October 11th, 2022 Revature

12 Common Tech Interview Questions to Prepare For

Congratulations! You’ve completed your training. Now you’re ready for your first job in tech. For many newcomers, that first tech interview can be a daunting experience. The more prepared you are, the better your chance of landing the job — and launching your career.

In the IT industry, the technical interview is as much a part of the job as coding is. The industry is so fast-paced that tech workers change jobs often just to keep up with advances in their fields. Software developers may interview dozens of times throughout their careers.

Successful candidates know that they have to continuously develop both their technical skills and soft skills to advance their tech careers, and they also know that highlighting those skills during the interview process is vital.

Here’s what to expect when you sit down for your tech interview.

What Is a Technical Interview?

The technical interview is made up of four components: technical assessment (including work experience and training), behavioral questions, situational questions, and education questions. It will also leave time for questions from the candidate. Each of these sections is designed to get an understanding of how much a candidate knows, how they think and act, and what training they’ve had.

Tech interviews for entry-level roles differ from those for senior-level roles. It wouldn’t make sense to ask a new programmer about full stack web development, for instance, just as it wouldn’t make sense to ask a prospective manager about basic algorithm concepts. Depending on the position, hiring managers may dwell less on technical knowledge and more on leadership and team-building skills.

Hiring managers also ask nontechnical questions that determine a candidate’s soft skills, such as creative thinking, collaboration, and thoughtful communication. These skills are just as important to your career as the ability to code.

Goal of the Technical Interview

Hiring managers conduct a technical interview to assess a candidate’s abilities with a particular software language or other technical skill set. This will cover the candidate’s skills relevant to the position, such as coding or data analysis. Questions are designed to determine a candidate’s ability to think through a problem and explain why they handled it the way they did.

As with any interview, the goal is twofold:

  • Can candidates do the job the company is hiring for?
  • How well do candidates conduct themselves professionally?

Successful candidates prepare as much for the behavioral interview portion as they do for the technical portion.

Technical Interview Process

Technical interviews are structured similarly, although every company (and every hiring manager) may have a slightly different roadmap. Generally, candidates will experience the following:

  • Initial phone screen. This is usually nontechnical and covers a candidate’s resume, work experience, and education.
  • Technical phone interview. This may be a phone or videoconference interview with the hiring manager. The interview will include a set of technical challenges, which a candidate may work through via screen-sharing. It will also include behavioral and situational interview questions. Depending on a company’s process, this may be the deciding interview.
  • On-site interview. Traditionally, companies bring candidates on-site to meet the hiring team in person. Companies may skip this step if their employees work remotely. However, candidates can expect to have several interviews and complete more technical challenges, along with behavioral and situational questions.

Candidate Questions

Preparing a list of questions for the hiring manager and team is critical. Candidates should research a prospective company and read up about its products and services, leadership, and culture. Depending on the job level, the following questions can be useful:

  • What are the day-to-day challenges of the position?
  • How does the team work together?
  • How long has the team been together, and will I be the only newcomer?
  • What do I need to succeed in this role?
  • What was a successful project for the team, and why was it successful?

These and other questions will help candidates get a better understanding of what it will be like to work at the company and with this team.

12 Common Technical Interview Question Categories

Technical interview questions will vary depending on technical field and coding language, job level (entry-level vs. management vs. department leadership), and skills required. It’s up to the candidate to scrutinize the responsibilities and skills listed in the job posting, practice their skills, and prepare their answers to questions around common topics. However, preparing answers for every possible interview question is impossible. Instead, it’s better to understand the most common categories and prepare accordingly.

1. Skill-Level Assessment

Hiring managers will frame skill-level questions in a variety of ways. For example, they might ask a software developer questions about concepts and definitions that pertain to a specific programming language. They will cover the different languages and tools required for the job. They will also ask about processes and procedures.

An example might be “What is object-oriented programming? What are its advantages and disadvantages?”

2. Technical Ability

This section will dig deeper into technical abilities. Candidates will answer questions about how to solve a particular problem. Questions will cover coding, test problems, troubleshooting and debugging methods, and more. This section will include an assignment, such as a coding exercise or similar project-oriented task, which a candidate has to perform in a set amount of time.

An example of a technical ability question might be “Define authorization and authentication. How are they used?”

3. Projects and Work

These questions will ask about specific projects a candidate completed in their previous work experience or training program. Questions will cover the scope of the project, the process, and its outcomes. Candidates should be prepared to answer questions about their part in the project, what they contributed, what they learned, the challenges their team faced, and the outcome.

An example of a project question might be “What tools did you use to complete the project and why?”

4. Assignment Review

The hiring manager will review the assignment with the candidate. This portion of the technical interview may be more of a conversation and back-and-forth exchange. Hiring managers expect candidates to ask questions about the assignment as a way to uncover their thought processes. The review will uncover why the candidate chose to tackle the assignment the way they did.

