Technical Interview Mistakes to Avoid

Technical interview question range from "brainteasers" to actual technical questions. Mistakes are easy to make, and the need is to avoid as many as possible. Technical questions, either verbal or in tests, tend to be situational in nature. It's advisable to practice these questions as far as possible in your line of expertise, as much to get used to the types of phraseology and be able to fully comprehend the questions as for actual practice.

Mistakes to avoid:

  • Don't answer part of the question: Many technical questions are in two parts or more. Make sure you've picked up the entire question.
  • Don't try and bluff your way through if you don't know an answer: It won't work. These questions are designed to test knowledge, and you're likely to make more mistakes proving you don't know something and being dishonest than admitting you don't know.
  • Don't speak without thinking: Before you say anything, make sure you're clear about what you're trying to say. It's quite possible to get stuck in the middle of a technical answer, with partial completion, and losing the thread. If necessary, ask for a few moments to think through your answer. Anything will be better than a non-answer or failed answer.
  • Don't attempt to answer questions you don't fully understand: Ask for clarification if required. Some questions are deliberately unclear, and some have multiple possible answers.
  • Don't waste time in timed tests: If you're doing a timed exercise, get the easy material out of the way ASAP. That creates time for the harder questions.

"Brainteaser" Questions

Most "brainteaser" questions are conceptual questions. These are questions like "Why is a manhole cover round?" and "Explain computer systems to a five year old". Some questions look for originality and quality of answers. "Brainteasers" get a lot of criticism, particularly in long interviews. Some technical interviews have been known to go for as long as six hours, and the value of time is an issue. Frivolous or not, these questions are common, and need to be understood.

Don't get impatient or upset. While many unemployed people, particularly highly qualified people, may not appreciate them, "brainteasers" can allow for good presentation. Make the best of the opportunity.

Problem Solving Questions

Technical problem solving questions are a different order of magnitude to common behavioral problem solving, and the distinction is important. The answers to these questions need to be structured and clear.

Mistakes to avoid:

  • Don't allow yourself to get off topic: If you've got anything else to say, leave it till you've finished. You can clutter up your answer, and confuse the listeners.
  • Don't leave out steps in problem solving: Each element of problem solving is a logical sequence, and you can devalue your answer by leaving out procedural or logical steps.
  • Don't get too technical: Some things don't need to be explained. Excessive verbiage dilutes the answer and makes it seem more complex than practical.
  • Treat technical interview questions exactly as you would the same questions on the job. That's what the interview is really about. Consider the questions as practical situations, and they'll look a lot simpler. That makes the answers easier to visualize and express.