Is it Possible to Win a Technical Interview?

I don’t have to explain why technical interviews are tough, do I?  The question before us today is “Do you approach technical interviews differently than non-technical interviews?”  Surprise, surprise–you do.

If you know you’re going into a technical interview, in contrast to a normal interview where you may touch on a few high-level technical topics, you know that it’s important to the hiring company that you know your stuff.  We all know that you could pick it up if you needed to because you’re a quick study, but the company wants to see how much you know.

In addition, they want to see how you process your thoughts, and see if you think like they do.  Always remember: you’re being interviewed to see if you’d fit in.  Make sure you play the right role.

You shouldn’t be interviewing for a role if you’re not familiar with the required technology, but make sure to brush up as best you can.  There are many great sites and lists out there–just search for them.  Here’s one for .NET developers, here are some Java interview questions, SAP questions, and a great all-around site for tech interviews.  Do not enter a technical interview without brushing up.

Make sure to practice answering technical questions, because it’s a very different skill.  Even if you know the answer, it can be tough to communicate if you aren’t practiced in relating technical concepts to others.  And what do you do if you don’t know the answer?  I can tell you right now–you won’t know many of the answers.  Lots of the technical interviewers I know pride themselves on stumping the candidates.  And, frankly, seeing how you handle those questions is just as important as the ones you know by heart.

If you don’t know the answer, it’s best to be honest.  But then ask the interviewer about it and engage them in a conversation.  Demonstrate your interest by asking thoughtful questions.  Even if you aren’t familiar with something, at least you’ll show that you like technology and fit in with their company.

Remember that an interview is also your chance to get to know them, and that’s true with technical interviews as well.  As long as it’s an in-person (or on the phone) interview, you have equal control over the flow of the interview.  Feel free to ask questions.  For example:

  • “I haven’t heard of that before.  Do you commonly use that function?”  If they do use that function (or any other technology), you learn more about the job.  If they don’t use it, you’ve made an interesting point that you wouldn’t really need to know what they asked about.
  • “That’s something I’d be anxious to learn–how do you train your new employees?”

As with anything else, your chances greatly improves with practice and experience.  Technical interviews are no different.  It’s entirely possible to win a technical interview if you focus–just like any other interview.

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