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Common mistakes made in tech interviews

Posted on 16 August 2023

Common mistakes made in tech interviews

​8-minute read

Whether you're a seasoned professional or just starting out in the industry, tech interviews can be both exciting and frustrating. The good news is that you're not alone! Many job seekers face common pitfalls during these types of interviews, and we're here to shed some light on them.

In this blog post, we've invited three industry experts to share their insights and experiences. Arnaud Seilles, the CTO of Caya; Roland Fiala, the VP of Engineering at UserGems; and Jack Godau, CDO at Doctorly. These experts have seen it all when it comes to tech interviews and have kindly shared their wisdom.

Together, we'll explore some of the most common mistakes made in tech interviews and provide you with tips to avoid them. But this article isn't just about pointing out the errors; it's about empowering you to succeed. Our goal is to provide you with practical advice and insider perspectives so that you can learn from the missteps of others and stand out during your own tech interviews.

Remember, a tech interview is not just a test of your knowledge; it's an opportunity to showcase your skills and passion. With the right mindset and a little guidance, you can ace your next tech round and take your career to new heights.

Now, let's learn from the best and get started on this exciting journey.

 

What is a Technical Interview exactly?

During a technical interview, Roland explained that the questions or live programming exercises will primarily focus on assessing your ability to tackle the specific tasks and challenges associated with the job you're applying for. These questions will be generated from two key areas, as Jack described.

 

The first area revolves around your resume, where the interviewers will examine the topics and technologies listed to ensure your claimed proficiency aligns with the job requirements. It's crucial to have a solid understanding of these areas since they are assumed to be within your comfort zone.

The second area is based on the job requirements outlined in the job description. The interviewers will use this as a prompt to inquire about your approach and problem-solving skills. As Arnaud highlighted, the aim here is not necessarily to find the "perfect" answer but rather to evaluate your thinking process and how well you can handle ambiguous or unclear requirements.

 

To illustrate further, think of these questions as becoming more specific to the job description for junior positions and broader in scope for more senior roles. This allows the interviewing team to assess both your core technical skills and your ability to think logically and navigate complex scenarios.

 

It's important to note that there is no one-size-fits-all formula for these interviews. While there may be a general pattern, the specific questions can vary from team to team, as they are tailored to the company's focus for the open position and the information presented in your resume.

 

By understanding these dynamics, you can better prepare for your technical interview, ensuring you showcase not only your technical knowledge but also your problem-solving abilities and adaptability to different scenarios.

 

Stand-out mistakes commonly made

Now you have a clearer idea of what a technical interview is, let’s explore the common mistakes made during them so you know what to avoid in your next meeting.

 

Technically unprepared

During a technical interview, it's important to understand that you cannot possibly know every answer to every technical question. However, Jack pointed out, being technically unprepared is specifically linked to the first set of questions generated from your own resume.

These questions serve two purposes: assessing your technical abilities and evaluating your self-awareness. All three of our guests emphasised that if a skill or technology is listed on your resume, you should be prepared to answer questions about it. While you may feel more confident in certain areas than others, it's important to ensure that the skills you list on your resume are genuine and backed by your ability to answer related questions.

 

To avoid this mistake, you have two potential options:

 

1. Be honest on your resume: Only include the skills you are fully prepared to answer questions about. If you have experience with a technology from a long time ago but are not actively using it, it's best not to list it unless you are confident in your ability to discuss it. Alternatively, if you are actively learning a skill, highlight this on your resume, allowing the hiring manager to tailor questions based on your level of proficiency in that skill.

 

2. Embrace honesty during the interview: If you encounter a question about a skill or technology that you are not familiar with or have limited knowledge about, it's better to be upfront and honest about it. Instead of spending excessive time trying to answer something you don't know, explain that it is a skill you are currently learning or acknowledge that it may be outdated. This demonstrates your honesty and self-reflection, and the hiring manager can move on to other questions more quickly. You will earn points for your transparency and ability to assess your own skills accurately.

 

Additionally, Roland suggests a bonus point strategy: If you are learning a skill but can still provide a logical thought process, you can speak hypothetically. For instance, if faced with a scenario you haven't encountered before, you can say, "Although I haven't come across this type of scenario before, I imagine it might look something like this..." By demonstrating clear logic and reasoning in your answer, you can make a positive impression, even if the specific answer may not be entirely accurate.

Generalising experience

Building on the previous point, another significant mistake highlighted by Arnaud is the lack of confidence in expressing when you might be stuck during an interview. It's common for candidates to try to impress the hiring manager by talking extensively, complicating their answers, and failing to arrive at the right solution. While the intention behind this may be to stand out, the reality is that unclear and lengthy responses can do more harm than good, as they lack specificity.