Candidates should be prepared to answer several questions, including:

  • “What would you have done differently?”
  • “What did you find the most challenging?”
  • “What resources did you use to complete the assignment?”

5. Theoretical Questions

Somewhat like behavioral interview questions, the technical interview will ask how a candidate would handle specific tech challenges. Hiring managers will ask candidates the process for troubleshooting software code or recovering from a data breach. These questions help determine a candidate’s ability to problem-solve using their technical training.

An example of a theoretical question might be “How would you safeguard consumer data in a legacy database?”

Behavioral Interview Questions

Behavioral interview questions cover how candidates act and react in certain situations, both positive and negative. These questions are aimed at understanding how well-rounded a candidate is, their emotional intelligence (the ability to identify and manage emotions in oneself and others), and their ability to work as part of a team or individually. Behavioral interview questions are often framed as “Tell me about a time when…”

6. Technical Behavioral Interview Questions

Candidates should prepare for questions that cover their work experience. These questions will do a deep dive into responsibilities, projects, and outcomes. Candidates should consider both behavioral and situational interview questions to be conversation starters and be prepared to go into details. For instance:

  • “Tell me about a project that you led. What were the challenges? What was the outcome?”
  • “How do you make your work more productive? What tools do you use to manage your time and workflow?”
  • “Tell me about your process for starting a new project. How do you ensure you know all the parameters and deliverables?”

7. Work Experience

Tech employees work with colleagues across all departments to deliver products and services. Hiring managers need to gauge how well a candidate will work with others. Questions may include:

  • “Tell me about a time when you had to work with a nontechnical colleague. What was the situation? How did you communicate? What was the result?”
  • “Tell me about a time when you ran into a challenging situation with a manager or a co-worker. How did you resolve this situation?”

8. Training and Career

Companies are looking for tech workers who take responsibility for maintaining and growing their skills. They’re looking for employees who take advantage of opportunities to learn new software and other applications. Candidates must be prepared to discuss their plans for keeping up their expertise. Questions may include:

  • “Tell me about your training program. What did you learn? What did you like the most? What was the most challenging?”
  • “How do you keep up your skills? What have you found to be the most useful?”

Situational Interview Questions

Situational questions tend to be theoretical and may cover behavioral and technical topics. Situational questions are often framed as, “What would you do if…?”

9. Work Situations

From handling an angry client to coming clean about an error, many situational interview questions cover work. While entry-level candidates may not have specific technical examples to draw from, they should use examples from their past work history. Examples of situational questions include:

  • “What would you do if you made the mistake that caused a product to fail?”
  • “What would you do if your manager asked you to redo your work? What questions would you ask, and what process would you follow?”
  • “What would you do if you didn’t know how to handle an assignment?”

10. Interpersonal Situations

A professional working environment is the goal for any company. However, the tech world is fast-paced, and people work under tight deadlines. The ability to work with colleagues under stressful conditions is important.

  • “If a co-worker didn’t get the work to you that you needed to do your job, how would you handle the situation?”
  • “What would you do if a customer were unsatisfied with your work?”
  • “How do you contribute to a positive work environment?”

Education Interview Questions

The education section of the interview often comes at the beginning of the interview. It may be part of the “getting to know you” portion, in which the hiring manager asks a candidate to say a little about themselves. While a resume includes education, training, experience, certificates, and the like, a good hiring manager will dig deeper.

11. College and Technical Education

This section will cover college and technical training. Hiring managers will ask about why a candidate went to college, the degree they achieved, the courses they took, and why they chose that degree. Candidates who have a nontraditional degree or who never completed college will get the chance to explain what they learned and why they chose an alternative path.

Candidates who have a computer science or related degree but weren’t able to get a job right out of college will have the chance to provide context around their experience, which is not that unusual.

Questions are likely to include:

  • “Where did you get your technical education, and what training did you receive?”
  • “What courses did you take?”
  • “What courses did you like the most?”
  • “What courses did you find the most challenging?”
  • “Why did you choose your degree?”
  • “How did your college experience help you get into tech?”

12. Continuing Education

Continuing education is vital to staying relevant in the fast-paced tech industry. Tech workers constantly learn new software and design tools. The industry supports these efforts with coding communities, hackathons, and other experiences. Hiring managers want to know that candidates take the initiative in maintaining and upskilling their experience. Questions include:

  • “How do you maintain and upskill your knowledge?”
  • “What tech communities or associations do you belong to?”

