5 tips to help you smash your technical interview

Author: James Milligan, Director UK & Ireland, Hays

Got a technical interview coming up? If so, I don’t need to tell you this will be mostly about proving all of the technical dexterity you claim to have on your CV. But even as an experienced developer, you would be at risk of selling yourself short if you were to forget these five tips ahead of your technical interview:

1. Do more than just read the company’s “About Us” page

At this point in your career, you’ve probably had plenty of interviews before, and you know to research the company, their history, products, services and industry reputation. But it would be in your interest to dig a bit deeper when preparing for your technical interview.Doing this will set you apart from the competition and help you feel more familiar with this company before walking through the door on the day of your technical interview.

What is the company’s vision for the future, and how does the role you’re interviewing for fit with this vision? For instance, maybe they are changing their product or service offering in response to digital transformations in their industry, therefore they need people with your technical skills.

And what about the culture? You may be used to relaxed and informal environments where you can turn up in jeans every day and work from a beanbag chair – but don’t assume anything about this new opportunity. Your recruiter should have all of the key information about their client, so reach out to them, look on employer review sites, and speak to anyone in your network who has worked at this organisation.

Make sure you also know the names and job titles of the people you are interviewing with. When you find out, use LinkedIn to look for similarities and common touch points but be subtle when using this information in the interview.

2. Prepare for scenario based questions

You may experience one, or a combination of all three of the standard assessment methods during the interview, so make sure you are ready for any eventuality. Let’s start with scenario based questions.

You are probably all too familiar with the dreaded scenario based questions. These usually involve a coding problem for you to solve on a whiteboard or piece of paper, for instance: “Given a stack, reverse the items without creating any additional data structures.” Of course, writing down your approach is trickier than tackling this scenario with the help of an IDE or compiler, and is something you won’t be used to. Therefore I would strongly advise researching typical whiteboard scenario based questions in the run up to the interview, and practice writing out your answers on paper and under timed conditions.

Also, remember that it doesn’t matter if you are not entirely correct. The aim here is for the interviewer to get a better understanding of your thought processes and how well you problem solve under pressure. And the best way for them to suss this out is by giving you a pen, a whiteboard, and asking you to show your working.

3. Practice answering competency based questions

Secondly, you are also likely to encounter competency based questions, which will focus on your achievements and the specific projects on which you have worked. An example might be: “Your CV highlights how you successfully built a trade surveillance and monitoring tool. Take me through the process, from when the business challenge was first identified, through to roll out.”

Make sure you revisit your CV before the interview and try to pinpoint which competency questions you are most likely to be asked, based on your skills and experience to date. Have a structure in your mind for answering these questions, so that you get your key points across without going off topic. I recommend using the STAR technique (Situation, Task, Action and Result). Describe the Situation and set the scene, explain the Task you undertook in this situation, the Action that was taken, and the Results of the action.

4. Brace yourself for technical interview questions

These questions are designed to test your technical knowledge, for instance: “Tell me how you’d find the first non-repeating element in an array”, “What is the difference between an Interface and an Abstract Class in Java?” or “What source control do you use?”

Of course the types of questions you are asked will heavily rely on what kind of role you are interviewing for. So, study the job description again beforehand – you’ll often be able to easily identify the topic areas the interviewer is most likely to focus on. You could also ask your recruiter if you aren’t quite sure what kind of technical questions to expect.

5. Remember - soft skills are key

Of course assessing your technical expertise is going to be a focal point of the interview, but employers are also looking to hire for soft skills. These are the skills which stand the test of time and transcend any technological changes to a business. Besides the obvious problem solving skills (which are part and parcel of being a tech expert!) you will need to prove that you have good communication skills. Can you make yourself understood when describing complex technical problems to others? There may be times when you work with non-technical teams – how good are you at sharing your knowledge with non tech professionals? Are you able to simplify this and cut out some of the jargon so that they understand?

Ahead of the interview, work on how you communicate your explanations in front of both tech and non-tech experts, and ask for their feedback on how concise and clear you are.

Yes, as a tech expert, you have a wealth of knowledge and skills to offer up – so don’t undersell yourself by turning up to the interview poorly prepared. Cover all your bases in terms of what to expect, and how best to prove yourself, and no doubt you will smash your technical interview.

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