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How to respond to general questions in an IT job interview

Jaymes Carr

Careers Commentator
We know that preparing for a job interview in IT can be stressful, so here are some tips to help you make the best possible impression.

Preparing for success

To get the graduate IT job of your dreams, you’ll need more than a computer science degree and a persuasive application - you’ll also need to make a great impression in your interview. That means preparing for a range of general interview questions designed to reveal more about your talents, personality and fitness for the role. To help you make a convincing case for your candidacy, we’ve come up with five key tips.

Demonstrate your suitability for the job

IT interviews are notorious for including curveball questions, with recruiters asking everything from “what type of animal are you most like?” to “how many ping pong balls fit within a 747?”. We’ll deal with those unpredictable brainteasers in a separate blog. Here, we’ll focus on the one question you are guaranteed to be asked: why are you suitable for the job?

  • You should prepare an answer that showcases your most relevant experience and impressive accomplishments, both professional and academic. In doing so, consider following these guidelines:
  • Be clear about your relevant skills and experience - the more specifically you can articulate them, the better.
  • Supply examples of when you have applied these skills in a practical context, rather than just saying that you’ve studied them.
  • Consider how essential skills are described in the job advertisement. For example, if it mentions Microsoft Access, make sure to clearly reference it.
  • Familiarise yourself with the company’s products. Show that  you’ve used the websites they run or played the games they make. If possible, mention how you think they compare with competitors’ products (both in terms of their strengths and their possible areas of improvement).
  • Make sure you can talk with passion about at least one skill or technology that is relevant to the role, and demonstrate your informed enthusiasm for the world of technology in general.

Show that you have goals

Recruiters are particularly attracted to driven graduates who are eager to develop their existing skills, learn new ones and pursue opportunities for personal and professional growth. Often, they’ll give you a chance to show this by asking a question like “where do you see yourself in five years?”.

Even if they don’t, it’s a good idea to show your ambitiousness by making clear your commitment to long-term results, and hinting at how you can be useful to the company in the future. A great way to do this is to share concrete goals related to the job description. For example, you might mention your determination to master a new analytics program and apply it to a challenge currently facing the company.

Be prepared for questions about skills you don’t (yet) possess

As a graduate, you’ll have a range of freshly developed skills, many of which will (or should) match the job description. However, don’t be disheartened if there are prerequisite skills that you haven’t yet acquired. The fact that you’ve still been offered an interview indicates that recruiters can see your potential to learn new skills or build upon existing ones.  

You can reassure them by showing that you understand what skills will be important and possess a keen desire to acquire them. For example, you could say something like: “I haven’t used [insert program/skill] yet, but I appreciate its importance to [insert relevant task], and I’m eager to learn more about it.’ Consider reinforcing this message by mentioning a previous occasion on which you have successfully learned a new skill and put it to use.

Don’t miss an opportunity to ask them questions

Here’s another thing of which we can be fairly confident: towards the end of the interview, your recruiter will turn the tables by asking if you have any questions for them. This an invaluable opportunity to demonstrate your passion for, and understanding of, the role, so seize upon it! You might enquire about specific products, the culture of the organisation or any specific challenges you’ll be expected to overcome. Alternatively, you can consider some of the suggestions below:

  • What does success look like in this role? (Be prepared to show how your skills are relevant to their answer.)
  • Could you give me an example of a typical working day?
  • What options are there for advancement?
  • What opportunities are available for on-the-job education and training?
  • How will my performance be evaluated?
  • Can you give me an example where a current employee exceeded your expectations?
  • What's the one thing I could achieve in the first six months that would have the most impact?
  • Is there anything about my application that concerns you? (Be prepared to address their concerns in a realistic, understanding and positive way.)

Remember that it’s often less about your answer, and more about how you handle the question 

In case you’re still wondering about those curveball questions described above - or, indeed, about any question you haven’t prepared for - remember that interviews are just as much about how you perform under pressure or work through complex problems as they are about your actual response. So if you’re stuck, take a deep breath and show them somebody who responds to a challenge with good humor, grit and intellectual curiosity. Good luck!