How to Prepare for Technical Interview Questions
You know preparing for a technical interview is important. Your interview prep might be the difference between an okay job or a better paying career that fits your goals.
But it can be daunting to know where to start. You might even be tempted to just wing it!
The good news?
Technical interviews are all pretty similar and it's a skill that can be learned. Use this article to learn what type of questions to expect and how to prepare.
You'll be looking forward to technical interviews to show off what you know.
Technical Interview Preparation
Start your technical interview preparation by conducting research on the company. The research you perform in advance 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?
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 postings 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.
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.
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.
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 are 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 curveball 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 curveball 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?
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
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.
What is the most common mistake people make in technical interviews?
Forgetting to prepare for the behavioral questions too!
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.
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.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
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