How to Master the Technical Interview – Part II

Posted on Scientific Staffing. 28 February, 2017

How to Master the  Technical Interview – (Part 2 in our 2-part series)

If you are seeking a new job, there is good news.  The talent war is on.  According to Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen, graduates are “entering the strongest job market in nearly a decade.“ As a result, many companies struggle to find the right candidates. According to ManpowerGroup’s recent Talent Shortage Survey, nearly 40 percent of employers say they struggled to find talented candidates to fill jobs in 2016.  But even though most agree that 2017 will continue to be a job seeker’s market, the competition for positions in science and technology remains highly competitive.  So, how can you gain a competitive edge against highly qualified candidates? In the last Blog, we outlined the steps for successfully preparing for a technical interview, including guidelines that should be applied both during and after the interview. Now we will dive into the details and focus on tips that will help you master different interview formats.  Your interview may be conducted over the phone, via video or in-person. You may in fact encounter one, some, or all of these formats during your interview journey, and it’s important to understand how to best handle each one.

Telephone Interviews

Telephone interviews are often the first stage of a job interview process, as it’s an effective way to screen many candidates quickly with minimal expenditure for the company. That said, in today’s increasingly busy digital world, some final tech interviews are being held on the phone or via video, especially if the interviewee will be working remotely.

Typically, your first contact with a recruiter will come via email or LinkedIn, and you’ll set up a time for a scheduled phone interview. Make sure you plan a time when you will be able to be in a quiet space that will allow you to focus without distractions, including allowing 5-10 minutes prior to get yourself in the right space for the call. Also, many job seekers make the mistake of trying to fit in a phone interview during their lunch hour or some other finite time block, without considering that the interviewer may run a few minutes late. Finally, be sure you know whether the interviewer is calling you or if you need to make the call. Once your phone interview is properly scheduled, here are some tips to make it a success:

Prior to the Interview

  • Dress for success. You should treat a phone interview every bit as seriously as an in-person interview. It may be helpful to dress and groom yourself just as you would if you were going to an in-person interview, as this will help put you in the right frame of mind from a psychological standpoint.
  • Create a comfortable environment and minimize distractions. Sit at a desk and make sure you are in a room where you can shut the door and focus on the task at hand. The more controlled the space you’re calling from, the less room for distractions and other unanticipated events.
  • Ideally, use a landline. If possible, turn off call-waiting to avoid distractions. Also, you may want to consider using a headset, as this frees up your hands to take notes or do a quick internet search if needs be. If you’re taking the call on your cell phone, make sure you are in a place with a strong signal and the battery is charged.
  • Prepare your own cheat sheet. Type up a bulleted list of items you want to cover during the conversation, as well as notes from your research about the company and position.

During the Interview

  • Have your resume, cover letter and the job description handy. Mark these documents up with a red pen prior to the interview, highlighting what you want to focus on and communicate.
  • Keep a pen and notepad nearby. Write down questions and notes to bring up at the end of the call.
  • Answer the phone with your name. This lets the interviewer know exactly who you are right at the start, saving them the awkward task of having to ask for you.
  • Smile.  Smiling when you speak actually serves to bring energy and excitement to your voice, and this will help you make a positive impression with the interviewer. In addition, have a glass of water handy for the call to help keep your voice in good shape.
  • Keep a good posture. Sit up straight or stand during the interview, as this gives your voice more energy and enthusiasm.

Post Interview

  • Send a thank-you email. Since you don’t have a commute to get back home, send a follow-up email an hour or two after your call. State a final time that you are excited about the opportunity and summarize why you are a good fit for the position, adding anything that you may have forgotten to mention in the interview.

Video Interviews

More and more employers are conducting initial job interviews over Skype or other online video services, hoping to get a better feel for candidates than a phone conversation would allow. In addition, video interviews are fairly common for tech jobs, since these jobs are often remote. Here are some tips to help make your video interview a success:

Prior to the Interview

  • Download the necessary program. Make sure you download the necessary apps, software or plug-ins that you’ll need to run the video platform you’ll be using. The two most common platforms used for video interviews are Skype and Google Hangouts.
  • Practice. Spend some time familiarizing yourself with the platform before your interview. Verify sound and webcam functionality on your computer. Consider conducting a practice interview with a friend or family member. Record this mock interview and analyze your tape – repeat this process until you are comfortable with the result.
  • Use Ethernet to avoid technical issues. Ideally, you should plug your computer into an Ethernet port for the interview, as Ethernet is more reliable than wireless. Have your interviewer’s phone number and/or email address handy just in case technical issues come up during the video interview.
  • Close unnecessary programs and silence notifications. You don’t want to hear an annoying beep every time you receive a new email in the middle of your interview.
  • Choose a professional display name. Make sure the display name you choose for the platform you will be using for the interview is professional and represents you well. Your display name will be your interviewer’s first introduction to you.
  • Design your set. Keep your backdrop simple. Ideally, position yourself a few feet from a wall that is a neutral color (e.g., white, tan, beige, etc.). The wall should be either blank or have one or two simple décor components (e.g., tasteful painting, plant, organized bookshelf) visible. A clean desktop is also important to avoid a cluttered feel to your office space.
  • Light yourself properly. Avoid any kind of backlighting (e.g., sitting in front of a window), as this will make you appear as a shadowy figure. Instead, face a window, or place a lamp next to your computer. You may want to dim the overhead lights if possible, as they can create shadows on your face. Test your lighting by doing a dry run with a friend or family member at the same time of the day that your interview will occur.  
  • Prepare your own cheat sheet. Type up a bulleted list of items you want to cover during the conversation, as well as notes from your research about the company and position. Note that your interviewer will notice when you look at this cheat sheet, so use it sparingly.
  • Dress for Success. Check out the company’s website, Facebook page and twitter feed to get a feel for the company culture and how company employees dress and behave. Dress and groom yourself just as you would if you were going to an in-person interview. Make sure the colors of your outfit stand out against your backdrop.

