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Preparing for an IT job interview

How to Prepare for an IT Job Interview

Slow shaky steps, sweaty palms, a dry throat and a slight feeling of panic in the pit of the stomach. I’ve met many IT people over my 28 year career and for most of them attending a job interview is met with some if not all of the above symptoms. Fear not! Read on… here’s some of my best tips collated over time to allow you to let your true self shine after you enter the interrogation room.

These tips aren’t rocket science and some are easier than others to execute. Above all though let me say this. A job interview is all about being yourself and letting your best self shine through… to a complete stranger in less than an hour. So your ability to relax, enjoy the experience and feel confident will help you most in letting your character be revealed. And remember you’ll know more than anyone what helps you feel confident and relaxed.

Preparation

The more prepared you are, the more confident you’ll be. So how do you prepare?

Find out the employment process if you can. Is this going to be a technical interview or a culturally focused one or both? If it’s technical then brush up on your technical knowledge for the given job. If it’s a broad technical role then think about all the different technologies you’ve had exposure to in your career and remind yourself of your experience with them. Think about stories that best showcase your experience… more on stories later.

Also do some research on the company, use their website and any other articles online. See if you know anyone who already works in the company and ask them about it. Linkedin can be a good tool for this to see who you know and how you might be connected to employees there.

Ask questions

While doing the research, come up with some good questions to ask them. An interview is a two way street and it’s seen as a good sign by the interviewer if you also ask them a few well thought out questions.

What are good questions? Anything to do with the company strategy, ethos, growth plans, history are all good places to start. A bit about the culture and even what the interviewer enjoys about working there are also worthwhile conversation points that you can spearhead.

Check out our article about good questions for IT candidates to ask in an interview.

Try to avoid asking too many questions about the role specifically, like start and end times and salary etc, at least in the first interview. These questions tend to be more about you than about them and when you’re wanting to make a good first impression it helps to show interest in them and the company.

Stories

It’s easy to say you’re good at something in an interview. It’s another thing to prove it. You can even show you’ve had 10 years experience in a certain technology, but it means nothing if you can’t demonstrate the value of that depth of experience.

I meet plenty of IT people that have 10 years tech support experience on their resume but after interviewing them I can tell they’ve really just got 1 year’s experience 10 times over, they lack depth of experience even though they have the quantity of experience.

So how do you prove your depth of experience? By telling well crafted stories of specific times where you’ve actually done it in your work history.

When telling the story use the following format:

Describe the setting – I was on a helpdesk and a particularly tricky client rang up and was almost shouting down the phone.. Our server has gone offline – AGAIN!

Describe what you did and how you felt in detail – This was not a good call, I felt nervous and didn’t like being shouted at but I took a deep breath and told her I was really distressed to hear that, and it must be so frustrating…

Continue the step by step description of what you did until the problem was resolved – I told him I’d work on it and give him updates every hour. Then I proceeded to log into the server. I tried xxxx then when it wasn’t that I xxxx, finally that told me that it must be to do with xyz so I proceeded to xxxx and that fixed it.

Describe the end result and how that made you others involved feel – I was so relieved to have solved it within 2 hours. I rang the client back for the last time and explained in a non-technical way what the problem was, why it happened and why it is unlikely to happen again.

Good stories that answer direct questions from the interviewer may go for 2 – 5 minutes or more. That’s ideal! Some may go even longer if the interviewer is engaged and providing input themselves along the way.

An interview should never be about the interviewer asking a question and the interviewee giving only a one sentence answer. It’s not about just answering questions, ideally it’s about engaging in a conversation with the interviewer and making a meaningful connection in the process.

Depending on the role being considered the following are the types of stories that you can prepare and practice before your interview:

  • A time when you had to work with a difficult colleague and how you handled it
  • A time when you had to give customer service to someone which was above and beyond the norm.
  • A technical problem you had to troubleshoot that was particularly tricky that others had trouble solving but you managed to
  • A story that showcases your people skills

We’ve covered more of this in our article about the value of telling stories in an interview. You should check it out.

Listen actively

It’s really important to make sure you listen actively to the question being asked. If you don’t understand the question, ask for clarification. If you’re nervous and that’s affecting you, feel free to admit that.

If you end up going off track and talking for a long time answering a question that wasn’t asked then it can appear like you weren’t really listening or didn’t really care about what was being asked.

If you need help in answering the “tell me about yourself question,” check out our article on how to answer the question.

Hopefully this helps in preparing for your IT interview. We’ve actually got a cheat sheet with some of these tips and many more, which you can download here – The Do’s and Don’t’s of IT interviews.

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