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How to Ace a Computer Science Job Interview

by Morgan Kastner
4.18.2016

You’ve worked your tail off in school for four or five years, and now it’s time to step out and get a “real” job in computer science. But even the best students can get nervous when it’s time to show up for an interview.

Don’t fret, because we have the answers — we spoke with three career professionals to get their input on how to ace the computer science interview process. Here’s what they had to say.

Preparation Is a Must

Matthew Griffin, senior network engineer with Zayo Group, underscores the importance of preparation. You can’t rely on just your skills and experiences to guide you through an interview, Griffin says. You need to be prepared with an understanding of the role you are applying for, and should be aware of things like the company’s mission and what data systems they use.

Sometimes you’ll need to practice your body language, answers and even your smile. Griffin suggests conducting mock interviews to practice, including occasionally video recording yourself during such sessions. Mock interviews help you prepare for questions you will most likely be asked, and video recordings will help you make adjustments to your body language to look more confident and relaxed.

Griffin also stresses that it’s OK to not know the answer to everything that comes up. Even if you’ve done your research, don’t expect to know every answer. Just be truthful when you don’t know, which will certainly look better to employers than if you make something up.

Emphasize the Right Skills

Resume writer and career coach Wendi Weiner has worked with IT professionals to help them create great resumes and prepare for their careers. Her interview advice is to understand your own skills and know which to emphasize in an interview. She suggests a mix of technical proficiencies — such as hardware platforms and operating systems — and core soft skills, such as network support and technology resolution.

Your research should help you determine which skills you have that will work best in the company’s environment, Weiner says. Figuring out your skill set is part of the preparation process; you can’t blindly go into an interview and list skills, she says, and she notes that you’ll also need to be able to discuss specific experience for any skills you cite.

Relate Your Skills and Experiences

You can name skills in your interview, but without experience to back it up you are likely to come off as disingenuous, says Paul Ritterbush, manager of media relations at HireTeamMate. If you say you have certain skills, you had better be prepared to answer questions about them, Ritterbush says.

Once you know more about the company and what skills you want to highlight, you should pinpoint experiences that will support your claims. Ritterbush suggests citing well-rounded experiences you can relate to many skills and computer science fundamentals.

Finding these connections between your skills and experiences will take preparation. Don’t expect to think of things on the fly during your interview. Be familiar with the company you’re interviewing with and how your skills can serve them now and in the future.

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