3

I'm a graduate engineering student in France, on the last year of my degree. As is customary in most (if not all) French engineering schools, I'm looking for a 6-month-long internship to complete my degree. I applied for various internships, one of which was with a well-known company (which is to say, I expected a very polished and formal/standard interview process).

I passed the first round with relative ease, both me and the HR person interviewing me seemed to think it went well, so I got accepted to the second round, where an engineer would interview me. As expected, the interview mostly revolved around (basic) technical questions. Now, this is the fourth time I'm looking for an internship (having done 3 other internships during my undergrad), so I do have some (albeit not much) prior experience with interviews, so I'd like to believe I'm not an absolute noob when it comes to this. However, I really didn't know how to approach the questions this interviewer poses; it went something like:

  • Interviewer: So are you familiar with git, things like branching, merging, rebasing...?
  • Me: Yes, I have been using git since my first semester in university, I am very familiar with it and have implemented large projects using it.
  • Interviewer: Okay... [changes the subject]

Almost all the questions felt hard to answer, because the interviewer was kind of "giving away" any details I could use to "prove" that I know what technology X or tool Y is. Needless to say, I failed the second round, and I honestly do not know why.

Is this the wrong way to approach such questions? What should one do when the interviewer seems borderline "bored" and asks - more or less - superficial questions?

Extra/tangential question: As a grad student, I'm stil in university and actively learning, so I don't really count on my "professional experience" when interviewing (I consider my advantages to be things like quickly picking up new technologies or being a team player or correctly following instructions and reaching deadlines etc). During that interview, a question on technology X came up, to which I responded "I have not taken the course that specifically teaches X, however I've taken a course on Y which is closely related to X, and given my learning pace from my past internships I don't think learning X would be a problem". Is this the wrong way to answer the question? Am I supposed to lie and pretend I know how X works (he didn't seem to ask deeper questions on any subject, see the original question above), winging it during the internship?

I'm not sure if this is the right place for this question, I've just never had that much experience or training, especially when it comes to technical interviews, so I'm pretty sure I'm doing something wrong given I've failed quite a few of them in more or less the same way.

  • @JoeStrazzere Since I got rejected and all the questions were like this (apart from the “extra question” I mention near the end), I’m guessing I didn’t answer correctly. – jimkokko5 Dec 6 '19 at 2:39
  • 1
    Wow! That was quick! Don't be afraid to change your accepted answer if another better one comes along. – Stephan Branczyk Dec 6 '19 at 3:22
  • @StephanBranczyk will do. However the current one answers all the questions I had in my mind, hence the approval :) – jimkokko5 Dec 6 '19 at 3:23
  • 4
    It doesn't really seem like your answers to these particular questions had anything to do with not getting the job. If someone changes the subject without signs of frustration, they are probably satisfied at least to a degree and just moving on to the next topic. Likely there was another candidate who impressed them in some uniquely relevant way beyond the actual questions asked. Possibly interviewing you was just a sideshow to a decision already made. – Chris Stratton Dec 6 '19 at 4:47
  • Sounds like that engineer had less experience doing interviews than you. – Daniel Dec 6 '19 at 12:42
4

Interviewer: So are you familiar with git, things like branching, merging, rebasing...?

"Yes, I have been using git since my first semester of university. Whenever I'm in a group project, I'm usually the one merging all the pull requests into the master branch. Just take a look at my repositories on github."

The interviewer probably won't take a deep look at your github, but if you can steer him in that direction, it will be better for you.

The more you can steer the interviewer toward your previous projects, the more likely he's to ask questions about your previous projects, instead of asking random questions at the top of his head, or random questions that he found on the internet.

"I have not taken the course that specifically teaches X, however I've taken a course on Y which is closely related to X, and given my learning pace from my past internships I don't think learning X would be a problem". Is this the wrong way to answer the question?

That answer is ok, but don't fall into the trap of answering every question the same way.

In other words, don't make your University courses your sole source of CS knowledge. Show that you've taken an interest in some CS topics or computer languages that you haven't formally studied yet, or that may not even be in your school's curriculum yet.

Am I supposed to lie?

No one is telling you to lie. But if you can find out the names of the people interviewing you, do some research on them. Find out what they've built in the past, or what they studied in the past.

For instance, if one of your interviewers wrote a music player for his thesis during his University studies. Be prepared for in-depth questions about a music player during your interview. It's just easier for him to ask questions on a topic he already thoroughly knows about. Plus asking such questions to you will make him sound smart, which could be one of his goals.

And finally, interviewing is a numbers' game. Interview as many times as possible. And practice as many times as possible. I don't know if English is your preferred language for technical interviews, but since you seem to be perfectly fluent in English, I would recommend these two sites for practice:

https://interviewing.io

https://pramp.com

The second site is actually a great way to evaluate your competition out there since it makes job-hunters interview each other.

  • 1
    And finally, interviewing is a numbers' game This is a very important point. It's possible to give "correct" answers to every single question and still not get hired. It's arguable that many questions don't have a literal single correct answer anyways. If they interview 10 people, they are going to choose one. That is not a condemnation of the other 9. – dwizum Dec 6 '19 at 15:06
2

From what you wrote, this does not sound like you where doing something horribly wrong. But even if an interview goes well, you don´t always get the job. There may be someone more skilled, cheaper or more the bosses son they ´ll go for.

There are some things to think about, though. The main thing, I think is: Ask questions yourself. A good interview is not a one-way street. Show that you take an Interest in the position and the environment. It´s better to show your experience by asking which design patterns they used to separate data and presentation then to tell them how many courses you have taken on the subject. Also, you can show that you are quick to pick up details and can communicate on a technical level. That should be more important to your employer than if you typed push and pull before.

Still, even if you are a perfect fit technically, the other person may just not like to work with you on a personal level.

To questions like the one with git, I´d have just answered with a simple "Yes, I have experience with that" I mean that is nothing high-tech one can´t learn over a weekend. If the other person wanted to know more, they will ask what kind of experience. Relax! See this more as an opportunity to get to know each other instead of a test you have to pass. Sometimes you click, and sometimes not. Anyways it is exiting, as you will get an interesting look into how this business solves its technical problems.

Also caution: Especially in IT, there are a lot of self-taught professionals - some of which are easily intimidated if you brag to much with your formal education. Try to "feel the room". Concentrate on thing you have achieved/ solutions you have found more than on degrees and courses.

Oh and: Never lie to your (would be) employer. You can brag a little, exaggerate, depending on culture more or less. But do not lie. It will eventually come back to haunt you and ruin your work experience! A honest "I don´t know, but I´m keen to learn" goes a long way to build trust!

  • A good interview is not a one-way street This is a good point. People sometimes assume that not getting the job is a bad result. But you need to be able to determine if it would be a good fit for you, as well. Sometimes, not getting the job is the best outcome, if it would have been a bad fit. – dwizum Dec 6 '19 at 15:11

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.