Tech Dreams Series | Interview Tips

Jessica Rowen

May 17, 2017

Every tech company has a different approach to interviewing. Some may employ a more traditional approach with questions focused on your experience and others may be as “out there” as the ol’ draw an owl approach. Regardless of their differences, there are always commonalities across the board. Below are a few of our favourite interview tips that will help you feel confident and prepared for any tech interview, so you can come across as enthusiastic and excited vs. nervous and stressed.

But before we dive into how to prepare for an interview, let’s review the most common interviewer personas really quickly.

 

Interview Personas


AGENCY RECRUITER

Their objective:
Solid candidates, fast.

Leverage them for:

  • Company insights and position background.
  • Compensation alignment and negotiation.
  • Interview tips (personalities, prep, competition).

Word of the wise: Ensure you gauge the agency recruiter’s quality. Check out this piece we wrote to help evaluate


INTERNAL RECRUITER             

Their objective:
Make the hiring manager’s life easy, attract great people and to provide a view into the organization.

Leverage them for:

  • Company overview (vision, values, culture, products, teams, etc.).
  • Cultural fit and values alignment.
  • Insights beyond the job description.


HIRING MANAGER

Their objective:
Attract and hire the right person as their accountable for their team’s performance.

Leverage them for:

  • Clarity re: accountabilities, challenges/exciting  elements of the role, expectations, and environment to succeed.
  • Understanding of team dynamics and personalities
  • Tech and product details (e.g., stack, roadmap, growth, commitment, etc.).

 

Remember the interviewer is a person too. They have a life outside of work, so take a few moments before the interview begins to get to know them. Ask about their weekend, summer plans, upcoming travel, etc… Conversations are a two way street, so they will inevitably ask you the same question back — a great opportunity to showcase your personality.

 

Questions to Prepare For

There will always be a portion of the interview that focuses on your experience and motivations to make a move, so be sure to jog your memory by reviewing your resume and have a copy in front of you if you’re doing a phone or video interview. The interviewer will likely want to know how you got the job (e.g., referral, application, etc.), what your role was and did it expand over time, did the job align with your expectations, did you have any challenges that you tackled and solved, examples of how you learned new things, what you think your manager and colleagues would say about you, and why you left. But don’t panic, you know this stuff – this is YOU, YOUR history. As long as you’re honest (in a tactful manner; see DON’Ts below re: don’t speak negatively about…), you’ve got nothing to sweat about. Many of these questions and topics are pulled from a methodology called Topgrading, although few do a full Topgrading interview.

 

INTERVIEW TIP #1 – Know your criteria for evaluating job opportunities.

Ranking your criteria is super important for yourself and also for the interviewer. Examples include location, compensation, interest in the product and industry, growth opportunities, stability of company, type of work you’ll be doing, and tech stack. They may ask how well this opportunity aligns with what is most important to you and why.

 


INTERVIEW TIP #2 – Be prepared to discuss where you’d like to go in your career.

Oftentimes the interviewer will want to know your career motivations beyond why you want to make a change right now. Want to be a CTO? Founder? Lead Engineer? Move to Product? Transition to client-facing role? This will help them to understand whether their organization can help get you to where you eventually want to be. Qualify this appropriately and describe how the job helps get you there.

 


Behavioural interview questions focus on the past, under the premise that past behaviour is the best predictor of future performance. Essentially, they are trying to see if you have the specific qualities that are needed to be successful in the role you are interviewing for. For example, if the role requires you to lead a team they may ask you to describe a time that you took the lead on a complex project. It is then your job to make sure the examples you tell highlights your leadership capacity. This is easier said than done when you’re put on the spot, which brings us to…

INTERVIEW TIP #3 – Prepare examples ahead of time

Do this so that you’re not fumbling for an answer or worse, making one up on the spot. The most common behavioural interview questions focus on the following, so you should have a success story prepared for each.

  • Action-oriented / self-motivation
  • Ability to adapt
  • Communication skills
  • Conflict management
  • Creativity
  • Decision making
  • Goal orientation
  • Influence/persuasion
  • Planning, priority setting, time management
  • Problem solving skills
  • Teamwork
  • Working under pressure

 


Situational interview questions are very similar to behavioural. While behavioural questions are rooted in the past, situation questions are rooted in the hypothetical. These questions will focus on what you WOULD do in a hypothetical situation. Basically, they are trying to understand your approach to solving challenges, and very likely these are challenges their organization is facing. They want to ensure they are hiring the right person after all, and what better way to do that then to evaluate a strategy that could be used in real life. For example, perhaps they are having challenges with engagement on their product (people have signed up, but don’t login after the first use), they may ask you to describe the steps you would take to develop a user engagement strategy.