 

Instead, a better approach is to communicate openly when you need support or when you lack the specific skill to answer a particular question. By doing so, you allow the hiring managers to assess your level accurately during the interview and make a more informed decision. It demonstrates self-awareness and the ability to recognise your limitations, which are valued traits in a candidate.

 

Remember, the goal is not to portray yourself as a flawless expert in every aspect but to showcase your problem-solving skills, adaptability, and willingness to seek assistance when needed. Clear and concise communication, along with honest self-assessment, will contribute positively to your overall interview performance and make a lasting impression on the hiring managers.

 

Lacking structure in answers

When you have a clear understanding of a topic that is being asked during your tech interview, it's crucial to focus on creating concise and clear answers. As mentioned earlier, providing confusing or unnecessarily long responses will not work in your favour.

 

This aspect ties back to the importance of preparation, communication, and confidence. By thoroughly preparing yourself in advance, particularly around your core technical skills, you can refresh your knowledge where needed and practice answering questions online. The key is to not only understand the concepts but also learn how to effectively convey that information in a clear manner.

 

To achieve this, it's beneficial to have proven examples ready to share, demonstrating your experience and expertise. Additionally, you can practice your answers with a peer, mentor, or friend to gain confidence in your delivery. By investing time in preparation and refining your communication skills, you will be better equipped to handle live interviews compared to those who simply "wing it."

 

Failing to probe deeper

One of the most commonly observed mistakes during technical interviews, which our guests have encountered time and time again, is the failure to ask meaningful and insightful questions about the company. While it may seem like a trivial aspect, asking questions demonstrates your genuine interest in the specific team, company, and role you are interviewing for. Moreover, it presents an opportunity for you to gather valuable information about the business that the interviewer may not share openly.

 

Roland suggests focusing your questions on the following key areas:

1. Understanding the long-term strategy of the company: Inquire about the company's vision, goals, and plans for the future. This showcases your interest in the company's direction and demonstrates that you are seeking alignment between your own aspirations and the company's objectives.

 

2. Linking questions back to comments made by the interviewers: This highlights your attentiveness and listening skills. Reference specific points or discussions from the interview to show that you were actively engaged and seeking further clarification or insights.

 

3. Understanding the biggest problems within the team: By asking about the challenges or issues the team currently faces, you gain insight into the potential obstacles you may encounter. This allows you to evaluate if you are equipped to handle and contribute to addressing those challenges effectively.

 

4. Understanding your prospective team: As you will be spending a significant amount of time working with your team members, it is crucial to ask questions that help you understand their dynamics, expertise, and working style. This enables you to assess if you will be a good fit within the team and if the team environment aligns with your preferences.

 

Turning up late

Life is unpredictable, and we all understand that unexpected meetings or tasks can arise when a meeting is scheduled. However, what Roland has noticed is a recurring issue of lateness without any explanation.

 

Lack of respect for others' time can leave a negative impression on hiring managers. While you don't need to provide a detailed life story to justify your lateness or last-minute cancellations, a simple polite request or update can go a long way in sending a positive message about your professionalism within a company.

 

If you anticipate being late, it is advisable to inform the team as soon as possible. By doing so, you demonstrate consideration for their time and show that you value punctuality and clear communication. Alternatively, if you believe it is better to cancel and reschedule the meeting, being upfront and informing the team promptly is the best course of action. This allows everyone involved to adjust their schedules accordingly and ensures that valuable time is not wasted.

 

Remember, even in unforeseen circumstances, maintaining good communication and respect for others' time is essential. By proactively addressing lateness or scheduling conflicts, you exhibit professionalism and consideration, which can positively influence the hiring team's perception of you.

 

To recap, technical interviews serve as a means for the company to assess your current abilities in relation to their needs while also providing you an opportunity to delve deeper into the team and determine if the role and work environment align with your aspirations. Honesty throughout the interview process is crucial, as any misrepresentations can be uncovered in the early stages of a new role.

 

To excel in technical interviews, it's important to prepare around your core skills, ensuring you have a solid understanding of the topics relevant to the position. Craft clear and concise answers that not only showcase your technical expertise but also convey your passion for your career. By learning from the insights shared by our guests, you can avoid common pitfalls and stand out among your peers.

 

A special thank you goes to our guests, Arnaud Seilles, Roland Fiala, and Jack Godau, for their valuable insights. If you believe others could benefit from their advice, please share this article and let's collectively simplify the chaos of recruitment.

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