Surviving the Technical Interview Page 5

By Deb Shinder (Send Email)
Posted Dec 20, 2010


Tips and Techniques for Surviving and Succeeding in the Technical Interview

Although it's fine to review some of the technical facts the night before your interview, staying up all night trying to "cram" is not productive. You should get a good night's sleep so you'll be fresh and awake and your brain will be working properly during the interview. Other do's and don'ts include the following.

Do

  1. Be on time for the interview. "On time" means don't be late, and don't be significantly early, either. It's best allow yourself plenty of time to get there, just in case you hit a traffic snag or have to take a detour. If you don't encounter problems and end up arriving far ahead of time (more than fifteen minutes), go find a convenience store and have a cup of coffee, or wait in your car for a while. While tardiness is a pet peeve of interviewers, most are just as put off by the candidate who comes in much earlier than scheduled and sits around in the reception area looking impatient.
  2. Dress appropriately. Appropriate dress for an interview is not necessarily the same as appropriate dress for work after you get the job. Just how formally you should dress depends on the company atmosphere and the position and demeanor of the person who's interviewing you. It might be appropriate to dress up more if your interview is with the company president, than if it's with an "in the field" tech manager. It's better to err in the direction of too conservative than to dress too casually, but if you overdress too much (i.e., you're much more formally dressed than the interviewer), you may come across as stuffy and lose points. If you've researched the company and interviewer beforehand, you'll have an idea of what type of dress is most appropriate. That brings us to the next "do."
  3. Do your homework. Many, many candidates go into interviews -- technical or otherwise -- "flying blind." If you don't care enough to find out about the company so you can talk intelligently about why you want to work there, why should the interviewer care enough to hire you?
  4. Follow up after the interview. The end of the interview is not the end of your candidacy (unless you really bombed, and even then a good follow-up can sometimes turn things around). I have been told personally several times in my working life that the reason I got a particular job was because I was the only candidate who sent a follow-up "thank you" note to the interviewer, restating my interest in the position. It takes about five minutes and costs only the price of a postage stamp (and this is one instance where snail mail makes a better impression than email), and it can make the difference between coming out on top or getting that "we are sorry that your talents don't fit our needs" form letter.

Don't

  1. Overwhelm the interviewer. It's great to be enthusiastic, but don't bubble with enthusiasm -- you want to convey a quiet, professional sort of enthusiasm that.
  2. Ramble. Answer the interviewer's questions thoroughly and in appropriate detail, but don't veer off the topic to attempt to demonstrate everything you know about everything. Make your answers as concise as possible.
  3. Answer in monosyllables. For example, "have you worked with DHCP?" is not, despite appearances, a simple yes/no question. The interviewer expects you to follow your "yes" with examples of how you've deployed DHCP in a routed network, or how many DHCP servers you've configured, or how you implemented a DHCP superscope on a multinet. If you must answer "no," you should add (if true) that although you haven't had a chance to work directly with DHCP yet, you have studied the topic and know x, y and z about the protocol and when and how to use it.
  4. Let one mistake cause you to give up on the interview. Everyone makes mistakes, but some candidates will stop trying if they realize they've answered a question incorrectly or incompletely or didn't know the answer at all. If the interviewer corrects you, accept it gracefully and tell him or her that you appreciate the opportunity to learn something new. If you realize you've bungled a question but the interviewer doesn't mention it, you may want to bring it up at the end of the interview: "you know, I just realized that when I answered (whatever the question was), I was thinking about something else. A better answer to that would have been ..." This lets the interviewer know that you really do know the correct answer, and that you're honest enough to admit it when you make a mistake. Because employees who try to hide, cover up or deny their mistakes can be costly to a company, most interviewers will appreciate this quality.

This article has been based on the premise that your tech interview was of the on-site, in-person variety. However, there is another type of technical interview, conducted over the phone. Some of the tips we've given will be the same, but in some aspects, the telephone interview is different. We will discuss those differences next.

Revised, Dec. 20, 2010



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