When preparing for a technical interview, most people forget to think about how they answer questions.
Even though you’re focusing on technical topics, make sure you avoid some simple statements that could spoil your chances to land that job.
#3: My Coworker Was an Idiot
Whether or not it’s true, don’t let this statement come out of your mouth.
You will often be asked questions in a technical interview about mistakes you’ve made or witnessed in your career. Your job is to describe the cause of the problem, your response, and what you learned.
Whatever the incident, be cautious pointing the finger of blame. Calling out your colleagues for incompetence or stupidity will bring you down as well. After all, why didn’t you stop them? (Tip: you don’t want to answer that.)
Instead: Focus on the problem with the technology and the process. Talk about your own role– take responsibility for both your mistakes and your achievements. Talk about changes which would prevent the problem from happening again. (Bonus points if you can tell a story about helping make that happen!)
#2: That Wasn’t My Job
Technical interviews will often touch on topics outside your experience. This is no accident: screeners want to see how you react to questions either above your level or in a different area.
When the conversation goes into these areas, never make excuses. Many people try to provide explanations which boil down to “I don’t know that because it wasn’t my responsibility.” This is a huge mistake: you immediately sound like you have no passion, no intellectual curiosity, and only do what you are tasked with.
Instead: It may seem counter-intuitive, but admitting when you don’t know something can work hugely in your advantage in a technical screening. The key is to do so calmly and with confidence. If you have a theory as to how you could figure the question out, or strategies you might take to solve the problem, offer them!
#1: I’m Sorry
Unless you spill coffee on someone, apologies have no place in a technical screening.
You may apologize without even realizing it. When in a high pressure situation, it’s natural for many people to apologize if they feel it isn’t going well. The more nervous you are, the greater chance that you’ll start apologizing.
Apologizing when you don’t know things doesn’t show your strengths. Instead, it gives an impression that you’ve given up on the question.
Instead: Even if you’re on the tenth question you don’t know the answer to, keep your chin up and keep going strong. If many of the questions are on the same topic, ask if the technical screener has a good references where you could learn about that topic. You can try to save the situation by doing some research and sending a great follow up email after the screening. Whatever you do, proceed through the interview with confidence— it’s never too late to succeed.
What to Remember For Your Technical Screening
Your greatest mission in your technical screening is not to get all the questions right: it’s to best represent how you solve problems. Even if you don’t know answers to half of the questions, you can make the screening a success if you show your strengths along the way.
I have seen quite a few situations where a technical screen shows that a candidate absolutely can’t handle the job in question, but the screener is still incredibly impressed by their performance. In many of these cases, the candidate lands a job at the company— it’s just not the job they initially applied for.