For a fresher passing out of college after spending 3/4 years for a degree or diploma in electronics, computer science, or any other stream, the next hurdle is to kick-start his/her career. The first job is always special for anyone. At the same time, your first employer plays a crucial role in shaping your future career and life, at large. The first thing that comes to mind at this time is how to crack the interview. For some students in reputed colleges where campus placement drive is conducted, this phase comes somewhere in the final year. But for many students, campus placement is a luxury and they start their interview journey only after passing out. Embarking on a journey to crack technical interviews can be both thrilling and nerve-wracking for freshers.
In this fast-paced and ever-evolving technical industry, one needs to have sound technical knowledge along with a good personality, communication skills, and analytical and problem-solving mindset to land to coveted positions in top tech companies, startups, or any other organisations. Interviews are such processes that judge not only theoretical and practical knowledge but also the emotional intelligence of a candidate. Failure, poor performance, or rejection in some of the initial interviews can lower the self-confidence of a candidate to such an extent that may even impact future performances. Many potential candidates fail to crack otherwise suitable positions for not having properly managed the interview sessions.
The key to mastering technical interviews lies in having a well-structured and strategic preparation plan. This article aims to provide you with a step-by-step roadmap that will help you build the necessary skills, knowledge, and confidence to tackle technical interviews with ease.
Building a strong foundation
While appearing for a technical interview, there is no substitute for having strong background knowledge of your domain of expertise. You need to have in-depth theoretical as well as practical knowledge. Many candidates fare well in theoretical aspects but fall short in practical application-related questions. Having a good laboratory on a college campus can come as a boon for those aspiring for non-software-related positions.
For software-related vacancies, it is important to have good coding practices, inter alia, to bag the desired post. For candidates belonging to lower-tier colleges where faculty or laboratory are not up to the mark, there is no point in losing hope. There is always a fair chance if you have the desire to excel.
Nowadays, there are plenty of contents, study materials, and software tools including lecture videos and notes available online to study, analyse, practice, or simulate. The most amazing thing is that most of these online resources are free of cost or come at a very marginal price for students. With the digital revolution, access to these materials is easy like never before.
Internships or vocational training in industry or academic establishments often give a flavour of the current industrial practices or a chance to explore new technologies. These experiences often come useful during placement interviews.
Choosing the right post
The most common mistake an early career job seeker do is to apply for any openings that meet the educational qualification requirements. Neither every employer needs you nor you will like the work profile or culture in every organisation. Additionally, unnecessary rejections will lower your confidence apart from wasting time and energy. It is important to elaborately study the work profile and experience required before applying for any vacancies.
Register for multiple job portals and make your profile carefully specifying your skills and interests. There are many email subscriptions available free of cost that sends job notifications regularly.
In case salary structure is not disclosed in any open position, there are a few websites that show the organisation and designation-wise tentative salary. It is important to negotiate compensation and other facilities like insurance before accepting any offer.
Organisational culture, work timings, leave rules, company reputation, market values, workforce size, etc. are the key points to be researched beforehand. A toxic work culture, long working hours, or stringent rules will impede growth and may cause physical and mental issues.
Useful information can also be obtained through networking with professionals in your desired field through online platforms like LinkedIn. Seek their advice and insights about different roles within the organisation. They can provide valuable information about the day-to-day responsibilities and the skills required for specific positions.
In early career, it is important to have a steep learning curve. Consider whether the role aligns with your long-term career goals and whether it provides opportunities for skill development and upward mobility within the organisation. After evaluating the pros and cons of the available options, a decision should be taken. Last, but not the least, follow your instinct.
Preparing the CV
A Curriculum Vitae (CV) is your advocate to a prospective employer. Its purpose is to present a comprehensive and detailed summary of your education, work experience, skills, relevant achievements, and qualifications. Your CV will help you in the initial screening for any post. Invest your time to give your CV a professional look and make it a tool for personal branding and leave a positive impression on the employer.
After making a draft template of your CV, it is crucial to add some customisation for each position to be applied based on the requirements of that particular post. Often very long CVs are discouraged. Your CV should be concise, yet cover all your positives. Do not falsify or exaggerate any achievements. Avoid using strong colours or unnecessary capitalisation in fonts. Check for any grammatical or spelling issues carefully. Be consistent with fonts or styles throughout the CV. If you add a photo to your CV, make sure to have a recent photo in formal attire with proper background.
