After you’ve landed your first interview for a tech position, you’ll want to make sure you’re prepared to not only say the right things, but to avoid saying the wrong things. There are lots of things you can say wrong in an interview; let’s dig into some things to avoid:
Don’t assume the person interviewing you is non-technical and doesn’t know the answers.
I made this mistake eons ago in my very first interview out of college. I assumed the guy interviewing me was some mid-level manager who had no technical skills, and I thought I could outdo him. Wrong. He asked me if I had ever used any tools belonging to a certain toolset, and I said yes, thinking that would be it. He asked, “Which ones?” I was unable to answer and it made for an awkward moment… and also a lack of job offer.
Don’t criticize the questions.
Fortunately, trick interview questions are beginning to go by the wayside; however, there’s still a possibility you’re going to encounter them at unexpected moments. (Specifically, “trick” questions are puzzle-y ones like, “How many gas stations are there in the country?” Google was a big fan of these, back in the day.)
The problem with these questions is they’re typically difficult to answer correctly without being given a lot of additional data; alternatively, many (such as the infamous “Why are manhole covers round?” question) hinge on whether you’ve happened to memorize a correct answer at some point. In general, though, trick questions are designed to see whether the applicant can logically work their way through a problem.
People interviewing for senior level positions with 10 or 15 years of experience might get away with being arrogant during questions like this and pointing out their absurdity, but if you’re interviewing for an entry-level position, don’t respond with anything other than sincerity. Don’t say how ridiculous the question is, and don’t criticize the interviewer for thinking that such queries can actually determine how you think. Instead, take the question seriously, and give it your best shot.
No, you are not their savior.
I’ve interviewed many young software developers who seem to assume that our shop is in total shambles, with problems so insurmountable that we need them (and only them!) to save the day. But they’re wrong. In fact, at many companies, things are usually going okay, if not splendidly. Please don’t go into an interview thinking that, if you hadn’t swept in at that moment, the whole place is going to collapse. It isn’t.
Don’t be too “unconfident.”
While overconfidence (not to mention outright arrogance) can ruin an entry-level interview, underconfidence can be just as bad. Although nobody wants to work with somebody who is arrogant towards other people, we also don’t want the other extreme: somebody who is scared to even take one step forward and needs their hand held constantly.
Go into the interview with confidence. Yes, you do know Python well for somebody just getting started; yes, you do know how to spin up an EC2 server on AWS. No, you’re not an expert with 15 years of experience; but you do know what needs to be done, and you know that you’ll have lots of opportunity to learn even more.
Don’t brag about things that all your classmates have also accomplished.
When I was just out of college, I thought that I could brag about the sheer number of programming languages I knew, and that the interviewers would be astounded by my knowledge. But what I failed to recognize was that virtually every college student who graduated that year also knew those very same languages.
As you can see, surviving your first tech interview means walking a very careful line. You’re still green, and the person interviewing you will see through any attempts to act like you’re on the same skill level as a seasoned professional. But you also don’t want to appear meek and frightened. You want to have the confidence of an experienced technologist, but with the humbleness of somebody relatively new… who is ready to learn whatever it takes to move forward in the profession.