How to Survive the Technical Interview

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In a previous post, I talked about “How to Find a Tech Job in Washington, D.C.?” So now that you’ve got your foot in the door, the company wants you to go through a technical interview. So what can you expect?

The technical interview differs from a regular interview in both style and function. For one, its style is almost completely focused on your technical proficiencies. These are often separate interviews than the ones focused on “personality.” It functions for really one purpose; the interviewers want to make sure that your resume is a correct reflection of your skills. Each company approaches their technical interviews in a different way. Sometimes these interviews are done as an initial phone screen, in which you answer a barrage of technical questions. If you sound like you know what you are talking about, then you reach the next level of interviews. Other times, companies prefer to evaluate your ability to communicate and fit in with the culture before they test your technical chops. But if you are applying for a technical position, chances are you will have to get through some variation of a technical interview first.

The Phone Screen

All things being equal, the phone screen is typically the hardest technical interview to deal with. These are usually setup after an employer receives your resume and has deemed it positive enough to move forward. The company likes what they see on paper, but they want to make sure you have the skills to back it up and can think on your feet. Phone screens may be the method of choice for an interviewer because of the sheer volume of resumes received. The most difficult part of this is you have no idea what types of questions will be asked. However, the level of difficultly will be adjusted based on what you have said on your resume. If you have shown your work history as a senior-level employee in your specific technical field, expect your questions to be a bit more grueling than if you are straight out of college or have a junior or mid-level work history. In some cases, the interviewer may test your “highs and lows,” so you may be asked questions outside your skill level so they can see where your skill level lies.

The phone screen is often fast-paced. Exchanging pleasantries and chitchat is kept to a minimum, because the screener’s goal is simply to see whether you know the answers to the questions or not. There are some things about your job you must just know, while others where it is completely appropriate to look up information. If you do not know an answer in a phone screen, be honest. Do not make up an answer. The screener will be able to see right through that. Instead, you could demonstrate that although you do not know the answer you do know how to go about solving the problem. Describe the methods you would take to find a quick solution. Obviously you can’t do that for every question, but it is better than no answer at all, or worse, a flagrant attempt at a made-up answer. In addition, don’t be surprised if they follow up with a written test that they want you to complete within an hour and send back. They may also have you come in for a “deeper” formal interview.

The Formal Interview

The other form of technical interview is the standard formal interview, in which you, the applicant, would go to a prospective employer’s office and have an interview conducted there. In this setting you could be interviewed by either a single person or a technical “firing squad,” which typically consists of your future team members. This type of interview can vary. You may have a rigorous interview that is based solely on your technical merits. Sometimes, it will be a mixed technical and “personality” interview to make sure both your skills and your personality are a good fit for the company’s culture. Maybe the company will hire anyone with the technical muster, but most of the time the company wants to make sure you are a good fit with the team. The toughness of these interviews is determined in part by the strength of your resume and ability of the prospective employer to do a proper screening.

Prepare, Prepare, Prepare

Before you agree to either type of technical interview, make sure you review the appropriate technical resources for your field. For example, if you are a software engineer, review your language manuals. Chances are, if you are working in your field at the level the interviewer expects, you will be fine in the interview. However, if you misrepresent yourself in a technical field, it won’t be long before your lack of skill is found out.

The best way to survive a technical interview is to make sure the job you are applying for is the type of work you know how to do. You are going to be asked to speak intelligently about your field, so make sure you know what you are talking about. Relax, be confident, and make sure you pop in a mint before any sit-down interview (but finish it before the interview starts).

Interview the Interviewers

If you get to the formal interview process, make sure you get your questions about the company, team, management styles, etc. answered. The company is looking for an employee who will fit well on their team, but you should also be looking for a company that will be a good fit for you as well. Some may say “beggars can’t be choosers” especially if you are a job seeker who is currently not employed.Even in the most specialized technical field, you should look for the position that is the best match for you. Taking a job just for the pay check, even if temporarily, is not a solid motivation for doing your job in the long term. If you can find the company that best matches you, your career will more likely be a much longer and happier one.

So to all of you job seekers, good luck! And for a shameless plug of a great company to work for, go check out the careers section here at Segue Technologies®.

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