Acing the Technical Interview: 9 Tips for Getting Experience Without Experience
Enrolling in and successfully completing a boot camp is no easy feat — not to mention the additional steps needed to leverage your new skills and land a job that utilizes them. For individuals transitioning from a non-technical field, the process can be downright intimidating. Through Berkeley Boot Camps, powered by Trilogy Education Services, a 2U Inc. brand, learners receive lots of additional support through career services. There are also quarterly Demo Days, where they can meet and network with local employers, providing them with opportunities for professional development and preparation for a technical career.
Through a partnership between Trilogy and FDM Group, learners also have the opportunity to achieve their professional goals through rewarding recruitment and training experiences. We recently sat down with Brianna Dudley, Senior IT Campus Recruiter; and Steve Fielding, U.S. Recruitment Manager; to learn how they help boot camp graduates find the role that matches their skill set and professional goals. We also discussed how individuals new to a technical career can prepare for every step of the job search process.
Here are their top tips for anyone looking to pivot into a technical role:
1. Identify and leverage your “superpower” skill in your job search
Your past shouldn’t define your future potential. At FDM, recruiters care more about what your skills can do for your future career than what your previous career path may have looked like. In fact, attending a boot camp can help position you for a promising job search since they provide a learning environment for learners of all backgrounds.
“We’ve got people that have got technology skills already, and then we’ve got the people who haven’t got technology skills, and by the time they finish the [boot camp], everyone’s kind of on the same level,” said Steve. Rather than solely focusing on a person’s prior experience, the FDM team hones in on their potential — what that person is willing to work for to get to that next career step.
2. Do your research
It’s crucial to include company research in your interview preparation — for every single interview. For individuals new to the technical job search, it can be tempting to send out a ton of resumes in the hopes of casting a wide net, but this can often backfire when the interview comes around.
“Don’t apply to a whole bunch of jobs. You want to do the research so you know where your qualities fit. You want to know each job you apply for,” explained Brianna. That research includes more than just finding out information about the company. Find your interviewers on LinkedIn and explore their professional experience — you might find inspiration there. For instance, the interviewer at a company you want to work for may have made a drastic career transition. This experience, with which many boot camp graduates are familiar, could help you make a meaningful connection.
Another important aspect of research that many people overlook is understanding the role you’re applying for from the perspective of the entire industry — not just the company to which you’re applying. “What might the position be like at other companies? Get a big picture about what the job is,” Steve advised.
3. Prioritize communication over giving the “right” answer
During an interview, it can be tempting to skip over your thought process and give the interviewer the “right” answer to a question. While getting the answer right is a good thing, employers are much more interested in how you got there — making communication one of the most valuable skills any candidate can bring to the interview table. This is especially true when it comes to logic-based interview questions.
“We’re not looking for people who know all the answers … What we’re trying to understand is, can this person solve a problem? Can they present that back in a logical way that allows me to understand how they go about solving a problem?” Steve explained.
He also emphasized that the best interviews are the ones that foster engaging conversations. “You get to start working together to solve a problem, and sometimes the interviewer learns something. Research how to answer logic-based questions to make sure you’re having a conversation with the interviewer, not just speaking straight at them.”
If you tend to feel like you have to be the smartest person in the room to be taken seriously, you’re not alone. But getting comfortable with being vulnerable can also make a big difference in your interview experience. “We’d rather you be honest and say, ‘I really don’t know this.’ Even if the answer is wrong, we’ll know the steps you took to get there,” added Brianna.
4. Seek opportunities to execute and refine your skills outside of the 9-to-5
If you’ve completed a boot camp, you already have a portfolio of projects to showcase your new skills to employers — but without the requisite professional experience, how can you stand out as a qualified candidate? The simple answer is, keep investing in personal and professional development.
“There are a lot of different groups and organizations that you can get connected and network with. Meetup.com is a great place if you want to find people who are like-minded and interested in [your field],” said Steve. He also added that “the really creative individuals are the ones who come up with their own ideas.” What kind of ideas? Creating websites for friends with businesses or organizations with which you’re engaged. Through the process, you’ll not only develop a new addition to your portfolio — you’ll also learn something new along the way.
