Non-Technical Interviewing: How Do You Prove You’re Good at Computers with Speaking?

Interviewing rules apply in tech, but the industry has a few quirks.

Most companies will go through 3 interviews while hiring a tech worker (a software developer or two, and a manager), but larger companies often go through 6 interviews. This is an insane waste of time, but exists as a cultural afterbirth of how computer work requires constant re-re-verification mixed with how many middle managers don’t feel comfortable with committing.

To save time, ask before interviewing how many interviews you should expect. If the company’s representative can’t give you a straight answer, you might be applying to a bad company.

The trouble with most interviews is that they won’t directly measure your aptitude for the role.

HR phone call

Expect a casual conversation over the phone by an Human Resources representative. This is an interview, even though it’ll seem like a simple formality. Watch for a few signs:

  • They’ll ask if “now is still a good time” (you shouldn’t have picked up if it wasn’t).
  • They’ll ask you to talk about yourself (keep it honest and brief).
  • They may ask what you’re looking for in your next role (always give a variation of working at their company).
  • They’ll try to sell you on their company.
  • While it’s rare, they’ll ask unusual and interesting questions, such as what you’re working on or what your values are.

You won’t know if anything happens, since the HR worker is probably writing down some notes and deciding if you’re a good cultural fit or not.

  • If you’re not a good culture fit, that’s probably a good thing. Many HR departments are informally profiling personalities to see if you can be easily exploited.

Automated coding test

The technical interviews are a complete class of their own, so this page covers it in more detail.

Human interviews

In-person interviews can be challenging. This is often not because of the interview itself, but because of the fact that you may have had several technical and in-person interviews, with a behavioral interview in the mix, before you got to one that talks about system design.

Make about 10 stories ahead of time that explicitly indicate how you succeeded. Have two versions available:

  1. A highly detailed exploration of every tiny detail. Even when you’re not sure, add details to the story that are likely true. Give this one to technical people interviewing you.
  2. A one-paragraph summary of that first story. Give this one to every manager and non-technical person.

This is where it becomes an endurance race. If you keep a positive attitude through it, you’ll likely get the job.

Ask questions

You’re trying to find a good fit for you as well. You may start into the career with a certain amount of desperation, but your skills will typically become very high-demand after 2-3 years’ worth of experience.

To get the best deal, have a list prepared of questions for their Final Question (“do you have any questions for us?”):

  • What values do the organization’s leadership believe in?
  • Is the company profitable, pre-revenue, or growth-minded?
  • How many rounds of funding has the organization had yet?
  • What is the actual title of the role you’re applying for, and what do you actually do most of the time?

Do not ask those questions to recruiters, only hiring managers. Recruiters won’t be able to answer your question, or may try selling you on a not-so-good fit.

The Big Question

There are plenty of additional tech-specific questions that go beyond a standard interview for any other non-tech role.

There are tons of compiled lists for this purpose, but be careful copy-pasting those questions into your interview because they may come across as offensive. The right questions will usually come to mind if you understand the concepts connected to what you’re working with and are curious about what you’re walking into.

If you’re interviewing for a smaller tech company (like a startup), don’t be afraid to ask hard-hitting questions about “product-market fit” and that company’s viability:

  • How certain are you that you have product-market fit?
  • When did you reach product-market fit, and how did you know?
  • What do you need to do to get to product-market fit?
  • What’s your revenue? What was it a year ago?
  • How many daily active users do you have?

Fighting Discrimination

The tech industry, at least in the early 2020’s when I write this, is susceptible to severe discrimination based on age (preferring younger), and often leans leftward in its discrimination against race (preferring against white) and gender (preferring against cisheteronormative nonquestioning male).

The beauty of remote work, however, is that you don’t have to be whatever you wish to be. You just have to look it for the interviews.