How To Be More Successful on Your Next Tech Interview
Michael Gibbs is the CEO of Go Cloud Careers
As you go after your dream technology job, you are going to face plenty of competition. Apply for a position with a good company and there could be 5,000 or more other applicants. Apply for a position with a huge company, and there could be 25,000 openings.
Your tech skills will not set you apart; many others will have the same qualifications. What you need to stand out are exceptional interview skills.
During the past 20 years, I have trained countless people on how to get their first tech job and how to get promoted in the tech field. I have taught them the skills that I gained in my 25-year tech career — the skills that helped me to get job offers from more than 90 percent of the companies with whom I interviewed. My experience has shown me that almost anyone has the capability to get the job of their dreams if they master the skills required to win the interview.
Getting your dream job involves going to war
To truly prepare yourself to get your dream job, you need to accept that interviewing is war. Only one person will get the job — there are no second-place trophies. Consider this a “survival of the fittest” situation.
To win a war, you need the perfect battle plan and the means to execute it. Consider the words of the famous general Sun Tzu: “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”
Phase 1 of winning the interview: Know yourself
The first phase of the battle plan involves knowing yourself. As Sun Tzu said, you need to know yourself. What are your strengths and weaknesses? Once you have taken some time to reflect on this, ask those who know you well to weigh in. If their thoughts on your strengths and weaknesses don’t match yours, you need to do more self-reflection.
The process of knowing yourself should result in identifying the things that you do better than anyone else. These could include leadership skills, sales skills, presentation skills, emotional intelligence, competitiveness, or passion and motivation. Your top skills are your superpowers. Make sure your hiring manager knows that you have them.
Phase 2 of winning the interview: Know your hiring manager
The next step in building your battle plan is reconnaissance, or recon. This phase involves determining what the hiring manager needs. Winning the interview requires that you prove to the hiring manager that you can make him or her more successful in their job. What do they like? What do they need? Find out. You can do this by asking someone who knows them, observing what they share on social media, or identifying and reading through papers or speeches they have prepared.
If you can help the hiring manager to achieve his or her goals, you will not only get hired, but also promoted. Do they want to be the top sales leader? Do they want to get promoted? Do they want national recognition for their achievements? Let them know that you are a team player who will work diligently in pursuit of those goals.
In order to better serve those who I train, I have asked many recruiters and hiring managers what they are looking for in an applicant. Here is what I learned:
- They need someone who can do the job. If the manager’s team can’t deliver, the manager has a problem. Be the teammate who helps the manager deliver.
- They need someone who can be trusted. Show them that they can trust you and that you are someone of great integrity and authenticity.
- They need someone who is competent and safe. Know what you know and what you don’t know. If you don’t know, it is better to ask for guidance than to risk causing a problem.
- They need someone who is energetic. Be excited about working and getting the job done.
- They need someone who is an “energizer.” An employee who can boost the team’s morale and be motivational is valuable.
- They need a team player. Be willing to share your strengths and get help with your weaknesses.
- They need someone who goes above and beyond. Be the person who does what needs to be done to deliver excellence.
The recon you do on the hiring manager will be extremely valuable before and during your interview. People hire people they like. Determine how you will establish a rapport or a connection with the manager. If they like you, they will like your answers and your chances of getting hired will increase.
Phase 3 of winning the interview: Know the critical skills
You can’t always trust the job description as a guide for understanding the top skills that will be needed. Do some research. Ask those in your network or make some new connections via LinkedIn. If you are working with a recruiter, ask them to find out from the hiring manager the skills that are most important.
Once you determine the most important skills, you can build a plan that focuses on them. Highlight your experience and expertise in that area. Job postings can list a lot of skills that are not essential to the particular job. Resist the temptation to present yourself as a jack-of-all-trades. Find out what skills are most important and highlight those.
Phase 4 of winning the interview: Prepare for common interview questions
When it comes to technology, you should be prepared to talk about the relevant tech, how it works, and what a company can gain from using it. No matter how well you prepare, you may be asked a question for which you do not have a good answer. Here is the best way to respond when that happens: “I’m sorry I have not had the opportunity to learn that technology yet, but I am energetic and enthusiastic, and I love technology. I know what I know and I know what I don’t know, so you can be confident I won’t make mistakes. If this is important for the job, I will do anything to master it as fast as possible. If you would like to check my competency, we can discuss X, Y, and Z in depth.”
That will quickly shift the conversation so that it is about the skills you have. This redirects the interview to your strengths. In essence, you have used your “I don’t know” as a sales pitch for what you do know.
Beyond the tech, the hiring manager will want to know something about you, your personality, and how you engage with others. Here are some common questions you should be prepared to answer succinctly:
- Tell me about yourself.
- Why should I hire you?
- Tell me about a difficult project you worked on.
- Tell me about a problem co-worker and what you did about it.
- Tell me about your strengths and weaknesses.
You should plan on spending as much as 100 hours working out your battle plan. Recon is critical for positioning yourself as a stand-out candidate. Remember: this is war. Don’t cheat yourself and your dream. Prepare well.
Phase 5 of winning the interview: Execute the battle plan
To be well prepared for the interview, prepare your battle gear. Make sure you have a nice, clean pressed suit. If you don’t have one, buy one or borrow one. This is your battle dress uniform and you need to wear it. First impressions are everything.
Arrive early so you won’t be stressed. To be early is to be on time. Don’t drink or use anything that can keep you from being in your peak condition, and make sure you are well-groomed.
When you walk into the interview room or log on to the conference call, observe the setting. Is there anything that you see that reveals something you have in common with the interviewer? If so, leverage that to create rapport or establish a bond between you and the interviewer. As you begin the interview, make sure you look the hiring manager in the eye. Making eye contact is the key to a great presentation.
When you speak, observe the hiring manager’s body language. If they are nodding, keep talking. If they are leaning forward and smiling, keep talking. If they cross their arms, sit back in their chair, or fidget, they don’t like what they are hearing. Stop talking or change the topic. To come across as more likable, answer questions with a smile.
When it comes time for you to ask questions, avoid asking about the organization’s work-life balance. If you ask that question, you’ve lost the battle. Keep in mind that they are hiring because they have work that needs to be done. Their ideal applicant is someone who will go above and beyond and make sure that the work is completed.
Here is the one question that you should ask: What are your goals? Explain to them that if you were a member of the team, you could help them to accomplish that goal. That signals to the hiring manager that they need you and that you will help them. As a side bonus, their answer to that question will reveal to you the true job description. It will help you to know if it is truly a position that you want.
At that point, the battle is over. Thank the hiring manager for their time and let them know you would love to be a critical member of the team. Remember, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles!” So prepare, prepare, and prepare some more to win the interview and the job of your dreams!