Male professional in a dress shirt and tie sitting across from hiring manager during an it interview

IT candidates continue to have the upper hand in a job market characterized by skills gaps and talent shortages. In an industry survey, 67% of IT managers said they wanted to grow their security, cloud computing, and business intelligence teams in 2020, but 89% said they faced difficulty recruiting that talent.  The demand for niche technical skills is no longer limited to IT. Rather, technological expertise is a priority for nearly every organizational department, from marketing to R&D and beyond.

As you prepare for your upcoming IT interview, approach it with a dual focus: first, to sell yourself as the best candidate for the job, and second, to verify that the role and company are the right fit to move you closer to your larger career goals. 

What to expect from an IT interview

Jobs in information technology require a certain amount of technical knowledge, so it’s important to be prepared for interviews. There will likely be more than one interview section. One portion of the interview is where the hiring managers and HR teams want to learn more about your work style and if you’re a good fit for the company. There will be more questions about whether or not you’re a culture match and to learn more about your background.

For IT positions, there is often a technical interview section with managers that are familiar with the IT needs of the position. Prepare as much as possible so you feel comfortable working with the systems, but don’t stress if you make mistakes. You just need to showcase that you have the knowledge that you put on your resume. The technical interview is designed to challenge your problem-solving skills, so work through this portion the best you can. 

IT interview tips to land the job

1. Gather intel to help you prepare

Approach your IT interview the same way you would approach any challenge in your day-to-day job: gathering as much information as possible to help you solve the problem. 

Ask around your network to find others who have interviewed with the company. They can give you valuable intel about the interview structure and the type of questions to expect. Use Glassdoor’s interview search feature to find advice and sample questions from candidates who have previously interviewed for the same or similar roles. Use LinkedIn to research people who have previously held the position you are interviewing for and see what they are doing now. This will give you an idea of your potential advancement opportunities. 

2. Stick to formal interview attire

Even though your everyday attire once you are on the job might be khakis and a polo (or even jeans), it is still best to dress for a formal interview. In a survey on the topic, most CIOs said a traditional business suit or tailored separates like a skirt and blouse were the preferred outfits for a tech candidate to make the best impression. 

If a suit does not exist in your wardrobe, buying one just for the interview is unnecessary. The availability of on-demand clothing rental services like Generation Tux for suits and Rent the Runway for dresses and separates makes it easy to look put together without breaking the bank.

Do not forget the details, like your shoes. Nothing looks worse than a suit and tie paired with inappropriate footwear. Ensure your clothes are freshly pressed and lint-free. Layout everything you plan to wear the night before to ensure nothing is missing. 

Don’t know what to wear for an interview? Check out these Business Casual vs. Business Professional outfit ideas!

3. Spotlight your soft skills

The screen-gazing techie with no social skills might be a tired cliché, but it is one to beware of. Soft skills are becoming more valuable to employers as departments become less siloed in favor of more integration. It is much easier to hire for fit and train for technical skills than vice versa. 

As such, do not get so focused on talking about your technical skills that you neglect to showcase your soft skills. Be friendly, approachable, and communicate clearly. This does not mean you have to try to be something you are not, but that you should let your personality shine through in your answers rather than being a walking repetition of your resume. 

If soft skills do not come easily to you, it might be worth investing time to strengthen them. For example, programs like Toastmasters can help you improve public speaking and become more comfortable in social environments. 

What Are Soft Skills? Check out this exhaustive list of soft skill examples!

4. Tie your strengths to the specifics of the company

Rather than talking about your skills in the abstract, work to make connections to the employer’s product or service. Share direct examples of how your technical expertise would translate into business outcomes. 

For example, maybe you have noticed a trend in the software market that would help their development team get ahead of the curve; or perhaps you have knowledge from your previous role that that marketing team could position as a competitive advantage. You are more than just your skills—your value as a candidate lies in the results you can deliver for your employer. 

5. Be confident, not arrogant 

Tech candidates sometimes get a bad reputation for being cocky. Instead, channel your confidence into enthusiasm for the position. If you are dealing with an interviewer not from a tech background, avoid alienating them with complex jargon and try to speak in layman’s terms. Ask genuine questions that will demonstrate your interest in the industry and help you learn more about whether the role is a fit.

6. If you don’t know, don’t guess

The technical portion of an IT interview can be nerve-wracking, filled with very specific questions that only have one correct answer. If you do not know one of those answers, do not guess. Instead, be honest about your uncertainty and try to steer the conversation back toward how you would find the answer, demonstrating your problem-solving abilities. 

