I’ve been on both sides of the interview table many times and it’s a tough and awkward process that lacks structure and consistency from company to company.
In this absolute cluster of obscure technical questions and HR style questions there are a few things that will nudge your resume from the call back list to the recycle bin.
I’ve identified some of the main offenders.
Memorize technical interview question answers. We all search for company X interview questions and answers. I’ve done it. You’ve done it. It’s a natural and smart way to prepare for a technical Interview. The Internet abounds with question banks for every tech company imaginable (hello Glassdoor). However the goal of a technical interview is two fold; it is to 1) assess knowledge in a particular skill or area and 2) assess raw cognitive ability.
If a person can reverse a linked list but they can’t solve a slight permutation of the same problem, they probably lack the chops to think on their feet. This goes to say that in classes or interview prep, one should focus on understanding as opposed to regurgitation.
Not actually know what is on your resume. If you list every computer language that you’ve ever dabbled in, you are setting yourself up for a potentially embarrassing interview. Similarly, if you put op-amps on your resume and you can’t conjure the basic transistor level design of said op-amp, you’re going to have a bad time.
Adding buzz words into a resume is a great way to get resumes through automated screens but they are also a rich source of interview deep dives. Don’t misrepresent what you know.
Be arrogant. It’s only okay to be arrogant if you are an absolute technical god. Trust me, you probably aren’t (if you can’t tell, neither am I) so don’t play the part. When you come in to an interview we aren’t just evaluating your technical prowess but we are also evaluating whether or not we wan’t to work with you on a daily basis for many many years.
I’ve seen a case firsthand where an otherwise smart and very capable candidate got the no vote simply because of personality clash.
Trash talk your former boss or company. Sometimes during technical discussion, past projects or past work experience will come up. Negative bosses and negative work environments happen. I do get it and can even empathize. However, interviewers don’t have enough information to understand the full context of negative remarks and it’s possible that we can read into a situation in the wrong way.
Play it safe and keep the trash talk to yourself. I can’t think of a scenario where it would be advantageous to wax poetic about how terrible of a human being your former boss was.
Saying “I don’t know” and then stopping while solving a technical problem. Often times, engineering problems are solved via dialog. An “I don’t know” and a hard stop is an indicator that the candidate has difficulty in moving the dialog forward.
If you get stuck, an “I don’t know” and then identifying and expounding on the sticky point or point of confusion is the way to go. It puts the focus on what the difficulty is and this is normally where they interviewer can lay down a breadcrumb for you to follow. Being able to move technical dialog forward in the face of confusion and ambiguity is a vital skill that isn’t taught in the classroom.
Have no preference or direction with regard to what you want to work on. You’ve had years upon years of focused education, maybe an advanced degree or two, and possibly job experience. Being flexible is a good quality but taken to the extreme where the candidate has no preference or interest can be understood to be lack of passion or lack of direction or maybe both.
Part of a technical interview involves gauging where we could see you fitting in within the team. You’d be surprised how many people do not express even loose interest in a particular area and say that they can work on “anything”. You might as well come in and say “I will shovel shit if you need because I am desperate for a job”.