How to Avoid The Most Common Technical Interview Mistakes

Interviews are an essential part of the hiring process. Here are seven of the most common pitfalls and how to avoid them.

How to Avoid The Most Common Technical Interview Mistakes

by Artur Meyster

Technical interviews are an essential part of the hiring process. Most software engineers, data scientists, and other technology professionals are perfectly capable of acing the interview. Yet, some prospective employees make simple mistakes that diminish their chances of landing the job. Luckily, the most common missteps are easy to avoid. Here are seven of the most common technical interview mistakes and how to avoid them.

1.) You forgot computer science basics

Forgetting the basics of computer science is one of the easiest and most embarrassing technical interview mistakes. Tech professionals are often focused on job-specific details and forget to review fundamental knowledge. Maybe you graduated years ago, and your general understanding of computer science could use a refresher. If you are unable to answer these questions, you will create the perception that you didn’t prepare or are simply not qualified for the job. An interviewer might even think, “How could any engineer not know that?”

How to avoid it

Avoiding this mistake is simple. Go back to your notes or use free resources like Khan Academy to sharpen your computer science skills. Be sure to dedicate time to reviewing terminology, fundamental rules, and essential coding concepts. Get a bit of programming practice in if you can, and practice syntax and simple operations. Also, review concepts you expect to encounter during the interview. Having confidence is great, but test yourself to ensure you remember how to perform essential tasks. You will be well-equipped for curveball questions if you spend just 20% of your preparation time on the basics.


2.) You spent too much time practicing one coding language

I’m not saying you shouldn’t spend time studying your chosen interview language. Being proficient in one particular language is essential, but studying only one can leave you unprepared. There are hundreds of programming languages. If you spent a week studying Python for an algorithm challenge, what will you do when they ask you to use Objective-C? Now you see how this could turn into one of the most common interview mistakes.

How to avoid it

Knowing what to do during such a scenario is easy, especially for experienced engineers. Stay focused on your primary language, but spend some time studying related ones. For example, practice with Python then perform a similar task with Java. Reviewing related languages will help you prepare for unexpected questions and think outside the box during challenges.


3.) You didn’t ask the right questions before the interview

There are some things you will naturally ask before an interview, like “when” and “where.” Unfortunately, you may not bother asking the “what,” one of the most common interview mistakes. You should always ask what to expect during an interview. Many employers are willing to help you prepare the necessary resources to do the job right.

How to avoid it

You don’t want to miss out on interview prep “freebies” because you didn’t ask. When a prospective employer briefs you on an upcoming interview, take a moment to clarify anything you don’t understand.

Ask questions like:

  • What will I be evaluated on?
  • What tasks will I be asked to perform?
  • Do you have any tips, advice, or study materials?
  • What programming language would you like me to use?
  • Is there anything else I should know about the interview?


4.) You assume the question has a silver bullet

No matter what type of job you’re applying for, interviewers typically won’t test you with unrealistic challenges. Recruiters will ask you questions about real-life situations and how you would address them. Few companies will quiz you on complex and specialized data structures. If you assume that the problem has a fancy silver bullet, you’ll likely give the wrong answer.

How to avoid it

Be sure to review standard algorithms and even regular data structures. Don’t assume that the employer wants to test you with something extremely complex. Instead, just let your common sense guide you.


5.) You ignore interviewer tips

Sometimes during a technical interview, the interviewer will give you hints that are crucial to success. If you ignore them because you think they’re just meant to confuse you, you’re going to be even more confused.

How to avoid it

Be aware of every single word the interviewer is saying. Paying attention to every detail is crucial for you to complete the test and get a positive outcome. The other scenario is that you provide an explanation using the same words the interviewer used without justifying it. You should be able to clearly explain why you think they suggested that answer, not just do it unconsciously.


6.) You don’t know anything about the company

This is one of the worst interview mistakes you can make while doing a technical interview. Recruiters will most likely test you with real-life examples of challenges in their company. So if you don’t know how the company operates and what its needs are, it’s very likely that you won’t be able to find the correct solutions.

How to avoid it

Do some research about the company’s vision and mission before the technical interview. Get to know their products and how they work.  Maybe you can even identify things that could be improved. This way, you’ll showcase your skills and let them know what you can contribute to the company.


7.) You’re not precise

Remember that these interviews are time-constrained. You won’t have all day to give the perfect answer. So if you dive into too much detail, you’ll waste time, which will inevitably affect your performance. In the end, you may be rushing to respond and give more wrong answers than correct ones.

How to avoid it

Prepare yourself by getting familiar with possible interview questions. This way, you won’t have to spend too much time thinking, and you’ll give straightforward answers. During the interview, try to stay focused and don’t ramble. Another tip is to do some dry-runs. Practice a mock interview. Try responding to some real-life questions that you may get in the technical interview. Not only will this help you prepare, but it will also help you to manage your time.

The most important way to avoid common interview mistakes is to prepare well. Do your best to stay focused. Attack an interview head-on and solve one problem at a time. You don’t have to perform perfectly, but you must demonstrate competence and preparedness. Avoiding common errors shows you take a job interview seriously and will undoubtedly impress hiring managers. Give yourself ample time to cover the basics, practice related programming languages, and prepare intelligent questions. If you do these three things, you will tackle a technical interview with confidence.

Artur Meyster is the Founder and CTO of Career Karma, an online marketplace that matches career switchers with coding bootcamps. He is also the host of the Breaking Into Startups podcast, which features people with non-traditional backgrounds who broke into tech.


Are you feeling stuck and unfulfilled in your career?  Download my free guide: 5 Signs It’s Time to Make a Bold Career Change!

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