Programmers, developers, coders and information tech pros have a different set of obstacles for interviews. If you’re used to sitting across the desk from an interviewer and catching softball questions, scrap everything you know about the interview process.
When it comes to technical interviews, you are at the mercy of the interviewers. You could have uncovered some information about a company’s interview format, and the job spec may provide some general idea topics, but there are endless possibilities as to what you could be asked over a two or three-hour session.
Any keyword on your résumé is fair game for discussion, so one simple method to avoid being stumped on questions is to only list things you can speak about intelligently. Of course you’ve probably also been told to optimize your resume for ATS (resume scanning and scoring software), which creates another dilemma. Do I list something I know little about in order to get noticed by the ATS, which runs the risk of getting asked questions about it? It’s a tough choice.
While we can’t fully eliminate being rather vulnerable during an interview, there is one rather effective method that can at least mitigate the risk.
Over the past five to ten years the trend in technical hiring has been for employers to request work samples. Front-end designers and developers are expected to provide URLs for a website, mobile developers are asked about available apps, and many online applications even contain a field for a GitHub link.
In an ideal interview, you will get to spend a large portion of the time talking about comfortable topics that you know well. Interviews that include long stretches discussing unfamiliar things don’t usually end in an offer.
To potentially minimize conversations about the unknown, provide a work sample that would presumably become a point of discussion. This could turn a planned technical interrogation into a version of show and tell. Even if the exchange about your sample is relatively brief, it’s an area where you should shine, and it give interviewers less time to delve into other topics that are less familiar.
To employ this tactic, first make it known early on that you have work samples. A GitHub or app store link on a résumé does this seamlessly. You could extend an invitation to view these projects in your application or cover letter, and when scheduling the interview you can express willingness to cover the projects in more detail.
What types of projects are most likely to get noticed by an employer? If you want to make it impossible for an interviewer to ignore your work, include a project that directly uses the company’s own technology. Create a small project that includes an interesting or unique use for the company’s API or any of their open source codebase. If you know the name of an interviewer in advance and he/she has open source work available, find a way to enhance or integrate with those personal project. These are almost guaranteed to start a positive conversation and it further demonstrates true interest in the company’s work.
If you want to ace a technical interview, try to play the game on your home turf - your own code. Spending at least some amount of time discussing highly familiar topics is much more likely to yield positive results.