Technical Interview

Technical interview tips for success

“We first make our habits, then our habits make us.” This quote by John Dryden embodies the idea that Art Livotte of Agilent Technologies shared with all that attended his lecture Wednesday titled “3-Ways to Fail your Technical Interview, plus 7-ways to Ace It.” Livotte argues that if we develop proper habits and implement them in our lives, it will lead us to success and help us to avoid the three major pitfalls he sees as a recruiter.

The habits that he advocates come directly from Steven Covey’s book “7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” These habits are to be proactive, begin with the end in mind; keep first things first; seek to understand, then be understood; think win-win; synergize; and sharpen the saw. After introducing these points, Livotte went on to talk about the three biggest mistakes he sees as a recruiter for his company.

1. Not Anticipating a Technical Question
Livotte first addressed a big assumption that students often make about recruiters – that they are non-technical workers and therefore will not ask any technical questions in the interview process. Livotte said that this assumption was just plain wrong. In interviewing for a job, we should always expect a technical question and be prepared to answer them. In fact, he went as far as to suggest that we ask technical questions of the recruiter to show that we are educated and understand what the company does.

To this end, Livotte brought forward two of his favorite habits – being proactive, and seeking to understand, and then be understood. He advises everyone to do some research into the position you are applying for in order to understand your job. With the Internet today, it is really not very difficult. Then you can seek to be understood by the recruiter about why you are the person for the position. However, if you do not do any research at all, it will be harder to get the point across that you are who the company is looking for.

2. Being Unable to Explain a Topic On Your Resume
When this situation arises, job candidates get what Livotte likes to call the “deer in the headlights” look. Recruiters understand that students and professionals alike will embellish resumes a little to make it look just a little better to make it stand out. However, that does not excuse you from being able to explain what is on there. For this, Livotte gives two examples.

His first example discussed three letter acronyms, affectionately known as TLAs. Livotte said that if you are going to include TLAs on your resume, you had better know what they stand for, and be able to explain what they are. For example, if you were applying for a job with a wireless company and list knowledge of CDMA on your resume, you had better know that CDMA stands for “Code division multiple access,” and have a basic idea of how it works and why it would be implemented.

The other inexcusable mistake made with resumes is not knowing everything about a project you list on your resume. And by this, he does not just mean the specific part of the project that you worked on, but the entire project and the components that your teammates were in charge of. Be able to explain the entire project, what was done, and why it was done in that way. If you used a certain technique, know why it was used over other techniques. Not being able to explain things on your resume is a fast track towards the do-not-hire pile.

3. Being Unable To Explain the Fundamentals Of Your Field
The last point that he brings forward speaks to our education. If you have spent four years at a university and receive a degree in a certain field, you should be able to explain the basics of that field when asked in a technical interview. As an example, Livotte uses electrical engineering. “If you’re an EE, know how to explain Ohm’s Law in terms of power, current, voltage, and resistance.”

And he understands that it may have been a while since those basic introductory classes. However, that is no excuse. He highly advises students to look over the relevant textbooks for their field and research how all of the classes are connected. And if they are having trouble with that, Livotte suggests that they go to their advisor for advice on what they should know.

Livotte made sure to touch on why all of it was important during his presentation. The unemployment rate in America is currently above eight percent, while the natural rate in this country is between five and six percent. This serves as an indicator that companies are not hiring, and he explained why.

With the economy in its present state, people are saving what little money they have instead of spending it on products. Because fewer people are out buying products right now, there is no need for companies to hire new workers, and often they are instead laying off seemingly superfluous workers.

This has created a job market in which college graduates are competing with experienced professionals for every single job range. Livotte pointed out that he “[has] over one hundred candidates for any position that is listed in his company right now.”
With this in mind, it is critical that students here at Colorado School of Mines do not make these simple mistakes when going through technical interviews in the future. The odds are sometimes stacked against us as it is, and students need all the help they can get.

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