Technical interviews are used to assess candidates for specialist positions in IT, engineering and science. They feature questions that are specific to the role you have applied for, so that the employer can confirm you have the requisite skills. Often, they include brain teaser questions, numerical reasoning problems or logic tests.
Interviewers are not just interested in technical knowledge (although this is very important) but also how candidates approach problems, construct their thought process and demonstrate personal skills, such as communication.
The technical skills an employer is looking for will depend on the role in question. The job specification will give a good indication of the skill set they expect, so it’s a good place to start when thinking about what you might be asked at interview.
The employer will, of course, be assessing your technical ability and your understanding of the industry to ensure you will be able to do the job, but they will also be looking at how you got to your answers (your methodology).
They will also be analysing how articulate you are when presenting your findings, and whether you can apply the technical problem to a real situation in the workplace.
In a technical interview, an employer might show a candidate a wiring diagram or a line of computer code, for example, and expect instant analysis.
Aside from industry-specific questions, these example questions are indicative of what you might encounter:
A. What is the degree angle between the hour and minute hand of a clock at 09:45?
B. What is 175 x 186?
C. How many lamp posts are there in London?
D. Why are doors rectangular?
E. How many tennis balls can you fit into a Ford Fiesta?
F. Describe the colour blue to a blind person.
A. The answer is 22.5°. Despite the hour and minute hands being in roughly the same position at this time, in a quarter hour, both hands move. There are 360° in a circle – or in clock terms, 12 hours. Therefore, there must be 30° for every hour (360 divided by 12). At 09:45, three-quarters of an hour have passed on the clock, so the degree angle between the hands on the clock is 30 multiplied by three quarters. To show your workings, you would present it like this: 30*(3/4) = 22.5°
B. The answer is 32,550, though you must show how you came to the answer. Long multiplication jotted down, for example.
C. The idea is to use a logical approach in the hope of getting to within perhaps 30% either side of the correct answer and then show (or speak out loud) your calculations.
D. This type of question tests your creativity and problem-solving. The employer is unlikely to have any kind of preferred answer in mind; they are waiting to hear how you structure your thoughts.
E. Whether candidates are provided with details about the size of the Fiesta and the tennis balls or not, they should be able to explain how they would come to an answer. They could demonstrate how they would do an equation using the volume of the car and the diameter of a ball. The interviewer is looking for the way the interviewee is thinking here – those who ask whether they can include the glove box and any space where the spare wheel sits will be the ones who are noticed. It’s all about whether the candidate is able to think laterally.
F. This type of question is designed to get the candidate thinking on their feet and coming up with something creative, very quickly. Often, these questions give the employer a sneak peek of the individual’s true personality.
Sometimes, if the position is with a large company, you may be able to find example technical questions on their website. Other websites have example questions by sector that may be useful for practice.
Technical interview preparation is key to being successful.
Candidates should not assume that they will know all of the answers just because they have a degree in the subject. In a technical interview, candidates are likely to be asked questions that:
The best way to prepare is to first go through all of the details provided in relation to the job (job description, personal specification, essential skills, desirable skills).
Brush up on any equations you would probably never use in the workplace, but that you had to learn when studying for your qualification.
Do as much research as possible into technical interviews – job-advice websites often provide examples of questions you might be asked, as well as technical interview tips.
Practise, showing your methodology. You might be able to do 90 multiplied by 80 in your head, but for the purposes of the interview, practice reverting back a stage when you would have calculated:
9 x 8 = 72
72 x 100 = 7,200
It’s unlikely you will be asked a question you have seen before. As such, have a go at keeping your mind under control when you read a completely new question.
Try and replicate interview conditions as much as possible, and work on trying to keep a cool head so that you can digest the question and start crafting your answer.
A technical interview is, in essence, a standard interview with some additional tasks and questions thrown in. Therefore, it’s important that you prep yourself for the interview itself and don’t just focus on the technical side.
The employer will be looking for a personable, articulate individual who – despite being technically minded – is able to present their findings with confidence and in a way that is accessible to others.
Try not to get thrown off if you don’t know the answer to a question. Take some deep breaths and do the best you can to show how you would approach the question, even if you won’t be able to get to the answer. The most important thing – with any aspect of an interview – is to keep calm and composed.
It’s always positive to ask a few questions at the end of the interview. You could ask a question about the technical task that was set – eg if the employer would have come to the answer in the same way, and take an interest in their method if it is different to yours.
If you know you’ve made a mistake during the interview, revisit it at the end. Explain that you have realised you made an error, and ask for a minute to talk them through the correct answer.
A technical interview can feel daunting, but the employer wants to give someone a job. Preparing as much as you can will give you the confidence to perform on the day.
Remember, it’s not just a correct answer that counts; if you are struggling with an answer, stay calm, be methodical and talk about the approach you have taken, and why you are finding it difficult to get to an answer.
You may be interested in these other articles on WikiJob: