If you have thoroughly researched the employer, know what the company is all about and who does what there,” Reed added, “it demonstrates a high level of interest.”
Reed has worked with many candidates who were the most qualified for the job, but didn’t get it because the manager didn’t think they were interested in it. He’s watched candidates with a little less experience take that same job because they were more prepared, which translated into being more excited about the position.
Show and Tell
Being able to highlight your work and your successes is another key aspect of a technical interview. “You need to be able to talk about projects you’ve worked on,” Reed said. “But if you have the ability to provide examples and have samples on hand from sites like GitHub or Google Code, that’s really powerful.”
According to Davis, a candidate can and should ask if the interviewer has any concerns or obstacles about them getting the position: “This simple question can draw out question marks or impressions that can be addressed on the spot before the door closes with a ‘Thanks, but no thanks.’”
The interview isn’t entirely over even if you’re out the door. “You can’t sit back and think, ‘Oh, they’ll follow up if they have any questions,’” Reed said. “It’s you who has to follow up and continue to express your interest. Send an email or a hand written note. Let them know you’re really motivated to accept an offer.”
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