Technical Job Interview Tips to Prep You For Success
Picture this. You’re an up-and-coming tech developer or designer just starting your job search. You have sent out what feels like a million resumes and applications and have heard crickets for weeks. Suddenly your inbox dings with an email offering you an interview at your dream job. You sweat and scramble. How can you best prepare to showcase your skills and ace the interview?
Today we will discuss what to expect in your interview, along with tips to enter the tech world with confidence.
Behavioral Interviewing Basics
Today’s recruiters expect interviewees to come prepared to showcase their skills and communicate their strengths, logic, and processes. Behavioral interview questions help to uncover these traits by identifying past work experience, which can reveal how an applicant might take similar action or initiative in a new environment.
Before your interview, consider the behavioral basics and most common interview questions you may receive about you and your work. As you prepare, review these three key areas to maximize your narrative.
1. Communicate your strengths by preparing impactful responses. This may involve building a story toolbox ahead of time detailing your role in projects, including your accomplishments, interpersonal abilities, and ability to overcome obstacles. Come prepared to your interview with a one-minute elevator pitch about yourself and your accomplishments and one relevant project to focus on. Use other stories in your toolbox to describe your history and past projects in more depth later in the interview. The more intentional you can be with your narrative, the easier it will be for an employer to understand who you are and what you have to offer.
2. Anticipate questions. Typically employers want to identify a skill or quality they want, how you have used it, and how it has helped your organization. For instance, if a recruiter at a software engineering job asks about your strengths, pull a scenario out of your story toolbox and describe how you used leadership skills to successfully implement machine learning and big data skills at a non-profit in your Bloom Institute of Technology (formerly known as Lambda School) Co-Op. Use this formula to get as specific as possible, and use even the most basic questions to shine.
3. Use the STAR method to describe scenarios from your story toolbox. Respond to behavioral interview questions by using STAR, which stands for Situation, Task, Action, Result:
Situation: Describe an event, project, or challenge faced
Task: Outline your responsibilities and assignments for the situation
Action: Identify steps taken to relieve or rectify the situation
Result: Discuss results of actions taken
Behavioral questions may seem challenging, but with the STAR method you can turn a complicated narrative into something simple and straightforward. Recruiters today appreciate the clarity of communicating a narrative using these steps, and some may request it at the beginning of the interview.
It may take practice to describe your narrative with this formula, but the more clearly you can walk through a problem, the more likely an employer will feel confident in your ability to communicate issues.
Finally, do not discount the importance of behavioral interview questions, since you will never be evaluated on your technical skills alone. Instead, be prepared to sell your skills and yourself.
Technical Interview Logistics
For an up-and-coming web developer or data scientist, a technical interview will test your real-life coding skills, problem solving abilities, and personality using challenges and assignments closely resembling an exam. This type of interview may come in the form of a white board challenge, remote coding challenge, or even full days of onsite interviews, and will help employers determine that you have the necessary skills for the job. Although this might sound intimidating, remember it’s not meant to trick you. Rather, a technical interview will give you the opportunity to showcase your problem solving and efficiency.
Knowing what to expect and how to shine will help prepare you to present your best work. Here are three common technical interviewing stages you may encounter in the field:
#1 - Technical Phone Screen
Congrats! This first step signifies an employers’ interest in you on paper and their desire to learn more about you in real life. A recruiter will typically spend 30-60 minutes chatting with you by phone looking to identify if you are qualified, communicative, and enthusiastic about the position before they move to the next stage. Focus on conveying your excitement and highlighting soft skills such as teamwork and communication.
Pro tip: Stand out by tailoring specific anecdotes from your narrative to fit the organization you are interviewing for. This will signal to the employer that you have done your research and are already thinking about how your skills will apply to your new role.
#2 - Remote Coding Assignment
An employer may give a technical coding test as homework to complete within 48 hours, or may provide a live coding assignment over phone, Skype, Google Doc, or a web-based code editor like CoderPad or Collabedit. Here recruiters look for coding, problem solving, and collaboration skills along with testing code as you write it. Showing you have the technical experience to complete the work will provide a baseline of your skills and will let an employer know you are a serious candidate for the position.
Pro tip: If your take-home assignment asks you to use a specific language or framework you are unfamiliar with, don’t overextend yourself by learning too many new technologies. Instead, just pick one to experiment with and use your time and energy on the things you already know well.
#3 - Technical Onsite Interview
Person-to-person onsite interviews can involve both behavioral questions and what are commonly referred to as “whiteboarding challenges”. Here an employer will present a coding assignment, allowing you the opportunity to solve a problem in real time on a white board in front of your interview panel. Employers will look closely at an applicant’s coding skills, creativity, communication, analytical thinking, and systematic problem-solving ability. Additionally, they will ask questions to identify culture fit, macro thinking, and ability to handle feedback.
If you are interviewing for a startup, your panel may include members of the engineering team, including a senior developer, CTO, or others who may later supervise your work. If you are applying at a larger company, you may interview with a recruiter, HR staff, or members of the engineering team. Regardless, time spent at this stage can vary greatly, with some companies like Google reserving 4 hours and others like Facebook and Uber spending an entire day to vet candidates.
Interviewing for your dream job can feel overwhelming and insurmountable, but remember, practice makes perfect. Even if you feel confident about your behavioral and technical interview to come, preparation before the big day will yield the biggest payoff.
Psyched to snag your dream job? Here are some questions you might be asked during the technical interview.