How to answer technical questions in an IT job interview

Technical questions are, for many graduates, the most intimidating part of any IT job interview. Here are some tips to help you answer them with confidence and demonstrate your suitability for the job.
Jaymes Carr
Jaymes Carr
Team GradAustralia

Nailing an IT interview: Technical questions

Tech companies have a reputation for putting prospective recruits through their paces with a host of diabolical brain teasers. Google is, perhaps, the worst offender, with past questions ranging from ‘List six things to make you nervous’ to ‘how would you improve a shoe factory?’.

Unfortunately, it’s impossible to address all of these questions individually - we don’t have the space and, frankly, we don’t know enough have shoe manufacturing. What we can do is provide you with some helpful tips about how to address technical questions in general. By following them, you’ll greatly increase your chances of convincing recruiters that you’re sharp, ambitious and ready for the job.

Know the basics of the role inside out

Interviewers will have read through your CV and academic transcript, so they’ll know exactly what skills and issues you can be expected to discuss with confidence. Make sure you’re not caught off guard by reviewing the basics, with a particular focus on any subjects that are particularly relevant to the role at hand. You’ll likely find that the job description points you in the right direction. So if, for example, it mentions ‘database management’, do your homework and come prepared with at least a general idea of what that entails.

Be prepared to talk about projects you have worked on

When it comes to technical questions, it’s always a good idea to show rather than tell. In other words, instead of simply claiming to have mastered a skill, you should provide an example of when you’ve put it to practical use. This means you should be prepared to discuss any projects that you’ve worked on, be they professional undertakings or your contributions to code repositories and open-source initiatives. Be ready to give a brief summary of what your project focused on, how you overcame any problems and what the final results were. If you refer to a group project, make sure you can distinguish your own contribution.

Demonstrate your willingness to learn new skills

You should be prepared for questions about technical skills which you mightn’t yet possess or will need to further develop. Generally, the best way to answer these questions is by demonstrating your ability and willingness to learn new skills with enthusiasm and a genuine sense of intellectual curiosity. For example, you can refer to previous occasions on which you’ve mastered new skills in order to complete a project with satisfactory results. Alternatively, you can demonstrate your understanding of how a target skill will help you achieve in the role, and make clear your desire to acquire it.

Know exactly how you would improve a shoe factory

We’re kidding, of course, but it’s worth addressing those pesky brain-teasers, lest one should catch you off guard. So here’s the important thing to remember: it’s not about getting the correct answer.

When recruiters ask you a surprising question, like what you’d do with ten millions dollars or how you’d address homelessness, they’re mostly interested in how you deal with unexpected challenges. They want to see how you reason, what your response is to pressure and whether you respond to unfamiliar problems with curiosity or trepidation. So relax - you can do this! Even if you don’t know the exact answer, explain how you would go about acquiring the necessary information, and show that you can handle difficult questions with optimism and determination. Good luck!