Technical Interview

Nov 7th, 2010 | By | Category: abundance, aptitude, Career advice, interview, personality, skills, strategy, tactics

A turtle only makes progress when he sticks his neck out.

I used to believe there were magic interview words and phases like Ali Baba used to open the magical cave and gain access to the treasure it protected. I read a lot of books and articles on successful interviewing techniques, and never found any real magic words. In my senior year in college there were numerous discussions on interviewing techniques and how to respond to technical questions. That was almost 40 years ago, and over that time the basic interview questions have not changed much. When I help clients develop strategies on answering interview questions, it is very reminiscent of when I was looking for an entry-level job. Even the “trick questions” are very similar.

In my opinion, if you make it to the interview stage your technical credentials were judged to be appropriate for the job. When I worked for the federal government they would form rating panels to evaluate applicant’s resumes and applications for adherence to the posted job requirements. For example, if the job required an attorney, accountant, engineer, etc. The panel would look at each application to determine if they had the proper training and credentials. The panel would then rank the applicants based on how well each met the job requirements, and, usually, the top 5 were interviewed. It is important to keep in mind that while your resume and application states you are qualified for the position; many interviewers will still test you on your experience and expertise.

When I was searching for my first job as an entry-level engineer a company that designed and built equipment used in oil exploration interviewed me. This was in the 70s, and much like recently, energy was a hot career field. I think the personality part of the interview went well. Then in the afternoon, two senior staff engineers took me to the engineering department to show me around and continue the interview. One asked me to go to the board and draw a design for a simple electronic circuit. Instead of asking for some clarification, on what he wanted, I assumed that expected me to design a working circuit with all the components. So I said that I would need a manual. Shaking his head, he went to the board and drew a block diagram, which I could have easily done. I did not get the job. This incident still haunts me, but it taught me a few things about knowledge-based interviews.
1) Take your time and don’t panic when asked a question that you are not sure how to answer. Sometimes a few deep breaths will clear your head and give time to think.
2) Ensure that you understand the question, and the detail that is expectd. Rephrase the question in your own words. Some applicants use this opportunity to change the question to something they know. (Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t) If you don’t know the exact answer, asking questions may demonstrate you know something about the subject.
3) If you really don’t know don’t try to bluff, especially on technical questions. The interviewer is most likely knowledgeable if he asked the question.
4) Although you may not know the answer off the top of your head, you may say that you remember studying the subject, and could readily find the answer in your textbook, or notes. Perhaps even offer to send an email with your answer the next day. If he accepts be sure to follow though.
5) If the interviewer is interested in the technical aspects of the job, doing research prior to the interview will enable you to discuss projects that are being considered or underway. Researching companies on the Internet is quick and easy, and makes you appear much more prepared.
6) Study the acronyms and buzzwords associated with the area you are interviewing. Many times the interviewer will use buzzwords or acronyms and not know the meaning. So it may be awkward if you have to ask for a definition. I do not recommend using buzzwords during an interview, but if you do be sure you know the correct meaning.
7) Research the latest developments in your field. An interviewer will often mention the latest developments to see how closely you follow your career field. Whether you know something about the subject or not, you may add some information or ask questions to keep the conversation going, but do not go deeper than the interviewer.
8) Be sure to let the interviewer lead the discussion. Often in technical discussions the applicant tries to capture the conversation when it is about something they know. Answer the questions and contribute to the conversation, but let the interviewer maintain control.
9) Stick to the facts in technical interviews and avoid giving opinions unless you are asked. I sat in on an attorney interview when there was a high profile trial in the news. Naturally the topic came up, and the applicant instead of following the interviewers lead, started giving his personal opinion. That did not go over well with the interviewer who was also a law professor.
10) I do not recommend making excuses if you do not know the answer to a technical question. Again you may tell the interviewer you will be happy to find the answer and send it in e-mail. You can say that you remember studying the topic, but you cannot recall the answer right now. But do not make excuses. I have interviewed applicants who blame their professors and schools for not covering a topic or subject. This is the same thing as saying you do not have a good education.

Although properly displaying your knowledge during technical interviews is important, your personality, and how you handle challenging questions is even more critical. Your credentials demonstrate that you are capable of learning the technical aspects of the job, and it is up to you to convince the interviewer that you will put forth the necessary effort to do so.

The PracticaL Mentor

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