Similarly, do not embellish your resume. It can be tempting to stretch your knowledge of a certain skill with the thinking that ‘I can learn it on the job,’ but it is not worth the risk of being dishonest should your employer find out. 

7. If you have relevant experience that your interviewer does not ask about, bring it up 

In a perfect world, all IT interviews would be conducted by someone who knows the position inside and out. More often than not, that is not the case—after all, the employer is hiring you because they lack your expertise. 

This means your interviewer might not always ask questions that give you the best chance to showcase why you are the perfect fit. If you have specific experience that is directly tied to what they asked for in the job description and they do not bring it up in the interview, by all means, mention it! A good employer will welcome hearing about the time you solved a problem that is similar to one they are facing. It will reflect positively on your ability to discern what is important to your employer. 

8. Do not overshare

Many tech candidates have been through the gauntlet in the course of their careers—failed startups, disastrous product launches, you name it. No matter how relevant these things might seem, this is not the time to spill the dirty details to your interviewer.

This does not mean you must gloss over or leave out past negative experiences; instead, frame them in the context of how you strived for solutions, even in the face of challenges. Whatever you do, avoid badmouthing previous employers or managers. Though tempting, it will almost always reflect negatively on you as a candidate. 

9. Prepare thoughtful questions 

As we touched on earlier, the interview is also your chance to vet your prospective employer. Take advantage of the opportunity to ask about the things that matter to you. 

We have found that one topic that provides a lot of useful insight for candidates is asking about the company’s current top performers—who are they, and what sets them apart? Your interviewer’s answer will shed light on what the organization values most—productivity, profitability, being a team player, etc.—as well as what it takes to be considered one of the best employees in the organization. 

Suppose you want to one day move into a leadership role, like a department head or upper management. In that case, this is a good time to ask about long-term paths to advancement within the company and opportunities for continued learning.  

While it is often seen as a no-no to ask about perks during the interview, the tech field is one exception. In an industry where salaries are often competitive right out of the gate, the benefits might decide which company you ultimately work for. Still, there is a right and wrong way to ask. 

Getting the information you want without putting off your interviewer is all about the wording. For example, instead of asking, “How much vacation time will I get?” you might phrase it as, “How would you describe the work-life balance for your average employee?” or “Could you tell me more about how your benefits compare with other companies in the market?” This way, you are framing your inquiry in the context of your interest in the company rather than what is in it for you. 

Common IT interview questions

The final section of our IT interview tips is to ensure you are prepared for some of the most common questions in interviews for IT positions. The specifics will change depending on the open position, but these will help you with your prep work.

  1. Which certifications do you hold? 
  2. What interests you about this IT position?
  3. What experience do you have with programming? Which languages have you programmed in?
  4. Describe the most creative and innovative change you could implement in a previous work situation.
  5. How do you prioritize multiple projects?
  6. What resources do you use to stay current in the industry?
  7. Tell us about a stressful situation you have had to troubleshoot in the past and how you successfully navigated it.
  8. What project are you most proud of?
  9. What IT space are you most uncomfortable in?
  10. Do you have a preference between on-premise and cloud-based services?
  11. What is your strategy for rolling out new products to teams that are reluctant to change?
  12. Do you have experience managing vendor relationships?
  13. Describe your ideal working environment.
  14. What cyber security threats are you most concerned with today?
  15. How do you ensure that stakeholders stay up to date on current projects and the status of timelines and budgets? 

When answering situational interview questions (like “Tell me about a time…”), utilizing the STAR method is always good. STAR stands for situation, task, action, and result. It helps organize your answers so the interviewer can easily follow along. Set the scene and give any necessary background, describe your responsibility, explain your actions, and then share the outcome. 

Check out our bank of sample interview questions and answers to ensure you are prepared before the big day!

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Pete Newsome is the founder of zengig, which he created after more than two decades in staffing and recruiting. He’s also President of 4 Corner Resources, the Forbes America's Best Staffing and Recruiting Firm he founded in 2005, and is a member of the American Staffing Association and TechServe Alliance. In addition to his passion for staffing, Pete is now committed to zengig becoming the most comprehensive source of expert advice, tools, and resources for career growth and happiness. When he’s not in the office or spending time with his family of six, you can find Pete sharing his career knowledge and expertise through public speaking, writing, and as the host of the Finding Career Zen & Hire Calling podcasts. Connect with Pete on LinkedIn