For obvious reasons, companies are not going to be forthcoming with their challenges in job descriptions or their website, but you can do your best to “read between the lines” and anticipate the challenges they or their industry might face by…

INTERVIEW TIP #4 – Research the opportunity

Everything! People, market, growth potential; dig into LinkedIn, Glassdoor (take with a grain of salt in some cases), Crunchbase. And then research some more (test drive the product; signup, download, read reviews). If you’re working with a great recruiter, they should provide you with a detailed overview of their client (we do).

 


At this point you’re probably all talked out and parched (bring water or say yes when offered; see DOs + DON’Ts for why). Good news is that this is your opportunity to ask and listen. But make sure you’ve determined which person in the interview process should answer each question (see hiring personas above), and be conscious of people’s time – you may have to get some questions answered in a follow-up discussion, over email or after you’ve received the offer.

INTERVIEW TIP #5 – Be prepared to ask insightful questions.

Jot down some solid, prioritized questions ahead of time. One of my favourites is “What does success look like in this role?” Once upon a time, I asked this question and made the President of a Fortune 500 company sit back in her chair (you can tell a lot by someone’s body language) and go, “hmmmm”. Perhaps this question doesn’t make sense for your new role or the person you are being interviewed by – the point is to be prepared to ask relevant questions. It will show that you are prepared, eager and interested.

 


INTERVIEW TIP #6 – You’re being evaluated for a number of things during a technical test.

Technical tests are commonplace with almost all tech companies for developer and systems jobs, but there is limited consistency to how companies test so it’s challenging to provide tips. If you’re doing an on-site interview, ask what you should expect in the test before you go in so you’re in the right mindset. The differentiating factor between a great test result and a good one can be…

  • How much effort did you put into your test (as this often demonstrates your interest in the job and overall thoroughness)
  • How well you manage your time (whether you went beyond simply what code needed to be written and considered how your code should be tested)
  • How clearly it was documented and how easily it could be deployed
  • How clean, scalable and efficient was your code

So be sure to think through your solution before just hacking away.

 


INTERVIEW TIP #7 – Visualize the interview

Great athletes do this in advance of a big game, and this should be looked at as your big game. Think about what you will be doing during the interview from start to finish — arriving, observing, greeting people, listening to questions, asking for a water, getting a tour of the office, whiteboarding a solution, etc. This will help ease your nerves so that your head is completely in the game and you can avoid any and all distractions.

 


General Dos + Don’ts

DO

  • Review the job description in detail. Be aware of where you’re a fit and where there may be gaps (and how you’d cover those off).
  • Take a look at your interviewers LinkedIn profiles in advance.
  • Be 10 minutes early. Give yourself extra time; anticipate that you’re going to be delayed by traffic or transit.
  • Bring a water or say yes if offered. It will provide a chance to take a break from speaking.
  • Place your phone on silent in your pocket (not on the table). If you are expecting an emergency call, tell the interviewer in advance.
  • If you’re going to take notes, it’s recommended you bring a notepad and not use your phone.
  • Smile and be positive with everyone you meet from the moment you walk in the door; that’s when the interview starts.
  • Confirm with the interviewer that you’re providing the right level of depth in your answers.
  • Use examples, ideally that include metrics or data.
  • Be self-aware and clear as to how you may change your approach or solve a problem differently than you have in the past.
  • Think about your ‘body language’ in the interview. Appear engaged. Typically lean forward, don’t cross your arms and look the person you’re talking to in the eyes. 🙂
  • Send a ‘thank you’ email after the interview if they provided their email. In the email, indicate what interests you about the opportunity.
  • For technical tests, think holistically about your solution. Ensure your solution scales, is well tested and documented, and is clean and efficient.
DON’T

  • Don’t speak negatively about colleagues, managers or companies.
  • Don’t arrive more than 10 minutes early. Super early is just annoying. 🙂
  • Don’t cut off interviewers mid-sentence. Let them finish what they are saying.
  • Don’t be long winded or ramble.

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