That said, it’s crucial to stay on top of newly emerging and developing technologies to keep a competitive edge in the job market. Brianna’s tip? “Take the initiative to keep up with the latest technologies … see how things work, play with code, play with different websites to keep evolving.”
5. Get comfortable being uncomfortable to unlock your career confidence
It’s no secret that there is a global challenge when it comes to diversity within technology. The irony is, according to Steve, “One side really wants [diversity] and the other side is not sure if they can get there.” That said, understanding and communicating the value you can bring to an organization isn’t always easy, especially when leadership lacks individuals with which you can identify.
“Every environment is not going to look like you. Go to different places, get used to adapting and being able to talk about the things you’ve done within different environments,” Brianna said. “Break out of your comfort zone so you can talk to anybody no matter what they look like — your work will speak for itself.”
If you’re wondering what steps you can take to harness that confidence, start by joining groups and attending meetups sponsored by a variety of organizations. Seek out individuals within your field of interest and ask how your skills might apply within their industry or company — they can provide you with valuable feedback on the roles you’re looking at, and you’ll get the opportunity to speak confidently about your accomplishments.
6. Highlight technical skills and accomplishments on your resume
It might sound obvious, but Brianna and Steve have reviewed enough resumes to know that it’s a common mistake: highlighting your professional experience without listing the skills you used on the job. While you should be sure to include a link to your portfolio and GitHub account, it’s just as important to demonstrate how you accomplished your professional responsibilities, not just what they were.
“I want a story in your resume,” explained Brianna. “I’m looking for the experience you put down that ties into your skill sets. For example, how do you explain what you did at an internship? What databases or software did you use? I want it all to correlate.”
Steve added that accomplishments are a big deal when it comes to the technical interview. “That has helped me understand how someone presents who they are and how good they are. It might be an accomplishment as a team; it might be an accomplishment as an individual.”
7. Avoid keyword-stuffing your resume while staying competitive
Sound impossible? Luckily, it’s not too difficult to make strategic tweaks to your resume that will help you get past the bots without misrepresenting your skill set. Here are some quick tips from the recruiters at FDM:
- If you can’t articulate a basic understanding of a tool or technology, it’s probably best left off your resume.
- Explain what you’ve accomplished using specific technologies to give employers an understanding of what you’ve been exposed to and with what you’re well-versed.
- List your skills based on proficiency, starting with your strongest, identifying which you are proficient in versus those to which you have some exposure.
- Consider transferable skills and similar technologies when building your resume. “I’ll see a lot of people add Java to their resume, but they’re more proficient in C or C# [which share basic functions with Java],” said Brianna.
8. Use the job description to optimize the information on your resume
“Write your resume to meet what the job description is saying,” Steve advised. “Most job descriptions — ours included — will list things like adaptability, relationship building and good communication.”
Brianna added, “Someone can be very technical but if they can’t articulate, it’s very hard. Most of the time when you’re presenting to people, you’re presenting to people who don’t know how to code. If you can explain something to me in a way I can understand, you’ll be able to communicate with a technical interviewer when the time comes.”
In addition to communication, one of the top soft (non-technical) skills recruiters look for is resiliency. “Someone who has been through a career transition will be able to talk about a time that they had to be resilient,” Steve explained. At the end of the day, any technical role ultimately serves human needs, so being able to communicate clearly and showcase your soft skills can make the difference between moving on to the next round and being overlooked for a role.
9. Don’t be afraid to toot your own horn when the time comes
You might be surprised to find out that it’s okay to talk yourself up during an interview — it’s all about your timing. As you talk through your thought process and answer technical questions, think back to instances in your previous experience where you found success, and tie those accomplishments into your answers whenever you can.
One of the best times to do this is at the end of the interview, when you have the opportunity to ask questions about the interviewer, the organization and the role in question. “I always encourage people to come with questions,” Brianna said. “Ask a process question, a day-to-day duty question or something that gives you a better understanding of what it’s like to work there.”
If you really want to flex your confidence and you’re feeling good about the interview, it’s perfectly acceptable to ask the interviewer how your specific skills would make you successful in the role. Steve added, “They’re either going to give you a few, or you’ll get feedback. But the main thing is, you’ll know what you’ve done well and what you need to focus on improving. The best questions are the ones that relate back to the last 25 or 30 minutes of the interview.”