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As part of some phone interviews I recently had, I was asked by someone from HR to run through my CV and the technical skills I use day-to-day.

I began by simply describing the tools/software I use, and was asked to "go into more technical detail" When I did, I found that what I was saying went well and truly over their heads (and ended up being counter-productive).

If a recruiter/prospective employer who has no knowledge of your technical skills asks for more technical detail, what is the best way of approaching this?

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4 Answers 4

up vote 9 down vote accepted

As we all know, HR personnel are rarely well versed in the technology we use, but there may always be exceptions. Who, of course, sometimes only think they are experts :-) So in such a situation, probably the best would be to ask them up front to clarify what kind and depth of technical details they are interested in. In my experience, very often they are only filtering your input for buzzwords, so make sure to focus on the relevant ones.

Another method would be to pause and ask regularly after each "part" of your speech (like the description of a project you worked on, or a tool you used) whether they have any questions or comments. This allows them to ask for more details or to let you know to retreat from too deep levels of technology.

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+1 for asking for the depth they need –  Oded Nov 28 '12 at 10:07
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Asking the depth does seem like a good way to go, but I feel there is a risk of coming across as patronising (which is naturally something I wish to avoid like the plague!) –  Dibstar Nov 28 '12 at 14:53
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@Davin, you are right that there is a risk there, but IMHO it can be avoided via careful wording. IMHO a question like "could you be more specific about what kind of details you are interested in?" is perfectly OK. –  Péter Török Nov 28 '12 at 16:03

One of the "soft skills" that interviewers look for is how well you adjust your explanations for your audience. You would talk differently about the same project to your technical lead, your program manager, your customer, and your grandmother -- and an HR person.

I agree with the advice in this answer to ask for clarification and "check in" while you're talking. These check-ins should focus on you, not the listener -- "am I being clear enough?", not "do you understand?". In terms of approaching the situation in the first place, talk about what you did on the project or with those technologies, ask "would you like more detail about X?", and adjust as you go. A breadth-first approach has been most successful for me on either side of the interview.

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+1 for highlighting the possible dual nature of the question. While we interview with a panel of 3 (HR, line manager, tech. expert) we have some standard questions that press for technical details; its not a "check box" thing, but as well as innovation and technical skill, whether the HR person (and the line manager) understand the technical explanation is part of the scoring system we use. Its well worth preparing ahead of time answers about your skills and experience that would make sense to those with non-expert knowledge. –  GuyM Nov 28 '12 at 18:20

What HR wanted was not "a list" of skills. They can already see that on your resume/CV.

When they ask for more details, they don't mean the minor version of the application server you worked with (for example). They want to understand the context and some narrative of HOW you work and solve problems using your skills.

In other words, you should have picked some of your skills and described a successful project in which you used those skills. The goal is to give them an idea of the scope and complexity of work which you do.

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The HR person in question specifically asked for "more Technical detail", which suggested to me less what the project was, and more what was done at say the code level? –  Dibstar Nov 28 '12 at 14:52
    
It is VERY unlikely that HR would really want to know implementation details. They're just trying to assess your suitability for the kind of work done at the company. –  Angelo Nov 28 '12 at 15:14
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It's likely that HR can really evaluate suitability for the work, as they probably don't understand the technical work the company is doing. They're really looking to see how well you communicate the information and how well you demonstrate that you understand the material. –  alroc Nov 28 '12 at 16:42

If a recruiter/prospective employer who has no knowledge of your technical skills asks for more technical detail, what is the best way of approaching this?

Depending on your temperament, I'd probably either ask for a format of the answer or an example of an answer so that I can get an idea of what they mean.

While I could say that I use Visual Studio 2010 to develop the web software I build, they may want more detail though stating IIS 7.5, ASP.Net 4.0.30319 and SQL Server 2008 may be getting a bit too specific, thus the format or example that allows me to see what kind of communication they want. The tone here is about understanding the request so that you can competently answer the question. Most people don't go to a restaurant and expect the server to just know what to bring and thus there is communication to clarify what is wanted here. Is it the name of the software? Years of experience? Proficiency in its use? There are more than a few things I could see someone probing in asking for more detail about what I use.

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