5 Skills to Master Before Your Next Tech Interview
A surprising number of software developers interview for positions without success – but not because of a lack of technical competency. Long before you might get the chance to demonstrate your coding prowess, you can expect to be faced with a series of challenges designed to test even more fundamental skills. Your performance in these areas determines whether or not you get a foot in the door, so they’re worth brushing up on! Here’s a rundown of five important skills to master before your next interview.
1. Speak with authority
Let’s face it – even a usually confident person can get pretty nervous prior to an important interview. It’s even more difficult if you don’t usually feel confident – and when you’re putting yourself out there and applying for a challenging position, who can blame you? Especially in these situations, it’s even more important to practice the fundamental skill of speaking with authority.
If you’ve done your homework and know what you’re talking about, the best way to convey this to your interviewer is in a well-paced, steady voice, with appropriate projection. Nervous candidates can often speak too quietly, too fast, mumble, or use crutch words to try and fill silences. All of these bad habits only serve to muddle your message, or worse, give the impression that you don’t know what you’re talking about.
Here are a few ways you can practice speaking confidently in preparation for your interview:
__Practice out loud.__ I was surprised to learn that even CEOs who give regular presentations sometimes neglect to run through speeches out loud! Using your voice is very different than practicing in your head, and by speaking aloud you’ll get a much better sense of your pacing, intonation, and whether you’re pronouncing names and seldom-used words correctly.
__Breathe.__ It’s quite common to forget to take full breaths when we’re nervous or rushing to get words out of our heads. Learning to take full breaths between sentences will help you speak clearly, allow you to project your voice so that you can be heard, and also help give the impression that you’re not trying to rush through what you’re saying.
__Get comfortable with pauses.__ Nerves can compel us to fill silent pauses with crutch words like “Uhm,” and “So,” or rush to move on to our next sentence before we’ve taken adequate time to consider what it is we want to say. Instead, learn to stop and take a full breath, perhaps while your body language indicates that you’re thinking. Your interviewer won’t think less of you for pausing to collect your thoughts – in fact, it only lends credibility to the impression that you’re a person who chooses words wisely.
2. Stay on message
When you’re interviewing for a position, it’s not very different from making a sales pitch. In this case, you’re proposing your services to a potential employer. As with sales, it’s very important to present a cohesive and memorable message to your interviewer in order to make a lasting impression.
Do your homework before the interview and decide what you want your message to be. For example, if you’re applying for a back-end developer position, you might want to focus on the fact that your work will help to make the company’s systems faster and more efficient. If you have specific ideas about how that could happen, don’t hold back!
During your interview, try and relate the things you’re saying back to your main message. In the above example, you might highlight parts of your workflow that incorporate automation to make your results more efficient. When discussing previous work, you might focus on specific technologies that you’ve had great success with in the past when it comes to making systems run faster. Remember, your interviewer’s day is going to be filled with similar conversations. Reinforcing your main message will help create a strong impression of what you have to offer.
3. Offer thoughtful and constructive feedback
Companies rarely hire with the intention of finding more people to do what everyone else is already doing. Your interviewer will be looking for evidence that you can bring something new to the table: knowledge, creativity, or any experiences that can ultimately benefit your new employer. A great way to demonstrate that you are able to think creatively and contribute some fresh ideas is to do so in your interview!
If your background research on the company has already given you some ideas, you can create the opportunity to discuss them at your interview with a segue from a related answer. Alternatively, you might ask more specific questions about the company goals or processes, and offer your outside perspective. Take advantage of your (current) third-party status to go out on a limb – nothing ventured, nothing gained! At the very least, you’ll demonstrate a willingness to explore ideas and think outside the box.
4. Articulate your problem-solving strategy
Being able to describe how you solve problems is an excellent method of demonstrating that you’re capable of doing so. It’s likely that your interview will include some open-ended questions designed to reveal your approach to certain algorithms or hypothetical scenarios, some of which may be entirely new to you. Without a solid step-by-step strategy, you might feel a little lost.
Writing out your general approach to problems can help you assemble your thoughts. Then, practice talking out loud about the steps you take so that describing the process becomes second nature. From there, it’s that much easier to relate those steps to specific puzzles and challenges. Articulating your strategy will help you feel more confident when you expand on problem-solving questions at your interview.
5. Explain your personal review process
Conscientious developers hold themselves to account. Being able to describe a personal, formal review process demonstrates that you’re responsible, and that you have a genuine interest in learning and developing your skills. Whether it’s a general process feedback loop or a code review checklist, your interviewer will appreciate knowing that you have the willingness and ability to drive your own self-improvement.
If you don’t have a personal review process yet, it can be a great benefit far beyond acing interviews to have one written down. As you work towards a goal, use your review process to check-in at pre-determined points and evaluate your progress. Here are a few ideas for general questions that a personal review might include:
1. Have I made the progress I expected to achieve at this point in time?
2. Did I develop strategies for overcoming specific challenges I encountered?
3. Was any part of my efforts less effective than I hoped? Can I make this part more effective?
Your own personal review process can be tailored to your goals or project. Whatever steps your review entails, becoming comfortable with describing them will help you demonstrate to your interviewer the fundamental qualities of conscientiousness and desire for improvement.
Stand out from the crowd
Candidates who don’t demonstrate these five skills are highly likely to get filtered out at the interview stage – long before they have a chance to prove technical competency in a traditional hiring process. You can put yourself miles ahead by developing the skills to speak confidently, leave a lasting impression, give creative feedback, and clearly articulate how you solve problems and improve yourself.
Master these five fundamentals, and you’ll be well on your way to impressing your interviewer and advancing in the hiring process. As with any endeavour, success comes with a little luck – and a lot of preparation!
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