the technical interview

I’m doing some spring cleaning and finding a few ancient posts. This one was written on August 31, 2002, but just yesterday I was reading USA Today and found an article about how employees have been abused during the recession and, “when a job-producing recovery really kicks in, as appears to be happening, companies will suffer a tsunami-like wave of employee defection.” So for anyone in that category, here’s what I’ve learned on the subject of interviewing.

I’m no expert on the technical interview, but having been on both sides of the table I’ve gained some insight into the process that could be useful.

1. Prepare for interviews
This isn’t just reviewing your resume and ironing clothes. Preparation should include a thorough review of your skill set. For programmers that would include algorithms, language caveats, common programming taks, etc.

2. Be yourself.
In the interview you’re assessing a potential relationship between you and the employer. If you fake something in the interview because you think it will help you get the job, you’re going to regret it. Most people can tell when you’re not being genuine and even if they can’t, they will figure it out eventually.

3. Ask questions
Interviewers like to know that you’ve done your homework. Asking intelligent questions about their company and products will let them know you’re interested in working for their company in particular, not just in having a paying job.

4. Share your accomplishments.
You’re there to demonstrate your skills, so don’t be afraid to give them reasons to hire you. Feel free to mention awards, honors and special expertise that qualifies you for the position, but be sure to share them in a purely factual manner and without any embellishments. You want to keep from bragging while detailing your skills. The difference between the two may only come with experience.

5. Use positive body language
Give them a firm handshake, smile, and be attentive. Make sure to get plenty of sleep the night before so you’re alert and at your best.

From the interviewer’s perspective, it’s very difficult to assess people’s skills. I think it’s more of an intuitive skill, because some people are quite skilled at looking good in an interview. Plus, just because someone can tell you what kind of animal represents their type of work habits doesn’t mean they’re a good worker. It’s hard to tell if the person you’re talking to is filling you with empty promises or if they are the type of person who can finish tasks independently and efficiently. It’s a problem that as far as I know, remains unsolved for the most part, but here are some people’s attempts to solve it:

Riddles and technical interview questions
Microsoft interview questions
Programmer interview questions
Brain twisting interview questions

Update: Here’s a list of 25 questions you should be prepared to answer in an interview. These could be very useful to review before your next interview.