Hiring Managers Share Their Tips for Rocking a Job Interview

After you interview for a position, do you ever wonder if you gave the hiring manager the information she was looking for, or answered her questions in a concise and compelling way?

That’s always a cause for worry, so we reached out to hiring managers to get their views on the things that tech candidates should focus on if they want to improve their performance during a job interview.

Describe a Challenging Project in an Interesting Way

Describing a complex and challenging project in an exciting way is by far the most important evaluation criteria for tech hiring managers. They not only pay attention to the specificity of your answer; they are assessing your level of passion.

“Don’t make your story too dry or too technical,” advised Glenn Pitchford, IT director for Permian Basin Community Centers. “The way a candidate describes a project he’s most proud of tells me how he feels about his accomplishments and his level of enjoyment and job satisfaction.”

What makes a compelling story? Hiring managers, and even technical evaluators, want to see if you can solve real problems, noted Ron DuPlain, a practicing software engineer and former CTO who serves as partner and recruiter for Myth Talent.

“Provide just enough context for others to get it, then let yourself go deep in discussing the engineering challenges,” DuPlain added. He suggests that you address the following questions:

  • What was the genesis of the project?
  • Did you start with a clear set of requirements, or just a simple objective statement?
  • Who was on the team, and what was your role?
  • What problems were you solving, and how did you solve them?
  • How did you collaborate within the team?
  • How did your work impact the success of the wider team?
  • What methods did you use to put the project into production?
  • How did you evaluate what you built?

In addition, hone your storytelling technique by practicing your stories over and over again with real people. Having someone to act as a sounding board, or even a mentor, is key.

Own Up to Your Mistakes

At some point, the hiring manager will probably ask about your mistakes. When you’re put on the spot, the worst thing you can do is pass the buck or refuse to come up with an example of something that went wrong.

Acknowledge a bad decision or take responsibility for a technical error before quickly pivoting to what you learned from the experience. That’s a sign of emotional maturity and a desire to grow and stretch—qualities that hiring managers look for in potential employees. Always anticipate these questions and be prepared to answer them effectively and truthfully.

Explain How You Deal With Missed Deadlines

Hiring managers often ask this behavioral question to see how you’re likely to act when adversity strikes: “Tell me about a time you missed a deadline.”

Unfortunately, many candidates don’t answer it well. They immediately jump to how they worked around the clock to fulfill the deliverables, and forget to mention the importance of keeping their manager, the project owner, and stakeholders updated and informed. Tech managers want to be assured that you are likely to make good decisions, take ownership, empathize with the affected parties, and over-communicate when you or your team misses an important deadline.

Convey Passion for the Company’s Mission

In most companies, technology plays a vital role in supporting the mission, growth and achievement of key objectives. Moreover, studies have shown that employees who relate to the company’s mission are more productive and less likely to leave for another opportunity. That’s why hiring managers look for alignment with the company’s values and environment when assessing a candidate’s cultural fit.

To land an offer, it’s vital to convey an understanding and passion for the company’s purpose, and what needs to be delivered to ensure a great product or service. Do your homework, and exhibit curiosity and interest by asking questions about the challenges facing the organization. You’ll also want to ask how you can contribute to the solutions.

Like most managers, Pitchford says that it’s easy to learn another programming language or dataset. What’s far rarer is someone who is genuinely passionate about a company or mission. By exhibiting passion, you can impress your hiring manager and potentially land the gig of a lifetime.

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