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CareerBytes: Top 10 Technical Interview Tips

By , , 3 Oct 2006
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Introduction

If you are working as a software engineer, there’s probably no doubt that you’ve had to run the gauntlet of technical interviews. Interviewing for technical positions can be difficult because you have to be able to demonstrate your value in terms of “soft skills” such as communication and team work as well as your “hard skills” such as programming and problem solving. Employers in this new tech boom are placing an ever higher premium on applicants who possess a combination of skills. They want competent technical employees who are also able to drive a business. This changed complexity in open positions has caught many seasoned industry vets off-guard and unprepared. However, being able to show that you are a well rounded candidate and can add value to a company on multiple levels can help you get a leg up on your competition. Consider a few of these tips as your prepare for your next job search or interview experience:

  1. Research: Companies are looking for a certain amount of intellectual curiosity from applicants. They want to know how interested you are in the position, the company, and the products they are developing. When an interviewer asks, “Do you have any questions for me?,” the last thing they want to hear is “No.” They want to hear that you’ve spent meaningful time contemplating these issues, and that you have good questions to ask them. A portion of your interview preparation should be devoted to finding out as much as you possibly can about the company, the product, the group, the division and, finally, the position. You can start by asking your recruiter for any links he/she can send you about the business, and then set off and do your own research. Search tools are a great place to start, but you can now also find good information on company blogs, and by using some business research tools such as Hoover’s.
  2. Practice answering technical questions: In almost all interviews for software engineering, developer, or programmer positions, you will most likely be asked to demonstrate your programming skills. This usually takes place on a whiteboard, but you may also be asked to respond to technical questions via email in a specific time limit, or even bring in copies of your sample code. In any case, prior to engaging in your job search and interviewing, spend extra time coding at home. There are great resources for practice coding questions that you can find by searching for “sample technical interview questions.” Two interesting sites out there are General Technical Interview Questions and Microsoft Interview Questions. Many of the questions you will be asked are analytical or academic in nature. Since you don’t often answer these types of questions on a daily basis, it’s a good idea to spend extra time practicing how to answer them. Interviewers will want to evaluate your skills and thinking process without the use of development tools, so your practice should include writing on a whiteboard, writing answers on a piece of paper, or coding in a text application.
  3. Practice answering behavioral questions: You may have heard them all by now, but employers are always surprised that applicants are unprepared with answers to questions as mundane as “what is your greatest strength?” Jobseekers don’t often devote enough time to preparing for these questions because they often think that they are great at answering questions on the fly. While that may be true in real life, during an interview, you may be feeling more nervous than usual, and will have a more difficult time thinking on your feet. You should anticipate as many behavioral questions as possible related to the position. For example, if you are applying for a Program or Product Manager, you may want to spend time thinking about the most difficult customer you have had to deal with, or how you tend to influence others without authority. Check out this site for wonderful sample behavior interview questions.
  4. Review the job description: Before you engage in any interview, nail down the specific position they are evaluating you against, and make sure you ask the recruiter for the job description. Many of you have probably had the experience of embarking on interviews without even having a job description, and that’s just not right. With the job description in hand, you can spend time evaluating your skills against their requirements and determining what your strengths and weaknesses might be. If you do have a weak area, you can spend time brushing up your skills, or coming up with a response to how you will come up to speed on that technology. You can also use this as a basis for developing your own questions, or researching the company and position.
  5. Be on time: If you are interviewing in an unfamiliar place, take a dry run to the location several days or the night before the actual interview. You’ll want to arrive at least 10-15 minutes early for your interview, to fill out paper work and settle yourself before your interviewer meets you. Never underestimate getting lost or held up in traffic.
  6. Dress for success: Employers care about appearance when it comes to interviewing potential candidates. They might be the sloppiest person that you have ever met, but they’ll be expecting you to dress the part of the professional. In this industry, rarely are individuals required to wear a full three-piece suit to the office. Most companies have instituted a “business casual” policy or no policy at all. When getting ready for your interview, always ask your recruiter or company contact what the typical dress is for the office. You can never go wrong with being dressed a little more conservatively than everyone else. In general, slacks, dress shoes, and button down shirts are all great choices for the interview.
  7. Be engaged: Turn off your mobile phone, PDAs, and any other electronic communication devices, and devote your full attention to the interviewer. Answering your cell phone during an interview is a major faux pas, and can land you in the “no hire” bin faster then you can say hello. Great interviews usually end up sounding more like a conversation then a Q&A period, so take the time to listen carefully to questions, and ask clarifying questions of your own. Additionally, make appropriate eye contact with your interviewer when answering questions.
  8. Remain composed: Interviews can really be a horrible experience when not done right. Have you been there? Waiting forever to meet with your interviewer, or being asked basic questions. Worse yet, being treated poorly. Unfortunately, this happens, and there is little you can do to predict when it will happen to you. Remember that you’ll catch more flies with honey than vinegar, so even if you are being treated poorly or feeling frustrated, kill ‘em with kindness. Blowing your top in an interview setting is never appropriate, and besides, you never know if you will run into these folks again in another setting or at your next interview.
  9. Follow up: Thank you's are always appreciated by interviewers and recruiters alike. During the interview day, ask your interviewers for their business cards so you have their contact information. These days, you don’t need to send a formal written thank you note, but you should acknowledge that the interviewers took time out of their day to meet with you. A simple email indicating your thanks for their time can go a long way. As a bonus, you may also want to include something you remember specifically about that person, or a question you may have answered. For example try:

    Dear Bob,

    Thank you for taking time out of your busy day to interview me for the software developer position on your team. I thoroughly enjoyed meeting you and members of your team, and think my skills and personality would be a great match for your group. As a side note, I went back and read your whitepaper on optimizing stored procedures and ….

    Cordially,

    Joe Jobseeker

    This shows that you are appreciative of their time, and you took something away from the interview. Interviewers love this!

  10. Don’t let them forget about you: Your interviews are over, and you survived. Now you wait, but don’t wait too long. Even though the recruiter or interviewer is supposed to deliver the results of your interviews, unforeseen circumstances can throw good intentions off course. If several days pass, and you still haven’t heard from your recruiter, it’s not necessarily a bad sign. Follow-up with your recruiter, and politely ask if a result has been reached. All too often, interviewees will assume no news is bad news, and they’ll never contact their recruiter again. This lack of two way communication is what recruiters refer to as allowing a candidate to accidentally "fall through the cracks." While it is the recruiter’s ultimate responsibility to keep you updated, this is your career we’re talking about. If you’ve put in this much effort thus far, you should continue driving the process forward in a professional manner.

Conclusion

Technical interviews have evolved over the past few years to evaluate for a different skill set in potential candidates. Employers are seeking applicants with a wide range of skills, and you must be able to demonstrate that you are able to add value with your technical and business skills. Even if you are an experienced interviewer yourself, it can be a difficult challenge to be on the other side of the fence. Whether you are just starting your job search or in the midst of interviewing, taking time to prepare thoughtfully can help you break the code between what employers are seeking and what you have to offer.

License

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About the Authors

gledgard

United States United States
Gretchen Ledgard is an experienced technical recruiter and co-founder of Microsoft’s JobsBlog which was named the best blog for jobseekers in 2005. Gretchen is passionate about helping software engineers succeed in today’s job market, and as a Partner with JobSyntax, she works with both technical jobseekers and employers to help them achieve their career and recruiting goals. Gretchen is a geek, loves hanging out with her Bernese Mountain Dogs, and follows celebrity gossip with much curiosity. If you know some juicy celebrity stories or just want to say hi, you can email her at gretchen@jobsyntax.com.

zoeg

United States United States
Zoë Goldring is an expert employment consultant for the software engineering industry and former recruiter for Microsoft. She is a passionate advocate for helping to break the code between technical jobseekers and employers. As a Partner with JobSyntax, she regularly advises individuals in the areas of employment and personal branding, resume development, and job search, interviewing and negotiation skills coaching. Zoë has a consuming interest in little known trivia and shares her home with her husband and two Moggies. Want to get in touch? She can be reached at zoe@jobsyntax.com.

Comments and Discussions

 
QuestionVery nice. Thanks for your inputs. PinmemberSivakumar_Aruchamy1-Feb-14 11:00 
GeneralMy vote of 4 Pingroupvaibhav mahajan2-Oct-12 20:44 
NewsGreat Tips.... PinmemberLaxmikant_Yadav10-Nov-11 1:49 
GeneralAnother link PinmemberPhilip_Hadviger22-May-09 8:42 
Good tips. I found this eHow article useful last time I was interviewing.
 
http://www.ehow.com/how_4526446_prepare-software-developer-interview.html
GeneralCheck [modified] Pinmembercodn31-Oct-07 18:37 
GeneralCheck this PinmemberSoftwareakash8-May-07 22:15 
General2 way street Pinmemberedboe10-Oct-06 5:06 
GeneralRe: 2 way street Pinmemberzoeg10-Oct-06 6:22 
GeneralRe: 2 way street PinprofessionalTheirligh9-Apr-14 4:55 
GeneralGlad to see you here PinmemberDeobrat Singh3-Oct-06 6:19 
GeneralRe: Glad to see you here Pinmemberzoeg3-Oct-06 8:56 

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