How to Perform Well in a Technical Interview

by Matt Kirkman

Technical Interview

When it comes to technical disciplines like IT and engineering, employers need to make sure that any candidates have the necessary experience and qualifications that will be essential for the role being recruited. In these situations, companies would typically require you to take part in a technical interview, which is specifically designed to test your technical ability in areas that are relevant to the job you would be doing. Even for highly qualified candidates with lots of relevant experience, technical interviews can still be pretty daunting, unless you understand exactly what the recruiter is looking for, and the most effective way to prepare for your meeting.

What Makes a Technical Interview Different?

Technical interviews are different because they are specifically designed to test your level of expertise in a technology or technical field, and this is achieved by asking questions that are specific to that particular technical skill or qualification. Because there are a wide range of technical roles recruited in a variety of different fields, this type of interview will naturally focus on the individual skills needed for each particular role - so while the structure of most technical interviews will be similar, the questions will differ from one industry to another.

What Is the Employer Looking For?

On the face of it this might seem fairly simple. The employer wants to understand if you have the right level of technical knowledge and experience to be able to carry out a particular role in their organization. A lot of IT and software companies use technical interviews, because they are keen to make sure that candidates have a good working knowledge of the programming language and systems they use. However, don’t be under the misconception that this is all they will be looking for.

Many technical interviews also focus on an individual's behavior as well as their technical skills, and with good reason. In the past, a strong technical ability would have been enough for many organizations, who would have been happy to recruit someone simply because they were an expert in a particular technical field. But today, a lot of organizations have realized that the best candidates are those who combine technical expertise with a range of other skills, such as communication, problem-solving, and leadership. Someone who has the technical ability to identify a problem, devise a suitable solution and communicate that to a non-technical audience will always be a more valuable candidate than the one that simply realizes something doesn't work.

With this in mind, more and more of these types of interviews are combining the examination of a candidate’s technical abilities with the kind of questions you might expect in a behavioral interview in order to identify a range of complementary soft skills that will allow recruits to add even more value to an organization. So, for example, as well as being asked to explain the difference between two types of programming platforms, you might also be asked about a time when you identified a problem with a particular type of technology, and what you did to resolve the issue. Modern technical interviews are now as much about how you perform under pressure, communicate with others, and develop innovative solutions to new technical challenges, as they are about the actual qualifications and experience you have.

How to Prepare for a Technical Interview

These interviews are meant to test the knowledge and skills you will need in order to be successful in a particular role, so the first thing you should do is look at the role profile and try and understand what those might be. Understanding what technical expertise you will need to demonstrate will help you anticipate the kind of questions you should expect, which will help with your preparation.

You should also look at your practical experience and identify situations where you have used your technical abilities, as well as some of the other competencies that the employer might also be looking for, which will enable you to answer any of the "tell me about a time when...” questions you might get asked. Some of these soft skills or competencies that a recruiter might be looking for in a technical interview are listed below, and being able to talk through situations where you demonstrated these abilities as well as your technical skills will make you stand out from the other candidates.

  • Problem solving
  • Leadership
  • Communication
  • Decision making
  • Results focus
  • Commercial awareness

Despite its title, the modern technical interview tends to examine your behavior as an individual just as much as your technical skills. In the past, companies would have been happy to hire the candidate with the highest level of technical ability, but as this is often something that can very easily be taught, they are now looking for individuals with a range of other skills and behaviors that complement technical ability. Being able to demonstrate a particular level of technical expertise combined with a range of soft skills is what will give you the edge in a technical recruitment process.

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