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How to pass an IT interview - 21 killer tips to get that job

Are you the best techie at what you do? Are you proud of your expert knowledge? Yes, then great. But it's not only what a potential client will be looking for and the sole reason they will consider hiring you. To shine at a contract interview for an IT contract and get offered the work you will need to know how to convince the client you are going to help them meet their business requirements.

Unless you are being hired to sit in a backroom and solve technical problems you will need to convey that you are essentially a business person, who helps people solve problems using your tool kit of technology.

Potential clients will find it tedious if you spend the whole time focusing on the nitty gritty of the technology and do not focus on how to solve their business challenges. Remember, the majority of software projects fail, not because of the technology, but because of bad project management and requirements management. No ‘cool’ technology is going to solve that problem.

So, here are 21 tips for a successful interview when trying to secure an IT contract:

1. It's not about handshakes

Firstly, no advice about firm hand shakes, and looking people in the eye. If you are confident and know your subject, the interviewer won’t care if you don’t crush their hand or look at them lovingly!

2. Look smart

Look smart and wash. It's irrelevant of course in terms of your ability, but alas, smart clothes create a good first impression. You also might be client facing. So, it’s worth proving that you shower every now and then and know how to put a tie on. If you cannot take care of yourself, then how will you take care of someone elses business.

3.Establish the 'best fit'

The main purpose of the interview is to hire the 'best fit'. The 'best fit' could be a back room technical geeky genius or someone less technical and more business aware. You'll need to gauge this at the interview. Then you can focus your questions to show that you fit the role they have described.

4. It's not about you

Never focus on why the role would be good for you and what you would get out of it. The client does not care. They are solely interested in whether they can trust you to do the job on time and to budget and solve their problems.

5. Lying is for losers

Never try to pretend that you know something that you don't. You will be caught out. No one hires a blagger. They are far too risky. The boss wants to know that at the end of the day they can trust you to either get something done, or put your hand up and ask for help. Honesty and candor goes a long way. If you have to take a guess, then explain that it is a guess beforehand. If you do not know how to solve something, admit you don't, but suggest how and where you could find the solution. It shows you are resourceful.

6. Stick to the question

Just answer the question. It is easy for techies to 'go off on one' and get carried away by drilling down into some detailed technical area when it is not required. Provide the information necessary and ask the interviewer if that covers what they wanted to know. If they want more drill down they will tell you. But don't always assume they will.

7. Don't interrupt

Don't interrupt. Remember your manners and wait for the other person to finish speaking. Make notes whilst they are speaking if you are worried you'll forget your points by the time they have finished. Watch out for your eagerness being mistaken for simply being rude.

8. Maintain balance

Try to ensure the conversation is evenly balanced. If they speak for 90% of the time you won't get your points across and be able to impress them. If you speak 90% of the time they will think you talk too much and are a poor listener. It's very difficult to ascertain their requirements with you mouth open all the time. Ask question and listen. If you struggle with this, put your finger over your mouth whilst you listen to them - it wil remind you not to interrupt.

9. Prepare your questions

Create a set of open questions that provoke conversations about topics which you know a lot about, which you think will add value to their organisation. No one else in that room is going to blow your trumpet. You've got to blow it yourself. Filter your prepared questions that are relevant to the position they have explained to you during the interview.

10. Don't get bogged down in detail

Unless the position is highly technical then avoid getting bogged down in deep technical discussions that do not give you the opportunity to demonstrate your skills in other areas like software process and lifecycle.

11. Pitch at the right level

Align your responses based on the interviewer. If they are non technical then don't bore them with deep technical information they know nothing about. They won't be impressed. Use the buzzwords and describe the benefits in terms of how it can help improve the business and hit deadlines. If they are very technical then you might want to get heavily technical to show them you know what you are talking about.

It is important to understand their background and experience. If you start explaining the basics of programming to someone who has been doing it themselves for 30 years they find it condescending, and you may appear egotisical and arrogant. The reality is you will be wasting valuable interview time. So find out first what their background is as you build rapport. You don't want to be the person explaining to a mechanic how to change a tyre.

12. Focus on the business problem

You are potentially going to be hired as an IT doctor to diagnose and solve their business problems with technology. Your not being hired to use the latest Whizz-bang CV compliant technology, but are there to help their business. Demonstrate that you are focused on providing business value, rather than just using the latest technology to build 'cool stuff'. This is absolutely key.

13. Try and match the skills

Treat the exercise as a skill matching exercise. You are trying to evaluate if it is a good fit. Be yourself and find out as much as you need to about the services they need. Don't wait until day 1 to realise that it is 9 months analysis work (which you may hate) when you would prefer to start building from already fleshed out requirements.

14. Demonstrate some business acumen

Show that you know and understand the commercial realities of software development. For example, when suggesting solutions and discussing approaches you should be aware of the difference between tactical and strategic solutions. And always focus on whether it will deliver value early.

You should understand why they may want to knock up a quick fix solution, rather than turn a requirement into a software science project. Being aware of the balance between cost of solution and the practicalities is very important.

15. Know the future

Show that you have an understanding of where technology is heading. Assuming you read web sites, and journals regularly, ensure you get that across to the interviewer. It is a big bonus if you can show you understand what is coming up, rather than being a relic of the past.

16. Life cycle knowledge

Demonstrate that you understand the project life cycle, together with some formal iterative methodologies. However, don't give the impression that everything must be done formally. Show that you understand the balance between 'over doing it' and 'getting the job done'.

17. Don't discuss rates

Never discuss rates and hours with the interviewer unless you have personal commitments that they need to be aware of. If you are worried about 'number of hours' on a daily rate, then get it put into the contract that a day consists of 8 hours of your services. Anything more is chargeable pro rata.

The fact that you have an interview means that the rate you have proposed is ok. Final negotiation happens after the client has decided they want you.

18. You don't know everything

Don't give the impression you know everything. You actually know very little, except a lot about one very small subject. No one likes an ego - they wreck teams and cause mayhem. Spending life trying to be right all the time can be mentally exhausting. Try focus on being happy instead.

19. Sum up and close

Sum up at the end and summarise how you think you can help, and also the areas that you cannot help. For example, you may be great at C#, but not so hot at JavaScript. Make sure you mention this. And if you don't want the job then say so there and then. The interviewer will respect you for saying so. Of they may try to handle your objection and reassure you that the contract would be a good fit.

20. Do your homework

Do some homework about the company before the interview. A quick one hour search on internet will be okay. Get some facts and shoe horn a couple of them into the interview to show them that you have found out about the company. It's the fact that you made the effort to find out that is important.

21. Be human

And lastly, show that you are human. Use your sense of humour.

Updated: 07 October 2017

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