What to expect in a technical interview and how to handle it

“They want to see what you do,” said Xiao Liang of Perficient. The purpose of a technical interview is to delve deeper into what would make one a good candidate for a company beyond what is put on a resume. The technical interview will still have similarities to classic interviews, and the purpose is the same, but it adds the aspect of how one does things, rather than what they’ve done. It is designed to evaluate how one approaches and solves problems, deals with pressure, and communicates.

To prepare for a technical interview, Jerry Colwell advised interviewees to research the company and know how your goals and ambitions align with those of the company. From Colwell’s standpoint, companies will know right away if big words and technical acronyms are thrown around to impress the interviewers, so knowing something about the company and what they do is important. During the next area of the interview, interviewees should expect a heavy quiz on whether their resume is completely true. The company wants to know if the resume will speak the same facts as the interviewee when asked hard-hitting questions about their experience. Students with not a good deal of industry experience will be evaluated on their potential and will likely be asked about group projects completed during their time at Mines. Colwell and Liang stressed to “distinguish what you did during the project rather than what the team did.” This clues the employers in on what technical skills and work ethic can be brought to their company.

Lists of past experience and talking about skills can only go so far, but the “whiteboard problem” gives the interviewers a real glance at how problem-solving and technical skills are applied. The type of problem can be very technical or more conceptual depending on the company. In either case, Liang advised to talk through every step and assumption. The interviewers want to know what your thought process is and see if it can be communicated well. Technical acronyms are not as important as making the diagrams clear to the interviewees. If the scenario is vague, first ask clarifying questions but challenge the way they want you to solve it. “Real projects don’t have just one solution,” said Liang.

The whiteboard problem is designed to also get a glimpse into how the interviewee handles pressure, so it is key to remain composed while solving the problem. Verbal and body language are just as important as the diagrams being drawn in giving cues to problem-solving skills. State every decision and assumption so the interviewers know the basis of the work. “Design out loud,” said Liang.

If at any time during the interview there is a difficult question, Colwell and Liang advised that honesty is the best plan of action. The potential employers would much rather hear how one would build upon weaknesses rather than stumble over key words in order to fake being an expert. If the whiteboard problem is impossible to solve, interviewers will usually be more than happy to give a hint on how to start the process, and asking for help is a much better alternative than awkwardly standing in silence and frustration.

Amidst all the heavy questions and difficult problems, the interviewers just want to see how one would react in a real-world situation. Even if one does not have deep experience in the field, they just want to get a feel for how the interviewee would fit into the company’s environment. Honesty, communication, and problem-solving are going to weigh more than book knowledge in the technical interview and in industry.

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