Technical Interview Tips

The technical interview is a formidable hurdle, but it’s far from impossible. A hands-on training program can help prepare candidates for the technical interview, because it provides an immersive experience in a technical field. Even for candidates who have a computer science degree, these programs can provide the coding or technical experience they need to get their first job. No matter how candidates get to the interview stage, one thing is certain: Preparation is key. Candidates want to present themselves and their skills as accurately as possible, and that means practice.

The following technical interview tips can help candidates ace the process.

Resume and Portfolio

A resume is the candidate’s introduction to the hiring manager. Keep it to two pages at most. It should be in reverse chronological order (most recent job first). It should include position, job responsibilities, education and training, and key projects and their results. Some tech jobs, such as web development, call for a portfolio. Candidates should link to a portfolio that shows work they’ve done in school or previous positions.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Take the time to practice test questions. This includes completing coding exercises, such as those found on LeetCode. Take turns doing mock interviews with a buddy, and get better at answering the likeliest technical questions. Make sure to practice behavioral and situational interview questions too, because hiring managers will put a lot of weight on those answers.

Prepare, Prepare, Prepare

Candidates should review the job description to make sure they have the skills required. They should research the company and its products. Use this research to customize the resume to the company and job description. This research is also important for preparing questions for the interview. Resources such as LinkedIn and Glassdoor can help with this research. Other sources of information include tech communities.

Answering Questions

While a technical interview is primarily a skills assessment, successful candidates treat it as a conversation. This means that it’s important for the interview to have a back-and-forth flow. Experienced hiring managers know that candidates are nervous, and they won’t hold that against an individual. However, their questions are designed to get a better understanding of a candidate’s abilities and potential to grow at the company. The following are tips for how to answer questions, even uncomfortable ones.

  • STAR. Become familiar with the STAR method — situation, task, action, result — especially when answering behavioral and situational questions.
  • Yes-no questions. When asked a yes-no question, or a question that requires a one-word answer, be sure to provide context. For instance, a question such as “So, when you graduated from high school, you went straight into the military?” is really asking for details about why you made that choice and what you got out of it.
  • Work history questions. These questions are looking for your growth in skills and responsibilities. Even work experience outside of the technical field can showcase this growth. “I became shift supervisor and trained new employees while I was at X” says a lot about a candidate’s experience.
  • Education questions. Candidates who already have a computer science degree may be asked why they’ve never worked in the field before. One answer might be that they felt they needed more hands-on tech training. Candidates who are switching careers may have a degree in a completely different field. They can address this by talking about how that degree helped them learn how to write code.
  • Honesty. Be forthcoming about your experience, but don’t oversell it. Companies know that candidates at the junior level still have a lot to learn. If you don’t have certain coding concepts in your toolbox, be upfront about it, and show what you do know.

Interview Process and Etiquette

Whether an interview is online or in person, the candidate should be certain to follow interview etiquette. If interviewing online, make sure the connection works and there are no distractions.

  • Arrive on time. For an interview, that means no more than 10 minutes early.
  • Dress professionally. Tech is a casual field, but the interview always requires a professional look.
  • Engage in small talk. First impressions are important. The hiring manager will want to establish rapport.
  • Be concise. The hiring manager will ask the candidate to talk about themselves. A candidate should take no more than two minutes to summarize their career and education.
  • But be thorough. A good interviewer will ask open-ended questions. However, if a question requires a yes-or-no answer, be prepared to give context.
  • Practice active listening. Engage with the interviewer, and make sure to ask follow-up questions.
  • Education and work history. A candidate should be prepared to discuss their previous experience, whether that was related to tech or another industry, their reasons for getting into tech, and their training and education.
  • Behavioral and situational interview questions. Give each question consideration. Don’t be glib. These questions are as important to the process as the tech exercise.
  • Ask questions. This is where the research comes in, as well as active listening.

For many candidates, the assignment portion of the interview may cause the most stress. Candidates should make sure to ask questions so they understand the assignment. They should also be prepared to talk through their process with the hiring manager.

How to Improve

Even the most experienced technical workers can walk away from an interview knowing they did poorly. Sometimes, a candidate just needs to get a few more interviews under their belt before they can confidently illustrate their skills and competencies.

  • Assess what went wrong. Candidates usually know where mistakes were made. They may have been overwhelmed during the technical assignment, or maybe they babbled during the behavioral interview questions.
  • Strengthen the weak spots. Candidates can shore up their technical skills with additional practice, whether that means doing coding exercises or practicing interview questions. Ask the hiring manager for feedback, although many companies don’t provide feedback as a matter of policy.
  • Keep interviewing. Interviewing is a skill like any other. The more you do it, the better you’ll get.

Prepare for a Rewarding Career in Tech

Acing the technical interview is as important for tech workers as honing the skills for their desired roles. For newcomers to tech, that first interview is one of many in a long, rewarding career. Preparing for the common tech interview questions covered here, and following the technical interview tips, can help candidates get that first job.

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