Category Archives: Job Interviews

Skills 360 – Technical Job Interviews (Part 2)

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Hello and welcome back to the Skills 360 podcast. I’m your host, Tim Simmons, and today I want to look at how to succeed in a technical interview.

A technical interview can sound like a pretty scary prospect. The interviewers will test your knowledge and understanding of technical concepts, and your problem-solving abilities. You’ll also need to show them what you know and how you think. This is a pretty high-pressure situation, a difficult hoop to jump through for that job in finance or engineering or tech.

But there’s no way around it, so you’d better get used to the idea. Last week, I talked about how to answer those tough questions that you face. Today I want to talk about some of the common pitfalls that you might encounter in a technical interview. I mean those moments when your heart sinks because you don’t know what’s being asked, you don’t know the answer, or you make a mistake.

Of course, there’s a good way to prevent these things from happening in the first place. It’s the same key to success for any interview, presentation, or sales pitch. And that’s preparation. But even preparation can present challenges. One of the biggest mistakes is to over prepare or to cram too much new information into your head. What the interviewers really want to see is a clear grasp of fundamental principles and concepts. So don’t go trying to learn a new programming language before your interview.

Still, no matter how wisely you prepare, you might face some challenges. For one thing, you might not be sure exactly what the interviewer is asking. If you’re afraid of appearing dumb, you might just wing it and try to answer the question anyway. But that’s not such a great idea. It’s always best to get clarity first. You might ask “Could you please repeat the question?” Or you might say “could you rephrase that please?” Or even “I’m not sure I understand what you’re asking. Could you explain?” That certainly sounds less dumb – and more honest – than giving an answer that’s way off base.

So, what if you understand the question, but you just don’t know the answer? Or what if you’re asked to solve a problem that you’re not really so sure about? Well, you can attempt to answer with what you’ve got. For example, you might say “I’m not certain about the programming language you’ve asked about, but I know that in C++ you could do it this way…”

But if the question requires you to actually know something and you don’t, then fess up. You can be honest about your ignorance and still maintain dignity. For example, you might say, “To be frank, I haven’t had to calculate such a thing before.” Or maybe, “That’s a very interesting question and one that I’d really like to find out an answer to.” In fact, many people report getting a job even when they couldn’t answer several questions in their technical interview. So don’t sweat it too much.

Now, what you shouldn’t do in these situations is show frustration. You see, it’s not just about what you know; it’s also about how you deal with pressure. The interviewer may be evaluating whether you’re a good person to have on a team with a tight deadline or crunching a tough problem. And in this case a good person is a calm person, one that doesn’t break under pressure.

There’s another situation in which it’s important to keep your cool, and that’s when you make a mistake. Imagine, for example, that you’re asked to calculate some financial ratios. And when you get to the end of your solution you realize the final number is way off and that you must have made an error. Do you just hope the interviewers don’t realize? Do you finish incorrectly and just apologize for messing up?

No, you do neither of those things. Instead, you calmly admit your mistake, back up, and correct yourself as you try again. Everybody makes mistakes. Only smart and dependable people admit it and try to make it right. And remember that the interviewers want to see your thought process. So you might say “Wait a second. It seems that I made a mistake. Let’s see… ah yes, here it is.” Or you could try: “Well that certainly seems wrong. I need to go back here and check my work…”

Now let’s go back and run through what we’ve just covered. Remember that good preparation goes a long way in tough situations. But if you don’t understand something, seek clarification. And if you don’t know something, be upfront about it. Do not show frustration. Instead, keep your head on your shoulders and face these obstacles calmly. Even when you make a mistake. Just explain what you’re thinking and move on. Technical interviews can be tough, but let your interviewers know that you’ve got a solid understanding of the basic concepts and that you can deal with adversity confidently.

That’s all for today. So long. And see you again soon.

Skills 360 – Technical Job Interviews (Part 1)

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Hello and welcome back to the Skills 360 podcast. I’m your host, Tim Simmons, and today I want to look at how to handle a technical interview.