During the Interview

  • Look at the camera, not the picture. Avoid looking at your picture on the screen and instead look directly at your computer’s webcam. This will make your interviewer feel that you are making eye contact. In addition, avoid looking down at your computer’s camera. Instead, prop up your computer so that you are looking at the camera at eye level.
  • Have your resume, cover letter and the job description handy. Refer to these documents only if necessary during your interview.
  • Keep a pen and notepad nearby. Write down questions and notes to bring up at the end of the interview.
  • Stay hydrated. Have a glass of water handy to help keep your voice in good shape.

 Post Interview

  • Send a thank-you email. Since you don’t have a commute to get back home, send a follow-up email an hour or two after your call. State a final time that you are excited about the opportunity and summarize why you are a good fit for the position, adding anything that you may have forgotten to mention in the interview.

In-Person Interviews

Securing an in-person interview is a big step towards getting hired, as it shows that the company thinks highly enough of you and your potential to invite you for a visit. In-person interviews are rarely the first step in the process and often involve multiple members of the hiring team. The in-person interview is your opportunity to make a great personal and professional impression. Here are some tips to make it a success:

Prior to the Interview

  • Put together your interview kit. In order to avoid being rushed for time the day of your interview, prepare your interview kit the night before:
    • Pack any personal items that are important to your comfort and success (e.g., tissues, bottle of water, etc.).
    • Make sure you have the following handy: directions, company address, parking information, suite or office number, floor number, and name(s) of the interviewer if you know it.
    • Place multiple copies of your resume, references and work samples in a professional portfolio or padfolio. Also, include a notepad, a pen and your notes in this padfolio.
  • Understand travel arrangements. Every company handles travel differently, so if you are coming in from out of town, make sure you clearly understand the procedures and arrangements before you leave home. If the company has not prepaid for something, make sure you get receipts for all relevant expenses – planes, buses, trains, taxis, rental cars, maps, tolls, hotels, restaurants, etc.
  • Dress for success. Check out the company’s website, Facebook page and twitter feed to get a feel for the company culture and how company employees dress and behave. The day of the interview, groom yourself well and dress professionally in alignment with the company culture. DON’T wear strong scents. Set your outfit aside the night before so you are not rushed for time the day of the interview.
  • Arrive early. Plan to show up 15 minutes prior to the scheduled interview time, as this provides a safety margin in case you run into unexpected traffic. In addition, arriving early demonstrates your interest in the position, and dedication to success. Politely introduce yourself to the receptionist upon arrival at the company, and sit attentively in the waiting area.
  • Turn your cell phone off. Eliminate all possibility of a distraction by switching cell phones completely OFF. Keep your phone in your pocket (in case an issue arises, such as the interviewer not being present), but leave all other devices in the car or at home.

During the Interview

  • Make a good first impression. Stand up and shake hands with the person who comes to escort you into the interview. Enter the interview room enthusiastically with a smile. State your first and last name as you shake hands firmly with the first person you officially meet. Try to maintain an open posture (line your shoulders up with the shoulders of the person you are meeting) and make friendly eye contact as you shake hands with each individual in the room.
  • Be aware of your body language. Your body language should convey confidence and professionalism. Avoid slouching, leaning back or crossing your arms. Instead, it’s best to sit up straight in your chair and lean forward when the interviewer is talking to you. Give your interviewer non-verbal cues, such as nodding, to affirm that you’re paying attention and interested in what they have to say. Avoid fidgeting and make friendly eye contact with the interview team as you listen and talk.
  • Remember names of the hiring team. Do your best to remember names as you meet your interviewer(s), and address your interviewer(s) by name during your interview. Ask everyone for a business card before you leave to avoid forgetting contact information or misspelling a name in your thank-you email.

Post Interview

  • Send a thank-you email. It’s important to follow up with a thank you email to everyone involved in the interview within 24 hours, as this is when your interviewer(s) are most likely making the decision. State a final time that you are excited about the opportunity and summarize why you are a good fit for the position, adding anything that you may have forgotten to mention in the interview.

Conclusion

You’ve worked hard to master the technical skills that got you the interview. Now it’s time to apply what you have learned in this series to take you across the finish line and secure that coveted position.  Attention to detail makes all the difference and may just be what sets you apart from other equally qualified candidates.

About the Author

Rachel Hardecke is the Managing Director of the Western Staffing Region for Astrix Technology Group, where she leads a recruiting team focused on serving scientific and engineering firms. During her 7 years in the Scientific Staffing Industry, Ms. Hardecke has had extensive people and project management experience, as well as a highly successful track record in working with both customers and candidates to form successful partnerships. 

Ms. Hardecke is an ISO 9001:2008 Certified Internal Auditor/Technician, and has a B.S. in Agricultural Business Management from the University of Missouri-Columbia.

 

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