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How to Ace a Tech Interview

Tech interviews are challenging, even possibly stressful, whether you’re an experienced programmer or on your first foray into the world of development. Not only do you have to show off your coding skills, but impress your potential employers with your personality. It’s tough to be skilled and personable while battling interview jitters, but with our tips and tricks to ace a tech interview, you should be ready to handle whatever’s thrown your way -  whether it’s a coding challenge or an awkward behavioural question.

Pre-interview preparation

 

Glassdoor

Start with researching the company on Glassdoor pre-interview to get a better handle on their background and culture. Glassdoor typically has interview questions and comments from previous and current employees, which is super helpful to get an idea of what your interview might be like and what people think about working at the company.

Skills

Know your skills and projects inside out. List all possible projects that your interviewer might bring up and the skills and tools you used to make those projects happen – including a few that you attempted and failed – and what you learned from those failures. You’re then fully prepared for any project or skill-related questions fired at you.

Creating your story

Your personality is just as crucial as your tech skills, so ensure that you have a narrative prepared before you interview; a story that you feel comfortable telling about a specific time you made a product, how you used your skills, and how it benefited people.

If you fall silent and can’t communicate, why would the employer want you on their team? Ensure your story has particular details that the interviewer can pull from and then ask questions to avoid the conversation turning flat. Begin your account by speaking about the finished product instead of the initial stages – it makes for a better story.  When you’ve prepared in advance, you’ll be able to discuss your skills with confidence and ready to fill the silence if there is ever a lull in the conversation.

The first phone interview

  1. The most important part of a phone interview is knowing your audience - who you’re speaking to and what they’re likely to understand. If it’s HR, focus more on your soft skills because chances are they won’t be able to grasp what you’re saying if you use very technical terminology. But on the other hand, if you’re talking to the CTO, then technical knowledge shouldn’t be a problem
  2. Research the company and know why you align with them and their culture so you can answer the ‘what do you know about us’ or ‘why do you want to work with us’ questions with a factual well thought out answer
  3. Know how you want to respond to “Tell me about yourself.” Focus on work in previous jobs and how that would fit well and benefit this company

The remote technical test

  1. The most important tip here is to start it as soon as you receive it. That way if you have any questions or issues, you can immediately bring them up, and the sooner you finish, the better you will look. You wouldn’t want to wait to start the challenge and then not be able to finish in time.
  2. Take the time to prepare what you’re going to do before you do it. Have a plan for how you’re going to complete this test so you can catch errors early.
  3. Prepare, prepare, prepare. Brush up on old skills and new. You don’t want to waste time when you’re already in the challenge.
  4. Don’t copy code from the internet or friends to solve this challenge. You need to be able to explain your thought processes and the decision you made clearly - if you’re unable to do that it will reflect very poorly on you.

The whiteboard challenge

  1. Do your homework. This step applies for every stage of the interview, but particularly here. Brush up on your basics as well as the more difficult skills as you will probably need to use both of them during your interview.
  2. What should you wear? Typically tech companies are more relaxed, but you should always go one step above the dress code. If the people at the company usually wear jeans, you definitely shouldn’t wear your best suit, but somewhere along the lines of business casual would be an appropriate choice. It shows that you care about the interview you’re going to, and you dressed up for the occasion.
  3. Don’t rush – although it can be difficult when someone’s staring at you, and you feel that you need to finish the code as quickly as possible. But speed isn’t what the employer is looking for (obviously you can’t go at a snail’s pace, but they’re not prioritizing a speedy candidate over a slower one). They want someone who looks at the question and assesses the entire problem, not just takes a quick look and then rushes in the wrong direction.
  4. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. The interviewer is not your enemy, and if you look at the problem and ask questions, they’re more willing to guide you through difficult parts. The interviewer wants to see how you problem-solve, and if you do it effectively. Don’t bombard the interviewer with questions, but if you’re stuck, most of the time they’re more than willing to help you out.
  5. Talk through the decisions you’re making. Even if you mess up, your potential future employer wants to understand why you’re doing what you do and the process you take to write your code. That way, even if you get stuck, as long as they can see your process and understand where you’re coming from, you’re much more likely to win the affection of the employer. It’s like partial credit from a test in school; this typically applies to whiteboard challenges too.
  6. Don’t forget to chat too. All teams want to work with people they get along with. Try to find common points of interest and form a bond with them. If you gel with them, they’ll immediately be more willing to help and eventually hire you. The narrative that you made up before all the interviews comes into play now too!
  7. Make sure to send a follow up thank you within 24 hours and touch upon a point that you really feel like the interviewer and you connected over. It’s something that will make you stand out.

Awkward interview questions!

 

Why are you looking to leave your current job?

 When asked this question, ideal responses include;

  • that you’re looking for career advancement
  • want to increase your skillset
  • wish to work with newer technology etc.

Ensure that you don’t badmouth your current company because that may well ring warning bells for the interviewer and be careful when mentioning salaries/benefits (especially in early interviews).  A way to spin this positively is by saying that you didn’t feel they were paying you what you were worth, and because of that, you had difficulty being passionate about the product. Whatever your reason for leaving your past job, give an example of something that was lacking previously and how you know you can find it at this new job.

Why were you fired or had difficulties with your last boss?

Honesty is the best policy here. Not everyone gets along with everyone. Maybe you had different expectations of the role which created long term difficulties – as long as you can explain it somewhat and reasonably that should suffice. Assure them that you’re ready to commit to this company and truly passionate and excited about this opportunity. As long as you’re not abrasive and unpleasant at any point, the interviewer should leave it at that and be satisfied.

Why are there unemployment gaps in your resume/cv?

Whatever the reason – life happens - explain why the gaps were beneficial to you and how you stayed connected to the industry in your time off.  Show how you can take those new skills to this current job. This question can cause panic, but as long as you have an explanation, the missing time shouldn’t be detrimental to you.

What are some of your weaknesses?

It’s a somewhat daft question, but a common one, so use examples that aren’t severe character flaws. An excellent example of weakness might be that you have difficulty saying ‘no’, getting too focused on a task, etc. Then after giving an example, be sure to describe how you’re fixing it. For instance, if you have a hard time saying ‘no’, you could give an example of how in your last job you learned to analyse your workload alongside the broader business and team priorities before making a decision. Avoid any deep dark secrets and keep to surface level weaknesses.

What salary are you looking for?

This question can get awkward quickly – do you ask for the salary you want? Or the salary that you think will get you hired?

It is wise to base your answer on what your market worth is – a good agency recruiter will be able to help you with this.  Find out what the typical salary range for your position in that location is.

For example, if you’re an Android Developer in New York City, you can make anywhere from $50K to $200K, and based on experience and school, this range can be significantly narrowed down.

When asked about the salary, give a scale and the reason as to why you deserve that range. You don’t need to be exact about the number this early on in the process. As long as you can back up why you deserve somewhere in that range, then the interviewer can’t help but respect it. Just know your worth.  

If you’re working with an agency recruiter, they will negotiate salary on your behalf to get the best result for all parties - so try not to enter into too in-depth a discussion on this topic

You’re ready to ace your interview now!

Check that you’ve prepared what’s essential for each step. Each round will get a little bit more intense, but as long as you stay calm and are ready, you’ll be okay. So crack into your coding books and brush up on your skills and we wish you all the best on scoring your next tech job!

Added 17-Jul-2019

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