Interviewing for an IT Job
Tips and Techniques for a successful IT job interview
A little bit of pre-interview preparation can make a big difference in increasing your chances for success when applying for a job. Here are three, basic steps which anyone who is serious about an IT job opportunity should take before each interview.
1) Learn everything you can about the company’s business.
Spend an hour of your time reading whatever information you can find online about the company. Don’t just stop at the company’s own website – search for news items, blog posts, Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, etc. If it’s a large, public company, a good place to find objective information is from investment sites. Many of these websites have free online reports analyzing a company’s business prospects, market share, competitors, and partners.
2) Check if they have posted a lot of other jobs (IT and non-IT).
This can help you get an idea about how (and where) the company is expanding. If it is a multinational, are there many jobs advertised in your country? What about elsewhere in your region? Compare this with what you learned from the research in step 1.
3) Find out who you will be interviewing with.
As you’ll see later in this article, your interviews and your approach to them will be quite different depending on whom you are meeting and their role in the company. At the very least, you should know if you will be meeting someone from the HR department, or if you will be speaking with a direct line manager for the position, or with some other managerial or technical staff (or all of the above). If possible try to find out the interviewers’ names in advance. You can then research them specifically, and maybe learn an interesting fact or two which might help you make a good connection. For example, maybe one of your interviewers previously worked at another company that you are already familiar with. Or maybe they graduated from the same university that you did.
Now that you know how to prepare yourself before the job interview, here are some tips on successfully handling the interview itself.
Many companies will have several people meet each job candidate. As mentioned above, you should try to find out in advance whom you will be meeting – at least their position in the company, if not their name. If you are unable to find out in advance, then make it a point to ask at the beginning of the interview, when introducing yourself. This is important, because you should take a different approach for each type of interviewer.
- If your interviewer is from the HR Department
The HR interview is usually intended to evaluate your potential “fit” with the company’s culture, as well as your general employment background (why you changed jobs in the past, for example) and your longer-term career goals. A good HR interviewer may also try to get a sense of your “soft skills”, such as how well you handle unexpected situations, whether you are a team player, and (if you are being interviewed for a more senior role) what your team leadership and project management skills are like.
As in any interview, listen carefully to the questions being asked, think about your response before speaking, and then answer clearly and directly – stay on topic. Don’t talk for too long or repeat yourself, but it’s OK to show that you have done your “homework” and prepared yourself for the interview, such as by mentioning prior accomplishments and experiences which may be relevant to this company as well.
Typically, the HR interviewer will not be asking you any in-depth technical questions and will not be evaluating your technical work experience. Don’t use “tech-speak”! It won’t impress the interviewer, and may even make him or her feel that you are unable to relate well to ordinary (non-technical) employees.
Although the HR interviewer probably won’t be able to tell you very much about the technical aspects of the job, he or she should have a good idea about what’s needed to build a successful career at the company. This is often a good chance to ask the interviewer some intelligent questions about the company and its business, to fill in any blanks which your earlier research may not have covered.
- If your interviewer is from the IT Department
This is your chance to ask intelligent questions about the technology that the company uses, and about their specific working style with regard to development, implementation, support, etc. So, for example, if you are a developer you may want to ask about their applications architecture (web services? cloud-based?), or about which development tools they use. You may want to know whether they use “agile” development methodology or the older “waterfall” approach.
If the interviewer is a technical person, let them see your passion for technology! If you are asked questions about (for example) specific applications you have developed or implemented, or about network infrastructure you have supported, mention the things that you felt especially proud of having figured out, problems you solved, and especially the value you were able to deliver to users. It’s OK to show off your knowledge a little, as long as you don’t sound arrogant or like a “know-it-all”. In general, it’s a good idea to mention any experience you have which may fit with their specific technical environment. It may not be clear from your resume, and in any case, the interviewer will remember you better if you have specifically discussed your familiarity with the technology in your interview – especially if you have some well-informed opinions about it.
- If your interviewer is an end-user
For certain IT jobs, some companies will also ask an end-user to interview candidates. As with the HR interview, this is often done to help evaluate “company fit”, but it may also be because that particular user’s department will be closely involved with the specific IT position, such as for Business Analysts configuring a new application, or for IT Support Engineers handling connectivity for remote users.
As with the HR interview, you should avoid any overuse of technical terms. A good approach is to ask the interviewer what he or she expects from IT. If you can relate those needs to similar requirements at any of your previous jobs, describing those experiences can help make the interviewer comfortable that you will understand the business needs of this position as well.
For all three types of interviews, always remember to listen carefully to the questions asked, and to give focused and relevant answers (relevant to the person who is asking the question). Make sure that you are not perceived as “talking down” to people who may not have the same understanding of technology that you do.