Whether you’re in finance, engineering, technology, or software design, your job search might involve a technical interview. In a technical interview, you have to do more than just answer questions about your background and experience. You have show you understand the technical ins and outs of your field and have a sharp mind. And you’ll do that by solving technical problems and answering brainteasers.

That might sound challenging, but if you get a technical interview, consider yourself lucky as they’re typically reserved only for the best candidates. But chances are when you face a technical interview you feel more anxiety than good fortune. So how can you head into your interview with confidence and deal with the questions effectively?

For starters, you need to make sure you actually understand the question. If it’s not clear right away what the interviewers are asking you to do, be upfront about it and ask for clarification. For example, you might ask “exactly which programming language do you mean?” Or “should my calculations be adjusted for inflation?” If you don’t understand the exact question right off the bat, your solution or answer will be off base. It’s always best to clarify everything right at the start, rather than finding out you’re confused in the middle of your response.

Once you understand what is being asked, you can craft a good response. And you should realize that a technical interview is designed to test more than just your technical know-how. You’re also being assessed on your communication skills and problem-solving abilities. So make sure your answers are short, concise, and well-organized. Keep this in mind when you prepare for your interview. You shouldn’t just be brushing up on formulas – though that might also be important – you should also be practicing giving good clear answers and solutions.

But good clear answers aren’t always easy, and being clear might require you to take the time to stop and think. Problem-solving is a process. For example, if you’re asked how you would design a program that manages customer information and sorts it for marketing purposes, you won’t be expected to rattle off a solution off the top of your head. You’ll need to think about it. And when you do, avoid filling the time with useless chatter like “hmm… that’s a tough one” or “well, maybe I could try… oh… no, that wouldn’t work…”

But while you want to avoid useless chatter, you do want to show the interviewers your thought process. That’s really what they’re interested in! So think it through out loud. Describe the mental steps you’re taking. Give them insight on how you’re approaching the problem while minimizing “ums” and “ahs” that are meant just to fill the silence.

Another good little strategy you can use when answering questions is relating your ideas or the problem to previous work situations you’ve faced. This is a good way to underline key experiences and show how you’ve learnt from them. For example, imagine you’re in an accounting interview faced with the question “is it possible for a company to show positive cash flow yet be in serious trouble?” You can answer “yes” and explain how a company might be selling off inventory and delaying payables. But you can also add “and I saw several examples of this during my time with KPMG.”

Some questions might require pretty long and complex answers, particularly ones in which you have to design a program or analyze a situation. You might even be asked to work out a problem on a whiteboard. Once again, you need to make sure you’re clear on the task from the get-go.

But you should also make sure your audience is clear at the end of your response. You might say “is that the kind of solution you were looking for?” Or “is there any part of my solution that wasn’t clear?” Or “would you like me to explain any of these steps in more detail?” Questions like that will give you the chance to clear up anything that you didn’t get across perfectly, and it shows that you care about making yourself understood.

Now let’s run through all of this again to make sure you’re clear on what I’ve suggested. Start by clarifying the question, if necessary. Next, craft a brief and concise response. Stop to think when necessary and walk the interviewers through your thought process. Relate problems or ideas to previous experience if you can, and finish up by checking that everyone’s understood.

And remember, this gets easier with practice, so don’t forget to spend some quality time preparing and rehearsing technical questions. In our next lesson, I’ll talk about some common pitfalls and how to avoid or deal with them.

That’s all for today. So long. And see you again soon.

360 – Job Interviews 4: Difficult Questions

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Hello and welcome. I’m Tim Simmons, your host for Business Skills 360. Glad you could join me. This is the fourth and final part in our 360 series on your first job interview. Today we’re going to tackle a few of those really tough questions that interviewers like to ask. You know they’re coming, so let’s get ready for them.

Getting ready. That’s the key. You need to spend time preparing for your interview and crafting good answers to the questions you’re going to face. Every interviewer will have one or two oddball questions that will catch you off guard, but for the most part you can predict what you will be asked. So prepare, prepare, prepare. I’ll go through five fairly standard ‘difficult questions’ today and you can prepare your answers.

