Ah, the technical interview. Nothing like it. Not only does it cause anxiety, it causes anxiety for a number of reasons.
How many people will ask questions? From experience I can tell you that there is nothing like walking into a room and seeing nine people on the other side of the table.
Second, what will you be asked for? Sometimes you will hear people say that the questions that were asked in a technical interview were “easy”, which translated means “they asked me things that I knew”. Sometimes you will hear people say that the questions were “difficult”, which translated means “they asked me things I did not know” or “they asked me things I had never heard of”.
Having been on both sides of the technical interview table, I would like to share some tips for interviewees. In doing so, I will share some of the most memorable interviews I have ever participated in.
No good interviewer expects you to know everything. The problem is, you won’t always be interviewed by someone who’s good at this.
Sometimes the person giving you a technical interview has been asked to do it about ten minutes before introducing himself. Maybe they’ve never interviewed anyone before, or maybe they’re just in a bad mood. I’ve heard of technical interviewers where the interviewer scoffed at an answer and this is totally unprofessional. I have had many job applicants give a bad answer to a question, and my only response was silence, followed by moving on to the next question. If your interviewer makes fun of one of his answers, you didn’t want to work there anyway.
None of us know everything. If they ask you a question that you just don’t know the answer to, don’t try to fool them. This is a good opportunity to tell the interviewer how you would research that particular question. It is not about knowing everything, it is about being able to find out anything.
If your interviewer acts like you don’t like him, it’s because he likes him. I once worked with a technician who felt threatened by anyone applying for a job there, but especially if the candidate had a professional certification and then had the courage to know what he was doing.
This technician attended a group technical interview where the candidate was an incredibly bright guy and had a particular skill that the department really needed. The problem was, the technician considered himself “the man” when it came to that skill. Recipe for disaster, right?
The applicant answered four questions from the rest of us with no problem, then reached out to this particular technology for a question. The threatened technician had a list of interview questions, but he decided to improvise. Big mistake. He asked a difficult question that Rube Goldberg would have been proud of. When he finished, the applicant replied:
“You can’t do what you just described.”
The coach began to defend his question and it became apparent that he had not been able to continue with his own question. The interview went into crisis from there.
Realize right now that there are unprofessional people giving technical interviews. Be prepared, but be professional.
Prepare for a practical technical interview. The best technical interviewers find a way to confront you with the technology you will be working with. A great way to quickly find out if you know what you’re talking about is to ask yourself if you actually perform common and perhaps some not-so-common tasks. We can talk about technology and take all the computer tests we want, but it all comes down to performance. Be prepared to show that you belong in your interview.
To be professional. This covers a lot of ground, so let me give you a short list.
Please arrive 15 minutes early. Nothing makes a technical interviewer grumpier than waiting for the applicant.
Dress for success. The way you look when you walk into a room leads to the interviewer’s first impression of you.
Do not chew gum during the interview.
Don’t be arrogant. See, there is nothing wrong with having an ego and acting confident. I do, and you should. But don’t walk into the interview room acting like you’re too good to be there.
Finally, relax. Easy to say difficult to do? Not quite. Keep in mind that most of the interviewers you will come across will be professionals in the whole thing. The world will not end if a question is lost. If you weren’t qualified on the card for the job, you wouldn’t be there.