Tech Talk for Specialist Jobs
The dreaded technical interviews – they’re the kind of thing that makes even the brainiest science student quail. However, if you’re going for a job in IT, the sciences, or engineering, it’s likely you’ll face one at some point.
Some employers favour a separate technical interview, whereas others prefer to include technical questions in a general interview.
Don’t panic, though! Technical interviews at graduate level don’t have to be as scary as you think.
With some practical tips to help you prepare, you’ll be ready to talk technical with the experts.
Know your subject inside-out
All technical interviews are different. What you will be asked will depend on the subject you’ve studied and, of course, the job you’re applying for.
However, one thing that's bound to happen regardless of your field of study is that interviewers are sure to quiz you about your course and what you've learned from it.
Revise the basics that everyone in your discipline should be secure on, but remember to place particular focus on topics that relate to the employer’s area of work, as well as any knowledge you would use on the job.
If you've been stylising or branding yourself to potential employers as a specialist in a specific area of your field, be sure you know the latest and most relevant theories, debates, and issues in that area backwards and forwards alongside your book knowledge as well.
Talk about projects
Technical interviewers often focus on projects you have worked on at university, as these show off your ability to do independent work, go deeper into your subject, use practical skills and techniques, structure work, and solve problems.
When asked to talk about a project, be ready to give a brief summary of what your project focused on, how you overcame problems that cropped up, and how you got the final results.
If you have been involved in a group project, make sure you can distinguish your own contribution. Talk about what you did, and the parts that you took responsibility for.
A good way of getting through this is to step back and think about your project from a layman's perspective.
Assuming your listener knows nothing about your work, come up with five key points about this project that he/she must know about the project.
Then, sum up those key points into five sentences that you can expand on if required.
You'll find that this method is a great way to lay the bare bones of your project work both concisely and accurately before recruiters, and will keep you from rambling or going off on tangents.
Plus, having those five key sentences as guidelines is a great way to remind yourself of what you need to talk about if you start panicking mid-way!
Use experience to back up your technical knowledge
Use examples from any work, volunteer, or vacation experience which show how you used or picked up technical skills in a commercial environment.
This proves your ability to apply theory to practice, and will reassure recruiters that you know how to translate your knowledge to their company's needs.
You could produce a short portfolio, a digest of the information, or the results of your work and take it with you to the interview. Use it to illustrate your answers as you talk, or leave it with the interviewer when you finish.
You only have a limited amount of time during the interview, so this is a great way to ensure that interviewers have at least one method of finding out about the full extent of your accomplishments.
It’s not always about getting the correct answer!
Technical interviewers may ask you to comment on a range of scenarios or hypothetical situations.
You may not know the answer to everything you are asked, but try to show the interviewer how you might go about solving the problem or finding the information you would need to answer the question.
Remember that your interviewer is not only interested in your technical knowledge. They also want to see how you reason and how you approach problems.
This isn't an exam – if you’re totally stumped, you can always try asking for a few pointers. If your interviewers oblige, try to pick up the thread and keep going.
If drawing a diagram will help your explanation, don’t be afraid to ask for paper and pen, or go to the whiteboard.
Talk technical, but be understood
Technical interviewers also look at interviewees’ personal skills.
You need to show that you can work well with others, and that you can communicate technical information and scientific ideas clearly and concisely to laymen and experts alike.
When communicating ideas, try your best to use simple terms to explain complicated concepts. Avoid tech or scientific jargon if possible, but if you absolutely need to drop a few of those, be sure to clarify what they mean or stand for.
It's always a good idea to focus on the application of the idea – how and why this idea is important, and why your audience should care about it.
Remember that even in a technical interview, not all your interviewers may be experts in your chosen field.
Do your best to keep things simple yet meaningful, and to not lock any one of them out of the loop!