Make sure your contact details (postal address, email, and phone) are there. In the case where you have limited proficiency or knowledge in any domain, but want to mention it to gain some edge over other candidates, it is a wise choice to add a proficiency level marker (e.g., 3 out of 5). It will help the employer or the interviewer to have a justified expectation from you. Brush up every tiny topic that you mention on your CV before the interview. If you write something, it is your responsibility to give some more information on that during the interview.
If you need to send your CV using email, do not just email it to the employer. Draft a concise email body mentioning the details of the post applied and your brief introduction. Use gender-neutral salutations unless you know the recipient. Send your CV in PDF format always, unless specified otherwise, to avoid any formatting issues across different versions of word processing software.
Making it to D-Day
It is very common to have some sort of anxiety or nervousness for the interview day. However, you need to maintain a calm and composed posture throughout the interview. Smile, listen attentively, and nod to show your engagement and interest in the conversation. It is better to have mock interviews to get prepared well. If no professional help is in hand, you can record your own mock interview based on some relevant questions of your domain and analyse the recording to point out the areas of improvement. You can also seek help from a trusted friend to conduct a mock interview and give feedback on the performance. It is very crucial to get hold of your nerves. Practice is the only key to getting the best performance. If you feel you are stammering much or feeling extensively nervous, do not hesitate to take professional help to sort this out.
Plan your route and aim to arrive well in advance of the scheduled interview time. Punctuality demonstrates your reliability and respect for the interviewer’s time.
Wear a formal dress on the day of the interview as per your industry norms. Entire the room and greet the panellists while making eye contact. Your first impression plays a crucial role in subsequent phases of the interview. For online interviews, always sit steadily facing the light to avoid glare on the camera. Make sure you have good Internet connectivity and your room is free from any noise or disturbance. Test the mic and camera of your computer/mobile beforehand. Always look at the camera for virtual interviews.
Prepare well for some of the most asked questions like ‘Introduce yourself.’, ‘Why did you leave your previous job?’, ‘Why should we hire you?’, etc. While introducing yourself mention something beyond your CV points and look for interviewers’ expectations. Do not answer as if you have already learnt the answers by heart. Talk slowly and steadily. If you exhaust all your achievements and still see that the next question is yet to come or the interviewer is looking for more information, you can politely ask if any particular information they are looking for. It is not often well appreciated to say any negative words about your previous employer or your college. Make eye contact with the panellists and answer with confidence. Make sure your voice is not too loud or too low. Do not self-introduce any topics that you may not be comfortable discussing for a long time.
You can, up to a certain extent, manoeuvre the interview process as often the questions are related to your initial introduction. Show a positive attitude to take up new challenges, learn new skills, work in a team, and collaborate with other cross-functional teams within or outside the organisation. If you have any gap in your career or shortcomings in any area, make sure to present an acceptable explanation for that. It is not, at all, a matter of concern nowadays if you have a career gap of a few years for some genuine reasons, provided you upskill yourself with the latest industrial trends.
For technical questions, try to understand the full question carefully and ask for repetition, if required, before quickly jumping to the answer. A correct answer or the right approach to the answer is more recognised than a quick answer. If you do not know the answer to any questions or you are not sure how to proceed, it is better to say it with affirmation rather than delaying the process beyond a certain time limit by thinking or trying a solution that you have never done.
In many cases, the interviewers give chance to the candidate to ask some questions after the interview. Prepare some thoughtful questions that will show your interest and enthusiasm for that specific role or organisation. This will also help you gain relevant information on the position applied or organisational culture.
Conclude your interview with a confident and positive statement, expressing your belief that you are fit for the role and your interest in joining the company. This leaves a strong impression and reinforces your candidacy.
Preparation is key to interview success. Practice, research, and self-reflection will help you feel more confident and perform at your level best during the interview. All the best!
Arka Mukherjee is a post-graduate and gold medallist from IIT Delhi. He is an electronics enthusiast. He has more than a decade of experience in embedded systems design for optical technologies.