Show your value in a tech interview

In the realm of technical interviewing, there exists a lesser-known element that sets apart the adept candidates, enabling them to soar through these rounds like majestic birds in the sky. As a recruiter, I’ve personally witnessed the profound impact of mastering this element, turning what might have seemed like a bleak outcome into a compelling job offer.

So, what exactly is this element I’m referring to?

It pertains to the technical discussion component of the interview, distinct from take-home assignments or live coding challenges. While many candidates focus on achieving perfection by delving into their own minds and diligently solving problems, there is a deeper aspect that often eludes them — the ability to showcase their true value.

A technical interview indeed assesses how individuals handle technical problems, but what many struggle to portray effectively is their overall worth as potential team members.

In this article, I had the privilege of engaging in conversations with four exceptional technical managers who generously shared invaluable insights on how developers can truly demonstrate their value during these critical interviews. These managers come from diverse tech stacks, industries, and environments, yet they highlighted strikingly similar principles.

Before we delve into their wisdom, I extend a thank you to Ilkin Alibayli of Unikrn, Alex Percsi of Numa, Darío Blanco Iturriaga of ParcelLab, and Kamal Laungani for contributing their expertise. The collective knowledge they’ve shared is sure to inspire and aid countless individuals seeking to excel in technical interviews.

Basics and Core Requirements

In every technical interview, our guests unanimously agreed that meeting the fundamentals is a crucial starting point. Demonstrating a strong grasp of the core requirements specific to the position you are applying for may seem obvious, but it holds immense value. Surprisingly, with more experienced members in the community, there is a tendency to overlook the basics of their chosen field as they delve deeper into their expertise.

Interestingly, this oversight presents an opportunity for added value.

Alex proposed a straightforward yet effective exercise called the ‘line for line’ approach for each job application. The idea is to meticulously go through the job description, evaluating each line to determine if you possess the desired skills or not. If you do, it’s essential to jot down several examples showcasing your proficiency. On the other hand, if you lack a specific skill, consider whether there’s a related skill or a course you could undertake to upskill in that area.

Expanding on this concept, Ilkin emphasised the importance of articulating not only the pros but also the cons of using a particular tool, language, or framework. Doing so naturally reveals that you have moved beyond a mere preference for something. Instead, you can objectively evaluate these tools — a skill highly sought after in most engineering teams.

Broader knowledge

Once you’ve mastered the basics and core requirements, the next layer of value to showcase lies in your broader knowledge, albeit contextual to the discussion at hand.

As Kamal highlighted during our conversation, interviewers often present vague questions to gauge whether you delve deeper and explore the “question behind the question.” For instance, a question like “Tell me about your experience with testing” seeks not only a general account of your experience but also a detailed insight into your opinions on the matter.

Throughout the interview, be attentive to opportunities where you can elaborate and introduce other tools, ideas, or paradigms that enrich the conversation and demonstrate your versatility.

Ilkin emphasises the importance of continuous learning within your field, which can be achieved through various mediums such as books, conferences, podcasts, and more. Engaging in ongoing learning not only broadens your understanding of your niche but also helps you appreciate other dimensions and roles within the team structure. When you can provide an answer backed by an appropriate reference and take it a step further by offering an original opinion, your interviewer will undoubtedly recognise your genuine passion and interest in honing your craft. This showcases your commitment to personal growth and development within your field.

Soft Skills and Communication

If you find that you are confidently handling the first two points but still not excelling in technical interviews, the culprit might lie in your communication and soft skills.

All four guests stressed the crucial role of soft skills and the approach to fostering engaging conversations during technical interviews. For some, this aspect can be challenging, especially considering the limited time available to make an impact. However, by employing effective communication techniques, providing relevant examples, and packaging your experiences into a compelling story, you can, as Alex shared, paint a vivid picture of what it’s like to work with you beyond simply answering questions.

