Sonam Garrigan, Associate Business Manager for Real Staffing, one of SThree's UK specialist STEM recruitment brands, shares her talk, “Acing Your Next Tech Interview.” She discusses what you need to know about the company before an interview and the specifics of a tech interview. She gives preparation advice from start to finish of the interview process, including staying engaged.
I joined recruitment 11 years ago and have stayed because I love to help people progress in their careers. I love to help them achieve their personal and professional aspirations. I believe I can help you have a successful interview. I'm big on values and it’s important that these values align with my team as well as wider SThree. Be honest and authentic with yourself and others. Be your most authentic self. Show compassion and kindness to yourself and others around you. To be able to grow, you need knowledge and knowledge is power.
At SThree, we connect sought-after specialists in life sciences, technology, engineering and mathematics with game-changing organisations across the world. We are the number one destination for talent in the best STEM markets. Sourcing highly skilled professionals and discovering life-changing jobs for the unsung heroes who will positively shape our future. Elevating expertise and energising progress for everyone.
You've got an interview. You secured it, that's incredible. What do you do next? This is a real opportunity for you to sell yourself. It's an opportunity to show that you are the right person for the job but also to see if this is the right job for you. It might look good on paper, but you must think about a few things such as:
Your interview might be by video or by phone. Whether an interview is a virtual or a telephone interview, that doesn't change how vital that interview is for you and that you still need to show a level of professionalism. You still need to act like you would if this interview was in person. It's really important to dress professionally regardless of where the discussion is. Sometimes the way you dress can change the way that you come across, even on the phone. I'm a massive believer that how you dress is how you feel. It’s important for an interview.
Put your phone on silent. Arrive 10 minutes early. It gives you time to compose yourself as well. You'll feel rushed if you arrive at the last minute or late. You won't be as calm throughout your interview and if you have spent some time preparing for the interview you may forget things you’ve thought about because you're flustered.
Give yourself that time to take a breath and just reflect on the preparation that you've done, so you can clearly articulate what you're trying to say and sell yourself. Plan your journey as well. We all know that traffic can be ridiculous, trains and trams can be late, whatever your mode of transport is sometimes things go wrong. Give yourself enough time.
If things go wrong and you do end up being slightly late, don't stress too much but try to where you can plan your journey.
If it’s a virtual interview, consider your background. If your interview is via teams, you can select different backgrounds, blur your background, or just think about where you are sitting. Don't have the TV on in the background or a radio or any background noise. If you don’t live alone and there are others that live with you, that’s ok just try to find a quiet spot in your home. Don't check your phone as well. Just have it away from the minute you enter that reception or the minute you're planning to go on Teams. Just don't have it near you as it can be a distraction.
Ensure you have notes for yourself to prompt you with key information or experience you think is relevant for the interview. Try not to write lengthy notes, just write key words that will help you remember the information you wanted to highlight. Don't read notes word for word, you can sound quite robotic and that can sometimes mean your personality doesn’t come through. Have a notebook, pen, paper, glass of water, and anything else you may need for the interview.
Posture is important as well, so don't slouch or yawn. Be engaged. Be truthful, and don't embellish your experience.
This is a really important point - don't speak poorly of a current or past employer. We've all had negative experiences in roles however you want to keep your interview very light and positive so I would avoid any negative conversations. Don’t ask about salaries unless you’re prompted. This is something that you should discuss with the middle person (Recruitment Consultant or HR) I wouldn’t do that in the interview. In the interview, I'd focus on understanding the role, selling yourself, and getting to know the organisation. They're the key things.
If I was interviewing again now, what things would I look at? I'd research the company and research the people who were interviewing me. I wouldn't go any deeper than that. The about us section on their website is really useful as it's a short overview of what that company's about and that short blurb will give you a good understanding for the interview. Their website can help you understand what they’re about and gets you thinking “Can I get a general feel from their mission statement, purpose, and vision?" Does that align with what you are about? Does that align with what you want to do in a future organisation you will work for? Then look at their purpose, values, principles, and culture.
The news section of their website can also be helpful. When you're in that interview, you can share some of this and be like, "Oh, actually, I was reading the news section on your website, and I saw that you are currently taking part in X, Y, and Z. That's interesting to me. Could you tell me a little bit more about that?" That person interviewing you perks up because they think you've taken the time to read, you've taken the time to learn about what we're doing, and you are genuinely interested. As well as selling yourself and your skillset, you show them that you care about their business and this interview. Look to see what their social media presence is like, what are they posting?
Consider how you relate to their culture, values, and purpose. If you can understand what a company's purpose and values are and what its culture is like you can then see how you relate to it. When you are talking, you can say, "Actually, I saw that one of your values was around being kind and compassionate. I can give you an example of where that fits with me." That's a really powerful thing to do in an interview as again it shows you have taken the time to understand the company you want to work for. Think about why you want to work there in particular and why that company over others. They like to know that actually, you choose them over another company.
Also, research your interviewer by looking at their LinkedIn profile. Their LinkedIn can give you their job title, what they do, how long they have been there and how they have progressed over their time at the company. You can then ask them questions to learn about their experience. Have a look to see if there are any experiences of interests you may have in common. People tend to put things on their LinkedIn that they're interested in. Use that for warm engagement during the interview. There's nothing wrong with saying, "Oh, I looked at your LinkedIn. I saw that you are interested in yoga. I love doing that too. How long have you been doing it?" Again, it creates warm engagement. It allows the interviewer to know that you've taken the time to research them.
