I have given and taken plenty of technical interviews, and I like to think I’m good at them, although I don’t really have any way to judge so that may just be ego talking. We’ve been trying to hire at work, and after having more than a few people fail miserably at the technical interview, I have one piece of advice for all technical candidates:
Don’t just guess.
If you have a rough idea than state that (you want to show what you know), but don’t bother guessing randomly. Instead just say “I don’t know” or “I don’t have a lot of experience in that particular area”. (Justifying your ignorance is just fine, but own up to it). Far too many people, when faced with a question they don’t know guess incorrectly, and end up digging themselves into a hole. The interviewer doesn’t expect you to know everything, so it’s okay to simply admit that and move on. The biggest problem with guessing is that you end up spending too much time on that question, and the interviewer remembers it. If you just admit ignorance, you just move on and the interviewer forgets it. If you know a lot about A, and not a lot about B, you want to make sure the interview spends as much time on A as possible, and as little time as possible on B. Most candidates though do the exact opposite – they spend a lot of time on B because they start guessing, get some hints, stumble through some things, and provoke follow up question. Then when A comes up, they answer confidently and move on quickly. This is not what you want. Make the interviewer spend as little time as possible on B so that they don’t remember it when the interview is done.
One more tip since I’m in a tip giving mood. Imagine the following conversation:
interviewer: Can you give me some examples of nouns that are adjective and nouns that are not adjective.
candidate: Well, let’s see…. A is adjective.
interviewer: (incredulously) I’m sorry, did you just say A is adjective?
Right around now, the correct answer (even if it’s less than truthful) is “whoops – I misspoke, I meant not adjective. Heh heh. I mean, everyone knows that”