5 Tips for Conducting a Technical IT Interview

Posted on Saturday, November 18, 2017

Hiring a new team member can be a nerve-wracking experience. There can be a lot of pressure to find the right candidate. How do you determine which applicant will be the right fit for your company, with the right combination of technical and interpersonal skills? If you’re looking to hire a new technical employee, there’s a few common mistakes that you can avoid. Follow through with these tips to make the most of the interview process.


It’s well known that there is a skills shortage in the IT industry, in the UK and around the world. In May 2017, IT sector job vacancies increased by almost 22%. This shortage doesn’t just impact the growth potential of a company, but it influences other factors as well. A 2016 report “revealed that 77% of UK chief information officers (CIOs) believed the security threat would grow because of a shortage of talent”. Identifying a skills shortage as a security risk should be one more reason to treat your applicants as a valuable resource.


Traditional interviewing methods don’t work


It’s a bold claim, but we think it’s true. The old trial-by-whiteboard interrogation is rarely a true reflection of regular working conditions. Think of it like this: will your new team member be expected to think on the spot, without resources, while under pressure, in front of a crowd? If not, then you’re testing your applicants under conditions that give little insight into their regular performance.


Standardise the interviewing process


Ensure that the interviewing panel is on the same page about what qualities you’re looking for in a candidate. Create questions that aim to elucidate those qualities.

To assess all applicants fairly, it’s prudent to distribute a list of questions that will be asked to each interviewer. Make sure each applicant is asked every question. Follow-up questions that explore their answers in greater detail help to draw out any additional information.

Some workplaces have a list of keywords next to each question, to highlight preferred answers from candidates. Conversely, unfocused questioning can leave an interviewing team with more questions than answers.


It’s about attitude as much as skills


Without a doubt, a new IT employee needs to deliver the right level of technical competence. The trick is not to focus solely on these skills during the interviewing process. There is a lot more to thriving in a workplace than the coding aspect alone, for example.

Use the following questions as a guide to help you understand your applicant’s reasons for applying for the role. It can reveal a lot about how the person works, so you can determine if they are the right fit for your team and will adapt well to your business culture.


Questions to ask in a technical interview


Try including some or all of these questions in your interview process, so you can learn more about the applicant’s experience and attitudes. A bonus tip: make sure you’re familiar with the content of your website so you can see if the candidates have done their research, and if what they are offering is in line with what you’re promoting.


Do you write code outside of work? Do you follow the latest cyber-security news and guidance?


This can indicate if the candidate really loves to code, has an interest in cyber-security or other relevant interests and follows it up as a passion outside of their current job. It also can show if they are willing to invest time in studying recent updates and techniques.

Motivated IT professionals who invest in their own development and skills are more likely to adapt when company-wide changes need to occur.


What place does quality assurance and new learning have in your current role?


Old attitudes about not testing, proving and justifying work outside of the IT department are becoming outdated and irrelevant to the workplace. Teams are becoming cross-functional and employees are often needed to provide skills and value across a number of areas. Refusing to test or refusing to learn are both red flags.


What work are you aiming to be doing in 5 years?


This question is a great one for probing employee motivations and intentions. It’s common for people to change jobs every 5 years or less, so if you want to retain the talent, it’s a good idea to know what they are looking for.

Chase down their motivations: are they looking for larger remuneration or additional challenges? Do they aspire to be leading a team? The more you know about what they want the better you’ll know if you can provide it, and if it’s worth the time for both parties.


What’s the best and worst software or hardware project you’ve been part of?


This is a parallel to the old strength and weakness question. Use it to get a glimpse of their successes, but also listen carefully to how they discuss the worst projects.

Are they focussed on the team environment, or poor expectations, or bad team fit, for example? It’s ok, we’ve all been there – it’s the attitude to the problem and how they see the role they played that’s revealing.

You might be looking for people who take responsibility for mistakes, seek clarification or whichever skill set or attitude you think will complement the team.


The final tip to remember is this: keep the selection process streamlined. If you create a slow or convoluted process, some applicants may decide to walk away rather than jump through hoops.

Remember that there is high demand and potential employees can afford to be selective. An interview should be an opportunity for both parties to see if they are a good fit for each other. Strategic questions can help you find the candidate who fits the bill.


About Mustard IT, your cyber-security partner


Mustard IT provide the design, build, installation and maintenance of secure IT servers and networks. Our trusted team are experienced and able to explain complex issues to you in a language you’ll understand. Contact us today to find out how we can help you.