If you are applying for a technical or specialist position in an engineering, technology or science company, the chances are you’ll get an interview containing technical questions. Some employers favour a separate technical interview, whereas others prefer to include technical questions in a general interview.
Know the basics of your subject inside out
As you are not expected to have much work experience as a fresh graduate, interviewers are sure to quiz you in-depth about your course. Revise the basics that everyone in your discipline should be secure in knowing, and place particular focus on topics that relate to the employer’s area of work.
Be prepared to talk
Technical interviewers often focus on project work. Exploring this area probes how far the graduate has gone into carrying out more independent work, going deeper into a subject, structuring his or her own work and solving problems.
Be ready to give a brief summary of what your project focused on, situations you faced, how you overcame problems and the final results. In essence, this could resemble your viva (or oral defence of your project to your tutors). This part of the interview could be easier or more challenging than your viva depending on whether the project relates to anything the company is involved in, ie if it’s the company’s pet project or right up the interviewer’s street, then expect a thorough grilling.
If you have been involved in a group project, make sure you can distinguish your own contribution. You should be able to talk about what your team did and the parts that you yourself took responsibility for.
Be prepared to be tested!
- 'Implement an algorithm to sort an array. Why did you pick the method you did?'
- 'How would you explain how to use Microsoft Excel to your grandma?'
- 'How would you go about building a keyboard for one-handed users?'
- 'Why is a manhole cover round?'
The above are actual questions from Microsoft employee interviews. Other tests that interviewers might use include showing you a device and ask you to explain how it works, or showing you a circuit diagram and expecting your instant analysis.
While interviewers are interested in your technical knowledge, they also want to test your ability to think on your feet and to communicate with non-technical people. The best way to prepare is to make sure you know your subject matter and fully understand the requirements of the job.
Use your technical experience
If you have any project work or vacation experience that is particularly relevant to the job you are going for, practise summarising it. You could produce a short digest of the information and take it with you to the interview. Use it to illustrate your answers or leave it with the interviewer when you finish.
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 just interested in your technical knowledge – they also want to see how you reason and how you approach problems. If you’re totally stumped, it’s all right to ask for a minute to gather your thoughts. It is even acceptable to answer ‘I don’t know’ if you genuinely do not know what the answer is; but avoid doing this too often or you will appear to be clueless.
The interviewer will also look for more personal skills. You need to show that you can work well with others and communicate clearly, avoiding technical jargon that may confuse the uninitiated.
Remember, interviewers are not out to harass you or catch you out. Just like you are trying to find a job as quickly as possible, they too, are trying to find the best candidate as quickly as possible. They want to see your enthusiasm for employing your technological skills to find solutions. Prepare, be confident and upbeat, and enjoy the opportunity to talk tech with the experts.