Prepare for a Technical Interview

Updated on July 3, 2018
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Katy mentors young professionals beginning their careers and financial journeys to make informed decisions.

Interview preparation is likely what will make the difference between settling for a job or getting one that pays much better and fits your goals.

The interviewers use technical questions to assess whether you have the hard skills it takes to perform the job and to observe how you solve problems. Read about how to prepare and what types of questions to expect.

Technical Interview Preparation

Company Research

Start your technical interview preparation by conducting research on the company. The research you perform in advanced becomes even more important than a normal interview.

Some questions you'll want to answer throughout your research:

  • What kind of projects do they take on?
  • How would you contribute?
  • What technical skills do they value?

Role Research

If this is your first full-time engineering or software job out of college or you’re pursuing a role that requires new skills you need to spend a lot of time conducting research to understand the needed skills. The specific job description can give you a lot of information on this.

But be sure to not only rely on the job description. Job posting are usually written by Talent Acquisition who don’t understand the technical side of the job. So the bulleted list of software applications listed in the posting might include programs they don’t use anymore and there will be plenty of skills that don’t make the list.

To get a more well-rounded idea of what the position entails before the interview do some research outside of the company. Look at postings from their competitors for the same title. What skills and phrases do they use? Research that job title within your current company or ask a mentor for insight.

Technical interviews involve questions that test the skills you'll need for the job.
Technical interviews involve questions that test the skills you'll need for the job. | Source

Engineering Technical Interview Questions

To find the types of questions you might be asked, there are two main sources: the job description and your own resume. Learn how to use both to prepare.

Job Description

Read the job description and focus on the skills it asks for. These are usually listed under Basic Qualifications and Desired Qualifications. Be prepared to implement any of those skills. Or if you’re not quite qualified, have an explanation ready to show that you’re very able and willing to learn.

Anything on Your Resume

If you list a hard skill or software package on your resume you better know how to answer a challenging question about it. A candidate that can't answer a question covering the basics of something he put on his resume is a huge red flag. Even stellar answers to previous questions won't matter after that.

Types of Interview Questions

For engineering positions especially it’s valuable to be ready for as many of the questions as possible. Really anything is fair game to ask in an interview but there are a few areas where you can definitely expect some questions.

Previous Experience with a Skill

An interview will probably include a question that starts with “Tell me about a project where you used…"

You’ll need to be able to explain the broader scope and impact of that project. The technical interviewers will want to know the specific algorithms and data structures you used. But the managers in the room will want to hear about how you took the needs of the customer, budget and schedule into account so they know they’re getting more than just a code monkey.

Specific Problems

Many but not all technical interviews will give you a specific problem to solve. It’s hard to directly practice these without knowing them beforehand. In this case you need to have the technical background to address the question and the confidence to tackle it during the interview.

Curve Ball Questions

And then there’s the questions that seem to come out of left field. They put the candidates off guard either by being ridiculous or involving knowledge they couldn’t be expected to know.

The purpose of these isn’t to test your obscure trivia knowledge, it’s to see how you think on your feet.

Knowing the motivation for the question can help you give a better answer. When you recognize a curve ball question don’t let it throw you off. You can laugh or smile but stay confident. Then, let the interviewer know your thought process as you solve it. For entry-level engineering interviews the curve ball question often requires estimation. Explain your rationale and assumptions as you reach an answer. The interviewer is looking more at your process than the actual answer.

Time Spent Preparing

How long did you spend preparing for your last technical interview?

See results

Interviews for Entry Level Positions

When getting ready for an interview for an entry level position you might be wondering how difficult the questions are going to be. Candidates for true entry level positions right out of college won't be expected to know industry concepts and jargon. But the interviewer will ask questions that gauge how well you can apply your coursework.

At the very least, make sure you can answer basic questions using the skills in the job description. Update your resume as you gain work experience but remember that any skills you list on your resume you need to be able to back up with project examples and the ability to field technical questions.

Technical Phone Interview Tips
Technical Phone Interview Tips | Source

Technical Phone Interview

Doing well in a phone interview has its own challenges but also gives the candidate a few advantages. You can wear whatever you want, you don't have to worry about your body language and you can use any resource. For some, this might take the pressure off. For others phone conversations can make them even more nervous.

Phone Interview Tips

Following conventional phone interview tips will help you be successful like dressing formally and smiling when you talk. For phone interviews of a technical nature you’ll also want to use these tips:

  • Go hands-free. You want to be able to type or write without a cell phone pressed to your ear.
  • Repeat the question back to the interviewer. It lets them know you heard correctly and buys you time to think.
  • Bring good notes. You’ll want bullet reminders of key concepts and questions to ask at the end.
  • Take good notes. As questions are being asked or the scope of the job is explained to you write down everything you can.

Following these tips should help you come across as confident and knowledgeable.

Don’t Forget Behavioral Questions

When you’re expecting a technical interview it can be easy to get consumed with the hard skill questions. But it’s unlikely that the interviewers only care about what you know, they’re going to ask questions about how you execute at work and how you perform on teams. Be prepared to talk about why you want the position and why you think you will be successful.

Expect behavioral questions. These are the ones that follow the STAR method and might start with “Tell me about a time when you…”. Have a general idea of the situations you will use to answer them and how you’re going to highlight the best parts of your soft skills.

The opinions of hiring managers vary greatly on this but you’ll often hear that they are willing to train the right person the technical skills but there are some interpersonal skills that just can’t be taught. Show that your communication and leadership skills won’t be holding you back.

Results

Once the interview is concluded all you have to do is wait to hear back, and send a thank you email of course! Think about how you will negotiate salary if an offer is extended. That's another reason to put your all into preparing for a technical interview: good performance at an interview will give you more leverage in asking for higher compensation.

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