6 ways to smash your next technical interview
The so-called technical interview (or what usually comes in between the ‘meet and greet interview’ and the ‘contract signing interview’) at first glance appears only to be a test of your programming credentials but in fact it is much, much more. Your potential future employer will also be on the look out for how you approach solving problems.
WTF? I’ll either solve it or I won’t, right?
It’s obviously a results business, but the how you get there is equally important in this situation. Here's what Moishe Lettvin, who has conducted hundreds of technical interviews in his career, has to say about it: “what I want to know is: does the candidate know how computers work, and can they use that knowledge to write code or design systems to solve problems well.”
The person carrying out the technical interview will often try to find out the following 6 things:
1. What knowledge you have on computers, software and systems
Your potential superior needs to evaluate how well you understand the function and interaction between hardware and software. He/she wants to be sure that you have a good overview and that you are able to picture the advantages and disadvantages of each software architecture design. You can also expect questions on algorithmic principles and other basic aspects of computing theory.
Techloop tip: Beforehand, look through your old school notes or Google the theories and give them a scan. It’s a bit of a pain but it’s one less thing to sweat over in the interview.
2. If your skills match the vacant position
Techloop tip: Be as specific as possible and go into as much detail as possible - generic ‘fillers’ don’t impress anyone. Don’t be afraid to stand by your opinion - the interviewer will want to see if you can defend your reasoning.
3. To what extent your previous work experience has prepared you for the desired position
Prepare yourself for detailed questions about your previous job and how precisely you contributed to your team’s work and results. Your interviewer will be looking to find out what exactly you have behind you and to make sure your work experience doesn’t just look good on paper but would make you a good fit for the job you’ll be doing.
Techloop Tip: Think through how your previous successes relate to the position you’re applying for and how to best present it so that it appears beneficial to your potential new boss.
4. How you set priorities (and if you stick to them)
Especially if you’re a bit senior you’ll most likely have to deal with even more strategic issues regarding projects and proposals for complex problem solving. For this reason your potential boss will be looking to find how you approach dealing with these situations, if you’re able to distinguish between what’s crucial and what’s superfluous and if you stick to these priorities that you’ve set
Techloop Tip: Consider complex issues with care and don’t go diving in head first. Calmly think through what’s essential and what isn’t, especially bearing in mind who’s leading your technical interview and break down the problem according to this.
5. If you work well in a team
Although a lot of developers work individually, in the majority of companies you have to cooperate with others at least sometimes. Therefore your future employer will certainly be interested how you are at working with other people. Unique to coding is that you have to decipher what others have written and also put out code that the rest of the team will understand.
Techloop Tip: This is a difficult balance to maintain - you want to make sure you stand out as a great potential employee but you don’t want to go so far that it looks like you put yourself ahead of the team. In terms of writing code, it’s suggested to put an emphasis on clarity and readability, even if that comes at the expense of speed.
6. If you can work under pressure
We mustn’t kid ourselves, development isn’t usually a relaxing activity. The classic situation is a ridiculous deadline, an absolute trainwreck of leftover code from your predecessor and that good-for-nothing Internet Explorer on which nothing seems to work.
Because such situations are likely to occur in your new job, your potential employer will definitely be interested in how you cope under pressure.
Techloop Tip: If you are put under pressure, don’t be surprised, this is precisely what the interview is for. If you begin to panic, take some deep breaths and remind yourself that if it doesn’t work out it won’t be the end of the world.