Surviving the Technical Interview
December 20, 2010
The Purpose of the Technical Interview
The purpose of the technical interview is ostensibly to evaluate your level
of knowledge or skill in the topic areas relevant to the position for which
you're being considered. However, there's more going on in most interviews than
that. In reality, as you struggle to explain the differences between DHCP and
BOOTP or frantically search your memory for the best definition of
"asynchronous," your interviewer is likely to be judging you on any or
all of the following:
- First and most obviously, how much
you know about the hardware, operating systems, applications, and networking technologies with which you would be working
- How articulate you are, especially
for a position in which you may be called upon to wriemte reports or
documentation, or give presentations to users or upper management
- How poised and personable you are,
especially in a position like tech support or network administration, where
you will have to deal with many people at all levels of the organization
- How well you handle
especially if the position is in a high-pressure, time-sensitive
- How innovative you are -- can you "think outside the box" to come up with new
solutions rather than just spout the party line of the moment
- Whether you've had hands-on
experience with the products, or you only know the "factoids" you
read in books or learned in a classroom
- How vendor-centric you are -- do you know only one product line (e.g., Windows or VMware) or do you have a broader base of knowledge that is necessary in today's
modern hybrid network environments.
- How willing you are to take on extra duties or work overtime when necessary; how much pride you take in
your work and in doing a good job.
- How well you balance ambition and
leadership with the ability to follow the instructions and defer to the
wishes of management, even if you disagree.
- How loyal you'll be to the company.
- How honest you are (including
whether you're able/willing to say "I don't know" when you don't
know the answer to a question).
- Whether you have the wherewithal to
find out the answers to those questions and the solutions to those problems
that you don't know.
Wow. That's a whole lot of evaluating going on. No wonder technical
interviews make people so nervous.
Now that you're aware of some of the underlying purposes of the interview,
you should go through the list, and consider how you can tailor your answers
to positively impact the interviewer's impressions in each of these areas.
Obviously, "knowing your stuff"is mandatory, but that alone is not
enough to get you through the interview with flying colors.
Practice Makes Perfect at the Technical Interview
Practice your interview skills with a technically-savvy friend or ask
yourself questions and then practice your answers in front of a mirror.
Videoing your practice interviews can be an extremely useful aid. Although
you may be embarrassed the first time you watch yourself,
you may be amazed at the little nervous gestures or speech habits (for
instance, a peppering of "you know"s or "I mean"s or
"umm"s you weren't aware of before.
As you review the recording, ask yourself questions like the following:
enthusiastic do you seem? Do
you project an image of someone who really wants the job?
- Does your
body language send
undesirable signals (e.g., slumped posture that indicates laziness or
sloppiness, or shifty eyes that might be interpreted as a sign of
- Do you respond clearly and
confidently when you know the answer to a question?
- If you don't know the answer, do
you say so in a straight forward manner, without being overly apologetic or
appearing perplexed -- and then tell the interviewer what steps you intend
to take to go about finding the answer?
Once you've identified the problems, you can work on correcting them. Make
additional recordings so you can see your progress. As you watch, ask yourself
honestly whether you would hire yourself based on the impression you
make in the interview.
Unfortunately, your actions and words and personality are only one
part of the equation, and whether they add up to a job offer or rejection may
also depend in part on the personality of the person conducting the interview.
Revised, Dec. 20, 2010