How to Stand Out During A Tech Interview

IEEE Computer Society Team
Published 02/15/2022
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Standing out during a tech interviewPhilanthropist and actress Kyle Richards Umansky offered this insight about a first impression, “It’s there; it’s gonna be there forever.” Whether you believe you get a second chance to make a first impression or not, Ms. Umansky is right: Your initial imprint is sometimes made in permanent ink. For this reason, a job interview should not be seen as an obstacle but, rather, an opportunity to create a lasting impact on your employer. It is your chance to stand out from the competition. Read on to learn how to use a tech job interview to put yourself head and shoulders above other applicants.



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Use Examples and Evidence When Answering Questions

By incorporating examples and evidence in your answers, you show the employer that you not only have the knowledge but you know how to apply it. You also demonstrate that you understand the ramifications of statements, actions, and decisions.

For example, if applying for a job as a software engineer and the interviewer asks the typical, “How do you work in a team environment?” question, you can reply with examples, such as short anecdotes regarding:

  • A time you worked with teammates to solve a pressing problem
  • A situation where you were called on to help address a specific challenge
  • Something you learned from a team member

If you’re a recent computer science graduate and don’t have much experience under your belt, it’s OK to share examples from when you were working on projects with classmates; they may still give some much-needed flesh to your answers.


Leverage the STAR Framework

The STAR framework gets its acronym from “situation, task, action, results.” It’s an effective way to present examples and challenges you’ve overcome while emphasizing the strategies used and the final result. Here’s how each element of STAR breaks down:

  • Situation. Paint a picture that clearly outlines the challenge you faced. Include details, such as who was involved and the factors that led to the situation.
  • Task. This is where you elucidate your role in the task, including why you were involved and what qualified you for that role.
  • Action. This is where you go into detail regarding what you did to meet the challenge and bring things to a satisfactory resolution. You should also explain the reasoning behind the action steps you took.
  • Results. As you outline the results, you have a chance to highlight your strengths. Incorporate details about what the outcome was, how you felt about it, what you learned, and how the situation helps inform who you are as a professional now.


Show You’ve Done Your Research

The interviewer will assume you’ve done some research about the company, as well as the tech it produces and works with. But there’s a good chance they may not ask a question that gives you a chance to demonstrate that knowledge. You can create opportunities yourself if you:

  •   Use examples of tech the company works with to answer questions. For instance, if applying to a cybersecurity company that uses a next-generation firewall, you can outline how its machine learning algorithms could stop zero-day threats while answering a question about security solutions.
  •   Ask questions about the organization’s goals using what they’ve recently done as context. You could say, for example, “Given your recent rollout of [Software version X], what’s the approximate timeline for the next release, and what can I do to play my part?”


Be Honest About Weaknesses; Show What They Taught You

Most do a terrible job of answering the question, “What’s your biggest weakness?” Many will say, “I’m a perfectionist.” Wrong answer. This may make you come across as someone who can’t self-reflect honestly enough to name a genuine weakness. The good news is you can use this question to your advantage.

The key is to answer in two stages: 1. An honest reply about something you struggle with. 2. What has this weakness taught you, and how do you are addressing it.

Consider an example: Suppose you’re interviewing for a database engineer position, and you’re asked, “What’s your biggest weakness?” Your reply can have two stages, such as:

  1.   “I struggle with performing cross-platform migrations in a timely fashion. I often spend insufficient time in the discovery phase and jump right into migrating the code I’m most familiar with, only to discover that I could’ve done it much more efficiently later.”
  2.   “But this has taught me that spending more time upfront during the planning stage—even when an operation seems straightforward—can save a lot in the long run.”

This is way better than saying, “I’m a perfectionist.” Instead, it shows you’re honest, reflective, and never without a plan to improve as a professional.


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