5 Interview Tips on How to Stand Out In A Technical Interview

What do interviewers look for in candidates? Today, I go through a reader's email and discuss some interviewer tips on what would look good on a resume for someone to take notice of you.

March 20th, 2015 • Develop •
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I recently received an email from a reader (let's call him Joe Smith) asking me if I was to hire someone, what would I look for in a resume?

Every company is a little different in their hiring process so it's hard to say what each company looks for in a candidate. Based on a position, they could look for someone who is talkative, if they are applying for a sales position, or ask you to solve a SQL query if you are applying for a programming/DBA position.

Yet, there is a pattern I've noticed over the years that a majority of companies look for in their hiring process for the ideal candidates. Of course, this is geared towards a development position.

But before I talk about what companies look for in a candidate and discuss some interviewing tips, let's get into the email I received.

Hello Jonathan,

I hope you are very well and for the sake of saving you time, I'll get straight to the point.

Let's say: you have to interview me, a guy with 2 years working experience on .NET. I pretend to be passionate about back-end development and I applied for a .NET developer position which fits my description on my resume.

The question is: What are the key points that concerns you about me? What will convince you that I am the candidate you are looking for? You may say whatever you want. I know that there are loads of articles/books, but I want to hear your opinion.

Side note: I had to specify those 2 years of working experience because I believe that the "working experience" section is the first thing a reviewer notices on a resume.

Thank you in advance for answer,
Joe Smith

Well Joe, here are my 5 interview tips that I look for on a resume when evaluating candidates:
  1. Keep your eyes open and attack new technology

    When a new technology comes out, I evaluate it and try to see the future value of that particular technology. If it's something worth pursuing, I start learning and researching it...personally. Not in a company. I research it at home.

    I've also said this numerous times. It's amazing when I start using a new technology and it bleeds into my corporate career. What am I talking about?

    Here's an example. When ASP.NET MVC first came out, I immediately started working with the alpha version of MVC since I considered it as a replacement for WebForms (thank god). When I went to interview at a company, they asked me if I've used ASP.NET MVC. I said 'in a corporate environment, no. In my personal time, yes, and I built project A and project B with it."

    I knew that MVC would be a big hit, recognized the opportunity, and acted on it.

    What this shows: Initiative

    Morale:
    In my opinion, this shows me that even if a company has a technology roadmap, you should be professional enough to create your own technology career roadmap. The company shouldn't dictate what you want to learn. It's your career. 

    Reference Material: Who Should Keep Your IT skills Up To Date?

  2. Practice, Practice, Practice!

    Always update your skills by building something off-hours.

    I'm not saying build the next Facebook, but maybe 1-2 hours every other night, create a simple project using a technology to stay in practice. Another option is to do Code Katas which keep your coding skills fine-tuned.

    Back in 2006, I started building my own blog engine and built DCS-Media and now, it's evolved into DanylkoWeb. When I mention it to people who are interviewing me, I tell them about my part-time projects and they like to hear that I code...yes, even in my spare time.

    What this shows: Passion (You Enjoy What You Do)

    Morale: I know a lot of people who hate coding and hate their job. People see that I love programming and it shows in my code and personality. It's one thing to go to a "job" every day, but it's another thing to turn your hobby into a job and get paid for it.

    Reference Material: The one characteristic that a developer needs for a sucessfull career

  3. Wearing multiple hats

    I've worked at two places in my career where I was responsible for a number of duties. Configuration Manager, Deployment, Developer, QA Tester, Trainer. Since I was able to pick up these additional jobs, I've progressed farther and faster in my career by understanding what is necessary for each position.

    What this shows: Ability to adapt to change in a constantly changing industry ("WHAT??!?! ANOTHER NEW JAVASCRIPT FRAMEWORK?")

    Morale: If you are able to show that you have value and can adapt to anything thrown at you, you become more...valuable.

    Reference Material: Can Developers Dress Up A Pig?

  4. Gain Experience, not just knowledge

    While this may build on top of number 2 regarding projects, it is by far the most important. It's one thing to gain knowledge about how something works, but it's another thing to actually use that knowledge to build production-level code and see it working.

    If it breaks on you, don't worry about it. It's software...it's easily fixable.

    Let's say I interview two candidates where both have worked in a production environment and have the same amount of years of experience. However, one has made a ton of mistakes and the other one hasn't made any mistakes, I would pick the one that made a ton of mistakes, because that person has the experience to fix websites when they go down. Sidenote: Of course, I would need to drill down into the candidate's answers and find out if THEY caused the downed website issues.

    What this shows: You have experience in applying your knowledge in creative ways.

    Morale: Apply the knowledge you were taught in school and use it to constantly build and learn even more. Schooling is meant to train you in learning for the rest of your life.

    Reference Material: Please Adjust Your Personal Expectation Meter

  5. Taking it to the finish line

    Most companies look for individuals who have a great track record. They primarily look at three factors with programmers: Completion of projects, Role taken on those projects, and the ability to work as a team.

    Were you part of a team that took the project from the beginning stages to the finish line? Did the project bomb and all of that wasted effort was thrown away or was the code extracted and used somewhere else? (project managers want to make sure they aren't throwing away dollars). How did you contribute to the project and did you take a leadership role in the movement to make the project successful?

    During this interview process, they want to know if you "touched" the project at all and, if so, was it the "touch of gold" or "touch of rust?"

    What this shows: You finish what you start; Successful completion of projects

    Morale: Making a product is a huge amount of work and once you've finished a project, whether it be a company product built by you on a team of developers or whether you created the next revolutionary To-Do list website, you are a closer! You have a finished project under your belt. That's what people look for in candidates. Someone who can complete projects.

    Reference Material: 10 Ways To Show That You're A Programming Rockstar

Conclusion

Don't get me wrong, there should always be a technical interview of some kind, but it's getting to the point in the industry where the technical skills are becoming a technicality. You either know how to program or you don't. If not, you know how to use Google. As I've mentioned before, a language is a language is a language.

Lately, it's more a matter of psychological and "tell me about how you built <past project>" questions that gauge how well the candidate works and, more importantly, how their personality would fit on a team when hired.

The more experienced, personable, and positive you are, the more chances you have of getting hired.

I hope these interview tips has given everyone an idea of what some interviewers and companies look for when hiring individuals.

Of course, study up on your technical questions as well.

What did you say on your last interview that made the interviewers sit up and take notice of you? What did you say to get their attention or shock them?

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Picture of Jonathan Danylko

Jonathan Danylko is a freelance web architect and avid programmer who has been programming for over 20 years. He has developed various systems in numerous industries including e-commerce, biotechnology, real estate, health, insurance, and utility companies.

When asked what he likes to do in his spare time, he replies, "Programming."

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