The Top 5 Tech Interview Tips No One Is Talking About
Why listen to me?
I've been in the software engineering space for over a decade. While I've never been the smartest engineer in the room, I've always been asked to lead hiring efforts.
I've conducted countless tech screens for some of the largest organizations in the world.
From Silicon Valley based startups to large financial institutions, I've interviewed hundreds of candidates across every experience level and can tell you what's ACTUALLY determining the decision to hire (or not hire) these candidates.
Here are the 5 most important tips for passing the next tech screen with flying colors...and it's not what you might think.
1) Admitting When You Don't Know Something
Candidates are eager to demonstrate their mastery of a language or concept. Too often, this leads to them defending bad answers or dancing around questions they don't know the answers to.
Don't do this! Quickly admit when you don't know something. While you may think not knowing everything makes you sound dumb or inexperienced, it's actually an amazing opportunity to demonstrate your ability to work with others.
If you can admit when you don't know something then it makes the other answers you give more believable.
For example, if you say you are well versed in Java but don't know React then the interviewer will be more trusting in the fact that you do in fact have adequate Java experience.
You'd be surprised how few engineers do this. Believe me when I say this will REALLY help you stand out from the pack.
2) Asking for help
Similar to admitting when you don't know something, asking for help is a powerful way to show vulnerability. When you put your guard down like this, it demonstrates an ability to work well with others.
This can be super handy when you're doing a live coding exercise or pair programming. You may not remember something off the top of your head and THAT'S OK.
Even the most advanced engineers forget basic syntax sometimes and understand the realities of our profession. We all use Stack Overflow and ChatGPT these days. It's part of the job.
When a candidate asks for help it is often times a sigh of relief for the interviewer. It means the candidate won't be impossible to work with and is willing to trust others when collaborating...something VERY FEW candidates do but should.
3) Talking about your failures
If you read the first two tips then you're probably picking up on a theme at this point. Showing vulnerability is HUGE in standing out. Talking about your failures is no exception.
Often times, interviewers will ask behavioral questions like "What's a problem you faced and how did you solve it?" or "Describe a time when you had to work with others to meet a deadline or changing requirements".
While most candidates take this opportunity to show case their problem solving skills, fewer candidates will talk about an epic failure or time they learned from a mistake. Again, this can be EXTREMELY powerful in standing out because so few do it.
Companies understand the realities of learning from mistakes. It's how we grow professionally and reach that next level. When you highlight how a failure helped you grow in a previous job, it can really help you stand out.
4) Asking for feedback
Asking for feedback can be awkward, but it's an AMAZING opportunity to show that your human.
Towards the end of a tech screen, interviewers usually ask if there are any other questions you have for them. Almost EVERY time, candidates will ask "What type of projects will I work on?" or "What tech stack will I be using?".
While this isn't a dumb question, it's extremely common and boring for the interviewer. I myself get tired of explaining such things and it can be a really boring end to the interview.
Instead, ask "How did you think I did on this interview?" or even more bluntly "Did I blow it?". This immediately breaks the professional barrier and creates a human dialogue. It also gives you a good opportunity to hear how you did...
Do this and you WILL stand out. I guarantee it.
5) Asking about company culture
Another powerful follow up question is asking about company culture. Rather than asking about the technical side like so many do, ask instead about the people. "What are people like here?", "Do they like their jobs?", "Are they excited about what they are working on?".
When you ask questions like these, it implies that YOU will be excited and passionate. No one wants to work with Debby downers and (sadly) most people do. Theres always the office gossip and those talking ill of co workers and sucking the life out of company culture...
Such questions clearly demonstrate you are self aware and responsible for bringing a good attitude to work and that you WILL NOT be one of these downers.
How do I prepare for a high tech interview?
While these 5 tips highlight the power of human connections and showing vulnerability, it is always important to know your stuff. These tips only work when you've also taken the time to prepare.
For whatever role you are applying, be sure to build your own application or project using the appropriate language. Even if you have years of experience with a certain technology, be sure to use the latest and greatest version to keep your mind fresh.
For example, if you are interviewing for a Java position then build a basic budget calculator a few nights before. This will keep your mind sharp and ready for any coding exercise they throw at you...at least so that you remember the basics of for/each loops etc.
Of course using the tips above will help you in a rut, but they only work when they are paired with understanding the technical side as best you can.
How can I impress a tech interviewer?
Be a human being and ALSO know the technical side. You'd be surprised how much more important the former is from the latter.
If you stumble on the technical side but excel in your ability to connect with the interviewer then it will often times advance you further over the candidate who knows a language inside and out but is awful socially.
How do you talk in a tech interview?
Talk like a human being, not a robot. You don't need to have all the technical answers all the time to every question. While it's obviously important to demonstrate an understanding of the technical side, you must also be able to admit mistakes, show vulnerabilities, and a willingness to work well with others.
How do I relax before a tech interview?
Be yourself and prepare. Prepare, prepare, prepare. When you build your own applications before the actual interview it will help you relax and show a natural confidence. Also don't be afraid to admit when you're nervous. This can help ease tensions and relax the room so that you're true personality and technical skills can shine.
Remember that the person interviewing you may also be nervous. Break the professional barrier and really connect with the person like they're a long lost friend.