How to Ace a Technical Interview

The best ways to prepare to show off your skills.

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How to ace a technical interview - tips for interviews in computer science and engineering

Whether you’re looking for a summer program, an internship, or to start your career, this is the season for job interviews. There are opportunities available in all kinds of industries – from service to finance and engineering to education. However, getting a position for your resume is oftentimes more difficult than just submitting an application – there are several rounds of interviews in which your ability to succeed at a company is determined. 

This spring, I’ve just finished up my first real hiring season in my industry (software engineering, where the technical interview is king), and I’ve also been involved in hiring new students for my on-campus job: so I’ve seen a bit of the hiring process on both ends – what sets people above the rest, and what candidates should really avoid.

Today, I’ll go through the steps I used to prepare for my technical interview (and some that I wish I had used). Behold, my technical interview tips:

General Tips:

Girl with books on her head
Getting ready for a job interview? Start preparing early.

If you’ve got a few months to prepare, there’s tons of things you can do that will help you be a better candidate, no matter your industry. 

Make a great resume: Impressing the recruiter is the first step towards being considered for a company. However, the person looking at your resume might not be a person at all (but a computer program), or could be someone who isn’t in your field. As such, your resume has to be concise and exact, while still showing off your best work. Look into your industry’s standards for resumes, through your college’s career center or online (I used a career board on Reddit) who will give you an honest opinion of the message your resume sends.  

Take on interesting side projects: In any field, showing interest outside of the classroom will set you apart from other candidates. Getting involved in a club, service organization, honor society, or even a personal interest project – no matter how small it might be – will give you something to talk about that shows off your abilities, even if you haven’t had much coursework related to your major. 

The month of the interview:

A job application
The more job applications you send out, the more likely you are to hear back from one. 

Once companies you’re interested in start hiring, it’s time to have a more targeted approach – but one that will keep your options open.   

Apply, apply, apply: Obvious as it may seem, you can’t be considered for a position you haven’t applied to. It can be hard to figure out what companies are actually interested in hiring – and how to actually connect with them. While I was searching for internships, I subscribed to several online job boards: (Nexxt, Uncubed, Monster, and Lensa were the easiest to use), that sent me emails every day. Anytime I had a few minutes free, between classes and before starting on homework, I would check these email lists for any jobs that were a match for what I was looking for, and apply. In total, I applied to 30 different positions before I got my first offer – so don’t be discouraged if nobody seems to get back to you. 

Run practice problems: The hardest part of a technical interview, if my field (software engineering) is any indicator, is the fact that the questions are more applied to real-life problems than your typical coursework, but are not realistic enough to be the same as what you might do in an actual project or job. Because of this, there’s only one way to be truly ready for what you might see, and that’s to practice. Finding practice questions for your field, writing out sample solutions, and checking your work (or having a friend or mentor check it for you) will make sure you’re not thrown by the way a question is asked, and will let you be free to focus on how to communicate your solution to the interviewer.  

Put together appropriate outfits: Depending on your field, the position, and the occasion, you might have to dress smart-casual, business-casual, or even business-formal. Because you might not have time to get out to buy new clothes once you’ve set a date for an interview, it’s good to have a few options for each level of formality on hand. Luckily, finding the right thing to wear has been tackled right here on CF: from dos and don’ts, to affordable outfit ideas, and even tips for a video interview. Making sure you have interview-ready outfits on hand will help you feel comfortable taking on anything that comes your way, from an impromptu meeting, to a time-sensitive online request, to a big info session, and the more you talk to people in your field, the more chances you have to make a great impression.  

The week of the interview:

Girl applying mascara
Once you’ve set a date with a company, start preparing for that specific interview.  

Now that a company has actually contacted you about an interview, it’s imperative to be ready for them. 

Be able to summarize your knowledge: It might seem silly, but it helps to know what you know. Spending some time looking over your past coursework, and noting especially unique or important topics, will help you have something to say if an interviewer asks about what you’ve covered in the past, what interesting projects you’ve worked on, or what your favorite class was (and why).  

Research the company: Knowing a bit about what you’re heading into is important in having a great interview – being familiar the company’s products, their history, and their culture will help you explain why you think you’d be a good match for the company. Even better – if you can look into your interviewer’s background, their interests, and their responsibilities at the company, you can note similarities, or ask them more specific questions about the company and your job; which will make you stand out.

Try out your exact hair and makeup: Picking out a work-appropriate interview beauty look will make you look and feel as confident as possible. However, you don’t want to be fussing with a new hairstyle when you’re trying to get ready, and you don’t want to have a bad reaction to a product that you’ve never tried before. Even worse would be to show up to the interview with a look that seems perfect in your room, but totally wrong in the lighting of the room you’re in. Testing out your exact hair and makeup look several days before will make sure that you look your best on the big day.

The day of the interview:

A watch
Showing up early for your interview will help keep stress at bay.

On the day of the interview, you have to set yourself up for success, and be true to your previous preparation. 

Stick to your normal routine: Whether your typical morning involves a brisk workout, a big breakfast, or a hurried shower, sticking to your morning routine as closely as possible will make you feel as comfortable as possible, even if you’re nervous.  

Give yourself time: Regardless of what type of interview you’re doing, and what kind of preparation you’ve done, if you’re running late to your meeting because you got lost on the highway (like I did), you couldn’t find a room in the library to do your video recording (like I did), or because you’ve never been to the place you’re going (like I did), you’ll have a much worse time. Setting aside long enough to get your hair and makeup done perfectly, to make sure your shoes don’t pinch and your blouse isn’t wrinkled, and to find the place you’re going without having to rush will make sure you’re calm and collected when you get in.

During the interview:

Girl at a career fair
Once you’re in the interview, it’s time to let your skills shine.

When you’re sitting in the chair across from the interviewer (or the computer screen), the time for preparation is over – and you’ve got to be ready for action. 

Don’t be intimidated: Interview questions can seem daunting – it goes with the territory. However, even if you don’t have the perfect answer to a question, giving a partial solution without getting psyched out will show your ability to act under pressure. When you’re faced with a question you don’t feel prepared for, think about what it might be asking: is it a question about your knowledge of your coursework, about your skills at tackling a realistic problem, or about what kind of a worker you’ll be? Once you realize what a question is asking, you can formulate the best possible answer. For any interview question, remember to take your time, think about what you’re going to say, and communicate as much as possible to your interviewer: if you take a moment to gather your thoughts, and then communicate what you’re uncertain about in a question, you can get help without feeling helpless. 

Think about your own interests: Remember that a job interview is not just about figuring out whether you’re the best candidate for a position, but also about whether the position is something you’re interested in. While it’s easy to get excited about any company that shows interest in hiring you, it pays to be mindful of the kind of company you’re interested in. When you’re at your interview, don’t just focus single-mindedly on getting the questions right; really listen to what current employees say about their company, and ask about anything you’re particularly concerned about or that piques your interest. 

Tell Us Your Thoughts!

Have you survived interview season? Have tips for other college girls? Let us know in the comments below!

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