Alex also encourages active listening right from the start, finding the best rhythm that works for both you and the interviewer. It’s essential to avoid interrupting, even when you feel excited and eager to share a point. Instead, wait for an organic break in the conversation and circle back to previous topics if necessary.

Everyone approaches work differently, whether it’s through a visual or kinesthetic lens. This applies to both the interviewee and the interviewer. If it helps you answer questions more effectively, don’t hesitate to share your screen or use diagrams. Several of our guests even recommend leveraging these tools to enhance communication.

For those who might feel shy and struggle to keep conversations flowing, Darío suggests showcasing your skills through your code. Share open-source or private code ahead of the interview to allow the hiring manager to understand your baseline knowledge. This way, they can tailor specific questions that relate to your work, making you more comfortable during the live session. By providing insight into your code, you can guide the conversation towards areas that you feel confident discussing.

Learning from Feedback

In your career journey, feedback is a constant companion. Embracing your mistakes and setbacks plays a pivotal role in ensuring long-term success. This doesn’t imply that you need to proclaim every error you’ve ever made during an interview, but it does entail being realistic about the achievements and challenges that have shaped your path.

Kamel believes that individuals who openly discuss their mistakes while highlighting the valuable lessons learned demonstrate a strong sense of ownership, responsibility, and self-awareness. These traits contribute immense value to a team, even though they might not be immediately apparent in technical interviews, where the primary focus is assessing your technical prowess.

One effective method to showcase these lessons is through the STAR approach: Situation, Task, Action, and Results. By incorporating this technique into your responses to broader technical questions, you can offer an opinion and share a story that not only celebrates successes but also acknowledges the challenges and the invaluable knowledge gained from them. In doing so, you exhibit a comprehensive understanding of your experiences and the growth they have brought about.

By listening directly to hiring managers’ insights, you should be able to identify areas where you might be facing challenges in showcasing your true value during technical interviews. If you find yourself seeking further guidance, we have also gathered specific advice from each of our guests for those currently encountering difficulties today:

Ask for feedback from every interview and specifically at the end of the meeting, catch them without a poker face.

Show your energy and willingness to help — energy can bring a lot to a team. It is hard to do this if it is not natural, but you can feel the energy of a person right from the get-go.

Create cue cards that help get you in the right head space about your strengths ahead of an interview so that you can read ‘I am a good communicator’.

Feel free to ask the interviewer at the beginning the type of person they are looking for to determine if it aligns with what you are capable of and looking for.

Network with recruiters, tech leaders and HR teams every day.

Work on personal projects + blog etc. to keep yourself in the market from a content perspective.

Utilise referrals within your network.

Design your resume in a way that really highlights your key skills — fine line between keyword dumping and effective writing.

Relationship building is far more effective to bot building.

As we stated at the outset, the true power of demonstrating value can be illustrated through a short story. Some time ago, we collaborated with one of the leading in-browser website builders who was in the process of assembling a new team. The technical questions posed during the interview were intentionally designed to escalate in difficulty, seeking to uncover how each developer approached seemingly insurmountable challenges and applied logical reasoning.

One particular engineer struggled with three out of the four questions. However, what stood out was his ability to maintain composure throughout the interview, and more importantly, to emphasise the value he brought to the table, which might not have been immediately evident from his resume but held significance to the hiring manager. He demonstrated a clear sense of direction and knowledge, but a minor mistake early on led to some incorrect results.

Despite this setback, the developer advanced to the next round and eventually secured the position. He has since been an integral part of the team, making meaningful contributions to their projects.

This story underscores the notion that while technical skills are undoubtedly crucial, showcasing the value you bring to a team is equally vital to hiring managers, especially when they are recruiting for multiple roles. Demonstrating your ability to handle challenges, maintain composure, and emphasise your unique strengths can have a lasting impact on the hiring decision, leading to successful outcomes in your job search.

With that, feel free to share this article with anyone you feel might need it and collectively we can bring simplicity to the chaos of recruitment.


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