The Four Horsemen of Technical Interview Mistakes

Ever hear of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, the harbingers of doom at the end of the world?  While it’s not quite as dramatic, there are also four blunders you can make in technical interviews that will not get you the job.  As candidates, we’re often eager to impress, but sometimes that enthusiasm causes us to make avoidable mistakes.  Have no fear, though, because with a little forethought and preparation, you can steer clear of these four common pitfalls and present yourself in the best light possible.  Read on to learn about the Four Horsemen of Technical Interview Mistakes, and how to avoid them! 

A man shaking hands with another person. No faces are visible. They are both holding laptop computers.
Photo by Sora Shimazaki

Word Salad 

In an interview setting, you need to avoid rambling or talking in circles.  Keep your answers short, professional, and to the point–doing so not long helps keep your interviewer’s attention, but makes you less likely to overshare or give an answer that isn’t correct.  The longer you talk, the more opportunity you give yourself to make a mistake.  Of course, this shouldn’t stop you from fully answering a question–but once you’ve answered, stop talking. 

Additionally, don’t be afraid to admit you don’t know the answer to a question.  Showing a willingness to learn about a new topic is much more favorable to an interviewer than trying to bluff your way through.  “I don’t know” isn’t a full sentence, though!  The correct answer is “I don’t know, but…” followed by a related topic you do know about, or a question on how you could learn something about the question topic. 

The Sales Pitch 

Yes, it’s an interview.  Yes, you’re “selling yourself” to a potential employer.  Yes, you want to put your best foot forward and demonstrate the value you’ll bring to the company. 

But… when discussing your qualifications, don’t oversell yourself.  Your interviewer doesn’t want to hear a fantastic sales pitch (unless, perhaps, you’re applying for a role in sales…).  Understand the requirements of the job you’re interviewing for and highlight how your past experience aligns with those requirements.  Remember, technical interviews often include some questions meant to assess soft skills like teamwork, communication, and collaborative problem-solving, so you’ll want to work examples of using those skills into your answers. 

Radio Silence

Just like talking too much, talking too little can also be a serious mistake–especially in the whiteboard portion of a technical job interview.  Interviews are a conversation between you and a potential employer, so you want to keep the lines of communication open.  Ask questions about the kata or challenge presented to you, and try to identify edge cases or missing requirements before working on the problem.  Jumping straight into writing code without discussing your approach won’t help demonstrate your critical thinking skills! 

A lack of proactive communication can be interpreted by an interviewer as disinterest in the interview, or as failure to fully comprehend the question presented.  While displaying technical proficiency is important, communication skills are also highly valued in the workplace–so you want to demonstrate your problem-solving skills out loud.  Talk through your solution as you work on the problem, and don’t be afraid to ask for clarification… or even ask for help, if you’re completely stuck.

Human Dictionary 

Showing that you understand the fundamental concepts of programming is important, but you won’t get there by memorizing dictionary definitions and regurgitating them on command.  If you can give a picture-perfect definition of polymorphism without being able to solve a problem with it or talk about a time you’ve used it in a project, you’re probably not getting hired.  Before an interview, take some time to really think about whether or not you understand the concepts you’re likely to be asked about, review them if necessary, and come up with an example of how you could use them to solve a problem. 

It’s best to prepare concrete examples that illustrate how a concept can be applied to real-world problems.  Doing this not only demonstrates that you understand a concept, but showcases your ability to translate conceptual knowledge into a practical solution.  You can use coding challenges, side projects, or previous work problems as examples–any of them will help bolster your credibility and show that you know what you’re talking about! 

When it comes to technical job interviews, avoiding the Four Horsemen can be the difference between landing your dream role and tripping over your feet on the way in the door.  Remember to keep your answers concise and relevant, don’t oversell yourself, maintain an open dialogue with your interviewer, and showcase your understanding through practical examples. Keeping these strategies in mind will help you avoid these interview mistakes and present yourself with confidence.  Happy interviewing!  

Add a Comment