IT contractor interviews: Technical tests & tough questions
Whatever your attitude to testing at interview it's unlikely you'll be able to avoid them for long. Increasingly companies are insisting on tests to make certain they are not about to offer a contract to a complete novice, and more and more quality control experts and process management consultants are sticking their noses into the simple interview process and making it compliant to some standard or other.
You will be tested.
I don't like tests, and I particularly dislike the standard, certification type test that are all the rage. In my opinion they do not so much find out who can pragmatically complete the job as who knows the irrelevant details of a programming language.
But no matter my own opinion. Testing is all too common, and you had better prepare.
This is best achieved by asking your agent – yet again. They should know what tests will be carried out, and you will know the likely questions depending on your sector. If testing is endemic in your area then I'm afraid you will just have to learn the tiny, minute details. That's really all you can do, except perhaps prayer – if that's your thing.
It would be better if clients sat down and decided what they really needed from a contractor and asked the pertinent questions, rather than relying on some set of questions they've downloaded from the web. Then, at least, they would get an idea of how you would think about, and solve, a problem.
Thankfully this is still more common than a written test but challenging questions are still, well… challenging.
But at least if you don't directly know the answer you still have a chance of getting the points so to speak. With a written test, if you don't understand the question you're sunk, but with a verbal exchange you can ask questions like:
- I don't quite follow, could you explain?
- How important is that to the project?
- I understood that [insert important related fact]… why isn't that the case here?
Or you can sidestep with:
- I've more direct experience of a related situation where...
- I found at Grimupnorth that xyz was not as big an issue as...
It's always best to answer directly if you can but don't underestimate the difficulty interviewers have in coming up with relevant questions. If they find it difficult, chances are they're not being as clear as they could be and you should seek to clarify before jumping in with the answers.
Yet no matter how experienced you are and how well prepared, there will always a question that takes your breath away because you have no idea how to answer it. Interview gurus will tell you not to utter the negative words, "I don't know," but there seems little you can do if they are true. Guessing will probably get you into trouble, and you might be able to weasel out of the situation with a ,"I've not come across that before, how important is it?"
And yet an honest, "I don't know," seems to me at least to be professional. You can't know everything. Sometimes a different strategy might be obvious however.
Difficult interviews are the exception
With all the talk of preparation and sales techniques, testing and tough questions, it's good to remember that most clients do not put you through the grinder. Most rely on an amiable chat and your CV to make their appointments. Nobody gets too stressed and it seems to work.
But remember, you can only appear a "good fit," if you know what they are looking for.
This article was provided by William Knight.
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