Let’s begin at the beginning, with “Tell me about yourself.” This is not an easy task. Interviewers don’t want a 10-minute summary of your life. You need to be brief, crisp, and relevant, and everything you say should relate to the job or your career objectives. Describe yourself in three to five sentences, mentioning your key strengths, your most recent related experience, and your basic professional goals. This question normally comes right at the start of the interview, and first impressions are important, so you’d be wise to develop a good answer and rehearse it.

Right. Now how about that question “What is your greatest weakness?” There are several stock answers here that actually twist a positive quality, like “I’m too much of a perfectionist.” Avoid those types of answers because employers have heard them all before. You should state a true weakness and then explain how you have tried to overcome it. For example, “Well, I have had some problems with organization, but I have taken a time management course and I’m focused on improving this area.” You might just want to avoid talking about something that is a key skill or attribute of the position.

Okay, so some interviewers will ask you to give them an example of conflict and how you dealt with it. This makes a lot of interviewees uncomfortable, but remember that conflict is normal and natural. The important thing is how you deal with it. Tell the interviewer about a real conflict you experienced, but don’t chalk it up to a personality difference. Show how the conflict was the result of miscommunication or misunderstanding. Show how you tried to understand the root of the conflict and how you dealt with that directly. Then explain how things improved.

Now there’s another common difficult question that relates back to the “tell me about yourself” idea. The question is this: “Why should I hire you?” The worst thing you can do here is to seem confused or have nothing to say. You must be able to sell yourself and explain why you are right for the job. Focus on your strengths and how they relate to the company’s goals. Many products have a one-sentence unique selling proposition that explains very briefly why you should buy it. You should have a unique selling proposition for yourself.

Right. One final tough question is about your long-term objectives or plans. In this case, you should avoid mentioning specific job titles or positions. You should also avoid talking about opening your own business or going back to school. Talk about what you’d like to do for your employer and focus on certain areas of professional improvement. Be ambitious. Talk about your goals. Do not say that you don’t really have any!

Great. Let me reiterate one last time here that there is no substitute for good preparation. None of these questions should leave you scratching your head in confusion.

Head over to the Business English Pod website to get a complete transcript of today’s show and test your understanding with a free quiz.

Thanks for listening, and good luck on that next interview.

Discussion Questions

1. What types of interview questions do you think are very difficult?
2. Is it ever okay to say “I don’t know” in response to an interview question?
3. How would you describe yourself in one sentence?

360 – Job Interviews 3: Research

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Hello and welcome. I’m Tim Simmons, and you’re listening to the Business Skills 360 podcast. Glad you could join me. This is the third part in our 360 series on your first job interview, and we’re going to be looking at the topic of research. And by that I mean the research that you should be doing before you step into the interview. Okay, so let’s get started…

When you prepare for an interview, you want to arm yourself with knowledge in three key areas. Number one is the position itself. Number two is the company. And number three is the industry.

So, how do you find out about the position? Well, the job ad or posting is an obvious place to start. This should include a job description that lists all the responsibilities and skills required for the position. You may also visit the company’s website, or go to job websites that describe similar positions and the type of work that people with that job do. You can even try to talk to people who work at the company.

When you’re doing your research, you should be asking yourself several questions. What are the required skills and attributes for the job? What is a person in this position expected to deliver or produce? How much authority comes with this position? How does this position fit into the company’s organizational structure? Which other people in the company will I have to work with? The more you can find out, the better. It will help you to understand which of your skills and experiences are the most relevant or impressive. Your research will also help you discover things that you want to know more about, so you’ll be able to ask pertinent questions to the interviewer. Great, so what’s next?

That’s right, you need to research the company, and a great place to start is their website. There you should be able to find an overview of the company. What are their products and services? What is their mission? Who are the company leaders? What is the company’s history? From there you can search for the company in the news and learn about the latest developments. Try to figure out where the company fits in the market as well as how it differs from the competition. Dig deeper and read between the lines to understand what kind of corporate culture exists and to see what challenges the company is currently facing. During the interview, you may be able to speak about potential solutions to such challenges.

Finally, you should learn something about the industry and the market in which the company operates. There are plenty of resources online, but you can also head to the library or bookstore to browse books and magazines. Industry publications and newsletters can also help. As you learn about the industry in general, see where the company fits into the greater scheme of things. Also pay attention to trends, growth areas, external influences, and problems in the industry.

