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.
- 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.
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.”
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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