Know the job as well. When talking to the client, you could say, "Oh, I've done X, Y, and Z, and I saw that's one of the key responsibilities. I did this in this role. This is what I achieved from it." So, you can quite clearly show that you match their job specification and job advert. Print the job description off if you can, write notes/ comments and give examples of how you've delivered these tasks or shown the skills in the past. Think about any gaps where you don't have experience. Highlight them, say, "I have experience in X, Y, and Z, but I don't in this. However, what I'd like to do is learn. I’m interested in ways you would develop me or how to do that myself?" Consider similar skills that might be transferable or think of what you can do to upskill yourself in this area quickly. Remember as well, why would you apply for a job that you are 100% qualified for? You want to progress in a company, and you need room to grow
How would you set yourself up to succeed to ensure you become knowledgeable with this technology and gain experience? Knowing your blind spot is important as well. If you already know that you have some gaps in the job specification, you can preempt that by saying, "I have gaps, but this is what I would do to upskill myself." Don't skip past the job description. Don't just go off what your recruiter says or a blurb you read. You need to take your career into your own hands, so read it and know it before you go into that interview.
You need to prepare answers to frequently asked questions. Many of the same competency questions get asked in interviews, so it makes sense to have some pre-prepared answers. Some generic ones interviewers would ask you are, "Why do you want to work for our company? What are your strengths and weaknesses? Can you tell me about a time you've overcome a challenge?" These are important. You don't always have to give a generic answer, it could be personal. Telling them of the time you've overcome a challenge, most people shy away from it, but it's brilliant to share because it shows what you can do. If you've got a challenge, you will think about a solution and if you have a solutions-driven mindset you will achieve most of your goals.
Ensure any pre-interview tasks expected by the interviewer are completed. Some might want you to fill out some forms. They might want you to think about a few things. They might want you to create a five-minute presentation. Drawing on an example I had a few days ago, we had a customer who requested all candidates provide examples of dashboards they’d created using Power BI and if they didn’t send one we couldn’t submit them no matter how good their profiles were which then shows the importance of completing any prep work.
Identify one or two questions to ask the interviewer at the end of the interview. These questions can be about the job, they can be about the company, or they can be about the person, or you can say things like, "What do you foresee the biggest challenge would be for me if I were to join this role? Or what's been the biggest challenge for you? What have you faced? Or what's been your biggest success or biggest achievement? Or what are your core values?" Again, asking them a few things like that shows that you are brought into them and the company.
Practice as well. The more you practice, the more you progress and improve at something. The STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Result) technique is helpful and applying this to some of your experiences prior to your interview will help you with your preparation.
Think about the situation that you were in. Think about the task that you were responsible for. What action did you take? And then what was the result? What was your biggest challenge, for instance? Use the STAR technique for your biggest challenge. Suddenly, you can share a comprehensive answer in that interview. If you use this technique, it will help you to articulate things and get your message across clearly. Be positive and enthusiastic. Make sure you are extremely optimistic about the interview, the job, the role, the skills that you could learn, and everything they're asking you, be positive.
Being nervous is normal. Relax and take your time. Believe in yourself and take the time to answer questions. Don't be afraid to ask an interviewer to repeat the question. You might not have heard it, or your nerves might have gotten the better of you, or you might be thinking about something to say, and you might have missed the full question.
Use comments like, "That's an interesting question,” or, "Let me think about that moment so I can provide the best example," or take a sip of water If you need a moment to think there's nothing wrong with that. Don't be afraid to say "Do you know, I've got quite a few examples, and I want to provide the most relevant one for this. So can I have a second to think about that?"
Technical roles are a little bit different. Understand the company's three to five-year plan and strategic or digital transformation objectives and if you are unable to find this information then speak to your recruiter as they will be aware of what this it. That helps you understand where you can add value. Research the tech that the company uses as it will allow you to say, "I can see that you use X, Y, and Z. This is what I've done with it. This is where I've used it." Sell yourself if you know what technology they use, link your experiences of using that tech.
If you’re unaware of a particular tech that they use, then YouTube or Google the technology and it often produces short clips that can talk you through or how you would use it. Talk about how you also keep yourself up to date with new technology. If new technology excites you, then let them know. If you've used the technology they operate in a particular place, maybe use a STAR technique and talk them through it. Let them see that you know what you are talking about as it provides assurance.
These are just a few questions to ask your recruiter:
Every recruiter will know the timeline. They will learn from start to finish when your interview is to when they will make an offer to when they will start. If they don't know, make them go back to the client as they should be working on your behalf and the customer's behalf.
Ask if there is a presentation or a technical test involved. If there is a specialized test, will that be in their office environment? Ask them what the culture's like. We meet clients on-site to get a feel for the environment, the culture, and the team.
What is the gender split? I think it's important to understand what you are going into. Not that it matters, you'll smash it anyway. You will be amazing at your job, as women always are. It's just important to know the split, understand it and maybe even understand there are plans to make that more equal if it's not already.
What's the benefits package? I sometimes think we, as women, shy away from asking some of those questions and it's an important thing to know.
What do you do for diversity? Even if it’s not 100% relevant to you right now, it might be in the future. You might become somebody that's a manager within that team or in that company, and you feel like that will then be important to your team or people you might hire. It's good to know what you're going into. Knowing the type of company and what they can offer is good. Practice makes perfect, but actually, it doesn't, practice makes progress. The more you practice, the better you become at something. No one's ever perfect.