Okay, these are the three key areas of research that you need to cover before your interview. If you’ve done your homework, you will arrive feeling much more prepared and, therefore, more confident. You’ll be able to fit the interview questions and your responses into a broader context of the company’s goals. You’ll also be able to ask much better questions to the interviewer. Don’t feel that you have to pull out everything that you learned. The fact that you’ve done research will shine through in your responses and questions. And interviewers truly appreciate any effort you’ve put into your preparation. Hopefully, they are so impressed that they offer you the job…

That’s all for now. I’m Tim Simmons, and this is Business Skills 360. If you’d like to test your understanding of today’s show, please visit us online at You’ll find a quiz as well as a transcript, plus lots of other useful material. And don’t forget to tune in to our next episode, where we’ll wrap up our series on first job interviews with a great show on how to answer those particularly difficult questions that interviewers might throw at you. See you soon.

Discussion Questions

1. When you do research, where do you usually look for information?
2. Why do you think it might be important to know something about the company where you will have an interview?
3. What are some recent important trends in the industry in which you want to work?

360 – Job Interviews 2: Conveying Enthusiasm

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Hello and welcome to Business Skills 360. I’m Tim Simmons, and I’m glad you could join me today for the second in our series on your first job interview. In this show, we’re going to take a look at how to demonstrate a professional attitude during your interview. This can be a difficult thing to do when you’re feeling nervous and have a hundred other things on your mind. But it’s really important – especially for your first job interview. Here’s why.

Yes, your experience and skills are important, just like we talked about last week. But demonstrating a professional attitude is also key to setting yourself apart from other candidates. You need to show that you’re confident, comfortable, and personable. Employers can’t really see your personality or attitude from your resume. Indeed, the main purpose of an interview is to meet you face-to-face and see if you have the right stuff… the right intangible qualities… the right professionalism… to do the job right. Interviewers want to get to know you a bit and gauge how you’ll get along with others in the work environment. Remember, you’re not there just to summarize your resume. You need to make a good personal impression too. So, let’s have a look at how you can do that.

For starters, you need to look the part. Appearance is very important, and you should choose simple and conservative clothing. Make sure you’re neatly trimmed and go easy on the makeup, jewelry, and cologne or perfume. Don’t worry too much if you arrive and find that it’s a fairly casual environment. It’s better to be overdressed than underdressed, and you’re showing respect for the interviewer and the process by dressing formally.

You’re dressed for success. Now what? Well, you need to adopt an attitude… an outward self… that conveys professional enthusiasm. This starts with two things: eye contact and a smile. These show that you’re engaged and personable. Also make sure you’re ready with a firm and confident handshake. Be quick to respond when an interviewer extends his or her hand. Or take the initiative yourself.

Great stuff. You’re done with the introductions – now comes the tough part: the interview itself. Your primary job is to answer questions, but it’s not a police interrogation. You need to be an active participant in the interview. You need to engage in a dialog. Show interest in the company and position. Show excitement about your own experience and what you might bring to the company. At the same time, be careful not to take control of the conversation. Let the interviewer call the shots and set the pace. You need to show them enthusiasm, but make sure you keep your answers to the point. You prepared well for this interview, right?

So, you’ve managed to field the interviewer’s questions with professional excitement and confidence. The interview is drawing to a close and you have to think about going out on a positive note. How do you do that? Well, the end of the interview is an excellent time for you to ask some questions…. about the company, its products, the interviewer’s role in the company, or whatever else your research has prepared you to discuss. And finally, you want to thank the interviewers for their time and let them know that they can contact you if they have any further questions. Exit the same way you entered. By that I mean with a smile and a solid handshake. Walk out confidently. And if you need to wipe the sweat from your brow or loosen your tie, wait until you’re out of sight…

That’s all for today. If you’d like to test yourself on what we’ve just covered, have a look at the website. There you’ll find a quiz about today’s show as well as a complete transcript. Next week, we’ll look at the topic of pre-interview research. So long, and see you again soon.