Preparing for a Technical Interview / Test - Candidate cover image

Preparing for a Technical Interview / Test - Candidate

Oliver Sarfas • March 5, 2019


Episode 1. The Candidate

Congratulations! You got through the initial phase of a job application and you've been invited for a technical test, often called a Technical Interview.

Whether you're a seasoned veteran of this, or it's your first time. There's a few handy tips that can help you through the stress of everything.

I've done countless technical tests myself, as well as conducting some as the employer.

Preliminary Research

Before you even get ready for your interview, you can prepare yourself in numerous ways to get ahead of the game

🏢 Company Research - Look at the company you're interviewing at. Who are the senior manager's / directors. What sort of company ethics do they have? If they have an "about us" or "working here" page, read it a few times. You're by no means expected to meet know everyone and what they had for lunch, however, knowing a face, before your interview - can help reduce a lot of the stress. It feels like you've already met the person. Find your interviewer on LinkedIn if you can. This is a great help, as you can see their past experiences as well

🖥 Stack Research - You're applying for a job as a technical person. So, know something about their technologies. There are some great tools to help you with this. Such as Wappalyzer which I use personally, when looking both at employers, and potential candidates' websites. Perhaps they're on StackShare?

🌐 Website Research - This kind of comes into the Stack Research a little. Look around at their company website. Does it work on mobile? Look at the network tab and see if there's anything you can poke around at. Do not do anything illegal. It's perfectly allowed to have a "nosey" though. Nothing wrong with it. If you find a bug, or issue - an interview / test is a great time. It shows your attention to detail. If you do find a bug / issue, be sure to bring a solution with you!

💼 Role Research - Sometimes, you've gotta go backwards to go forwards. Have a look at the initial job description you applied for. Print it, or take a copy. Isolate each skill they mention, and how you fit it best. If you don't; note it down. They might pick you up on it, so be prepared

The Build Up...

🚗/📹 On Site / Remote - If the test is on site - drive there the night before. Know the route, and allow at least 50% extra travel time for traffic. If you're on a remote call, be there early, and ensure your surroundings are clear of clutter and noise.

Bring your notes. Too many candidates are afraid of doing this. There is nothing wrong with being prepared. If you turned up to a major meeting with no notes; you'd be looked down upon by your bosses. Treat this in the same manner. If you're remote, ensure that you've tested your audio, and video if necessary, setup. Have your notes on your screen, or nearby to refer to.

It's Time!

📰 The Test! - Don't panic. Take your time. Most importantly, think.

A lot of questions are designed to catch people out. They're so vague, that nothing is really a "correct" or "wrong" answer. For example, I've had the following question asked of me before;

"What's your thought and design process when building a Database and it's surrounding Architecture?"

Un-named Company - asking a candidate who applied for a Senior Developer Role

This question is so vague, it's borderline unanswerable. What they're looking for here, is just your wider Database knowledge. Do you know what ACID is, Foreign Keys, Indexing, Scaling, etc etc.

Naturally, the answer depends entirely on the client, project, scale, budget, as well as much more. However, it's so open to interpretation, you can answer it anyway you like.

There will be questions where you think, "no, that's too obvious". You're right. Go with your gut. If something doesn't "feel right"; it's probably not. Tech tests, for the most part, are there to establish that you know your way around code, and can approach an issue. Employers are not looking for a perfect solution.

❓ Follow up Questions - "That's all we had to ask, is there anything you'd like to ask us to finish off?"

That old chestnut. Always have a minimum of 2 questions prepared. They can be random, or genuine. Try and keep the questions relevant to the role if you can, bonus points if they can be personal to the interviewer (this is where your Company Research comes in 👍

A couple of "go-to" questions that I've used are;

I saw you went to X school / college; do you prefer having certifications for a skill, or experience?

What's your take on {some software Design Pattern}?

What's the timeline for the recruitment process? (really you're asking for when you'll hear back here, but in a nicer way)

Could I have a look around the office and see it "in action"?

Watch out for Episode 2 of this section, where I'll be looking at this challenge, from an employer's point of view!

EDIT: Part 2 now available, here

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