How to have a successful interview for a technical position

Jeffrey Dake Senior Director of Technology
Programmers and Interviews:
There are a lot of articles and books about how to be prepare for interview, what to expect in interviews and how to sell yourself to your prospective employer. I want to give everyone some advice from what I have learned in the process of interviewing a lot of technical candidates... also known as programmers. As a programmer myself I understand that we are a unique breed. We thrive on solving problems and communication is not always a strong point for us, so here are some simple tips for to all the introverted programmers out there who may struggle with interviews and finding jobs.

#1 Be Prepared to answer technical questions related to the position:
In my particular case I interview a lot of candidates to become java developers for our web site. A lot of candidates do not come prepared to answer basic questions about the language. A hiring manager wants to make sure that you have the skill required to do the job. There are lots of lists out on the internet that have sample questions that hiring manager’s use. Just doing a Google search you will find a lot of sites that have examples of what a hiring manager may ask you; one example is Study up beforehand if you are rusty on the language. Just being able to answer the basic questions will go a long way. I can't overstate that if you cannot demonstrate you have the skills to do the job the hiring manager will look somewhere else. So please, please, please study up and make sure you can answer the basics.

#2 Go into specifics about previous projects:
When a hiring manager asks about previous projects don't just talk about the functionality of the project. When we ask these questions, we want to hear that you truly understand how to program. Talk about design decisions or implementation decisions you have had to make. Talk about specific libraries you use and why you choose them. We hiring managers don't care as much about what you actually built, but rather want to learn how you approach problems. This is also another opportunity to prove you know how to program, so take advantage of it. A lot of candidates I interview just name of technologies: "I used Solr. I used XML. I used json." That is nice, but if you go into detail about why you did what you did it proves you really know the technologies and that you understand when and how to use them.

#3 Be prepared to sell yourself:
This is probably the hardest thing for a lot of programmers out there, at least the ones I have interviewed. We name off skills we have and projects we have worked on, but when asked "Why would our company want you on our team?" a lot of programmers freeze. This is a question a lot of people never think to ask about. So over and over I hear the same answers: "I work hard. I don't like to fail. I am a team player."

These are not bad answers, but they are usually one line answers. I know a lot of us programmers don't like to talk a lot -- in fact communication can often be a weakness for a lot of us -- but you should be prepared to answer this question. It is essentially the question the hiring manager is trying to answer himself during the whole interview. Come prepared with a list of all your strengths, along with examples of why these are your strengths. This will allow you to really sell yourself. It is one thing to say you are a team player; it is another to already be ready and say "I am a team player. On my last project I had to work a few extra hours to help out a co-worker who was struggling on the project. We worked together and got the project done on time. Together we got better."  This is how you get the job. You make the hiring manager think it would be a mistake not to hire you.

#4 Be yourself:
Remember to relax and be you. A good hiring manager will help you relax with the questions they ask, but do not expect this. While you are trying to sell yourself, you want to make sure that it is actually YOU that you are selling. Interviews go a lot better when the candidate just has an honest conversation, so please just RELAX and TALK to me.

#5 Do your research about the company:
This is said in almost all interview preparation article, but you would still be surprised how many people don't do it. If you are interviewing for a position at Experts Exchange, please know what the site is about. If you are interviewing with me, mention this article. That will go a long way in showing you actually care about the position. 

I cannot speak for all hiring managers out there, but if you just address the issues above it will go a long way in interviews. Successful interviews are all about being prepared. While a lot of programmers do not excel in communication, interviews are the one place where we cannot afford to fail. Remember: If you are in an interview and the hiring manager is talking more than you, the interview is not going well. You want to make sure there is still a discussion; don't just talk and talk, but definitely talk more than the interviewer.

And lastly be prepared to ask questions. Good interviewees ask a lot of questions to make sure the company are ideal for them. This also makes the hiring manager feel like you actually care about finding the right position for yourself, which makes you more attractive a candidate. So follow the advice above and you will be a better interviewee for a technical position ... well at least if I am interviewing you.
Jeffrey Dake Senior Director of Technology

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