How to succeed in technical interviews

We asked employers and University of Edinburgh graduates, for advice, information and top tips on technical interviews ahead of our Tech & Data Careers Day 2021 on Wednesday, 10th February. This is what they said…

Freddie Bawden, Corero, University of Edinburgh graduate

What sorts of challenges can someone doing a technical interview or exercise with Corero expect?

When interviewing with potential employers, it is useful to have a baseline knowledge of their core technologies; in the case of Corero that is computer networking. Obtaining knowledge of common protocols and terminology will help both in the interview and in the job role. It’s important to be aware that not only might you be asked to program a solution to a problem, but also to demonstrate more abstract skills such as system design. Reviewing common design languages like UML (Unified Modelling Language) will help communicate your ideas clearly to your interviewer.

How best to prepare for a technical interview?

If you are self-taught in a programming language, become familiar with technical terms for techniques in your domain. You will probably find that you already have knowledge of the techniques but not their “official” names. These are found under “theory” questions on interview preparation sites. Creating small projects is a useful way to practice interview technique as they exercise different parts of your technical knowledge. Look out for project-based learning resources online and use them as a jumping off point for creating your own solutions; be mindful of managing the scope of your projects so you don’t get too overwhelmed.

How can candidates best demonstrate their technical skills?

Sketch out a rough solution first, maybe even just bullet points, then proceed to the code. This can help catch errors in a solution before getting into the detail of the work and it helps your interviewer follow your solution. When making a decision during the interview, discuss some other approaches and talk about their benefits and drawbacks. This demonstrates your thought process and will often help you find a better solution.

Top tips?

  • During the era of remote interviews, check your audio and video well in advance of the interview day.
  • Reduce background noise if possible and ensure you can be heard clearly while typing.
  • Practice testing solutions without running them; you might not be able to actually run your code in your interview, therefore be ready to talk through your solution.
  • Look for online talks and webinars by the company you are applying for. This will deepen your knowledge of the business, give you better tools to tackle cultural questions, and help you prepare more effective questions to ask at the end of the interview.

Julian Palmer, Executive Vice President, Engineering, Corero, University of Edinburgh graduate

Technical Interview Process

1. Phone screens. This is a mutual meet-greet which contains a mix of technical and background knowledge. We observe a candidate’s ability to talk and interact, and whether they appear to have a good technical grounding. We combine that with explaining the role to the candidate.

2. Online coding test. We use an online tool that presents a set of programming problems to be solved in the appropriate programming language. The challenges range from easy to difficult. The system builds up to actually running the code with sample input and expected output. We choose not to set a time limit and encourage the applicant to try all tests if they can. The system captures all screen and keyboard interaction to show the thought process and to detect plagiarism.

Our goal in the coding test is to determine core programming ability. We are looking to answer questions like: What is the approach the candidate takes? Is it logical? Is there clarity of thought? Is well structured code coming out? We are less focused on whether the code works or not (but that is nice) and more on whether they show strong developer acumen.

3. Technical Interview. We then hold two face-to-face (or video) technical interviews with our senior staff. These include a mix of background questions on projects, and technical topics explored from CVs. We also do live problem solving. We set a problem and ask how they would address it conceptually. This can often result in whiteboard style discussions. Our goal in this phase is to get a different perspective on design skills: see how the candidate thinks, what they spot as important aspects, be able to ask/discuss why they did an approach.

Will Bradbeer, Hiring Manager, Forecast

What sorts of challenges can someone doing a technical interview or exercise with Forecast expect?

The candidate should expect to present some of their past work (academic or otherwise) as if to a nontechnical audience and then discuss the technical details in depth. They should also expect to answer scenario based technical questions where a problem is presented and they need to work with the interviewer to come up with the appropriate solution. These will cover a range of topics based on the specifics of the role and the candidate’s experience.

How best to prepare for a technical interview?

Review past work and studies in detail and think deeply about what they could improve upon. If looking to learn a specific topic or tool they should put in the effort to implement it or answer online problems / questions rather than just reading.

How can candidates best demonstrate their technical skills?

The candidate should give more than just the stock answers for common questions. They should give indications of how they came to their particular answer and any nuances such as when the solution would not be appropriate. Going deeper on a particular answer is preferred to lots of quick answers to many questions.

Top tips?

  • Make sure that they know anything they are putting on their CV in sufficient detail.
  • If something is asked about that they are not familiar with they should say so directly.
  • If they do know a topic well they should speak about it confidently and in detail.

Next steps

For further tips on the recruitment process have a look at this blog post from Pat George, Engineering Group Manager at FreeAgent.

Come along to our ‘Making Effective CVs and Applications’ talk, 5:00-6:00 pm on February 10th,  following our Tech & Data Careers Day 2021.

Thanks to Kyla Atkinson, Careers Consultant, for pulling this together.

(Image credit: Tumisu on Pixabay)


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *