Inside an IT Interview: A Guide to Prepare for an IT Interview (in India)

     Attending and interview is not a new term for an IT professional in India, but when it actually comes to attend an IT interview, the scene is similar to giving first speech in school, or solving first question paper of a board examination. Though everybody knows that interview is to check your competencies along with confidence, but we go for an interview with no confidence, and skill demonstrated without confidence are rarely accepted.
Then the questions arise – is giving an interview such a difficult task? Can we not manage those 45 minutes to 1 hour to achieve best results? Is there some theory involved behind these interviews?

     In this article, an attempt is made to bring out the personal experience of interviewing people for different IT roles. There may be some variations in the experience of different people, but in general the philosophy remains same. This article does not focus on any technology or domain, but tries to abstract concepts that are applicable across industry.

     After reading this article one can come up with own interview questions suitable for one’s needs. The underlying technology and domain may be same, but the role performed by each individual in given technology and domain is definitely different and so is the experience. These two parameters govern the questions to be asked in given technology and domain, hence each individual is the best person to come up with a question bank for own usage.

Role and Competency Mapping Metrics:

Competency//Role Technical Management Process Financials
Developer Concepts, syntax Code Applicable quality processes NA
Module Lead Concepts, syntax, design Approx. 5 member team, other module aspects Development related quality processes, change management NA
Project Lead Concepts, design, philosophy behind important concepts Project delivery, requirements, change etc. aspects of project, team of around 10- 15 people Development and management processes Project billing related
Project Manager Concepts, design, philosophy behind important concepts Everything from project lead applied to multiple projects of total team size around 30 Development and management processes with applicability to larger units Complete delivery financials
Senior Manager Concepts, philosophy behind concepts, some knowledge of trends Same as project manager but for larger team and scope like account, delivery unit etc. depending on role Development and management processes with applicability to larger units Complete delivery and organization financials depending on scope
Technical Lead Concepts, syntax, design, philosophy behind concepts Technically quality of delivery Development related quality processes NA
Technical Architect Concepts, design, philosophy behind important concepts, Knowledge of recent Trends, applicability of trends solution Same as technical lead Development related quality processes Technology / products costs
Business Analyst Some knowledge of trends Some aspects of business requirements and change. Development and management processes Financials around business domain
Consultant Same as technical architect NA Development and management processes Both technical / product related and delivery related.
Competency//Role Communication Innovation Leadership Domain
Developer Good Specific to work NA Module
Module Lead Good Specific to work Required Application
Project Lead Good articulation skills and client interfacing skills Related to management and processes Required Application, business stream
Project Manager Same as above Related to management and processes Required Client’s business
Senior Manager Excellent in all areas Related to management and processes Required Clients and organization’s business
Technical Lead Good In technical solutions Technical leadership required Specific to work area
Technical Architect Good articulation and presentation skills Related to technical solutions Required Business stream
Business Analyst Excellent NA Required Complete
Consultant Excellent Related to technical solutions Required Complete

Interview is to see if a person fits in the role? Or sometimes to find the role in which a person fits in:

     Number of years of experience and organization-wide standards are used to identify suitable roles for a person. The interview panel is always composed of people having a role at least one level higher than the identified roles. These interviewers have already gone through these roles; hence they appreciate the competency requirements very well. They frame the questions in such a way that the graph of competency check is always increasing. E.g. for a project manager’s interview, few basic questions to check understanding of technology concepts, and new trends in technology are asked. Depending on success ratio in these questions, further course of interview is decided, which may be through process, management, financial, team management and domain related questions. Now, when one prepares for an interview keeping a role in mind, he/she must select the competency requirements from the role/competency metrics, identify possible questions on those requirements and prepare on areas surrounding these thoroughly. Number of questions out side these selected area should be very less, and these questions will carry less importance in the decision of selection of the candidate.

     Most of the IT companies (the big players in Indian IT industry), have standardized the role to experience map. E.g. Module lead can have experience between 3 -5/6 years. If you want to change this fitment, say you are having experience of 2.5 years, and want to be a module lead, then there has to be an exceptional performance in the interview, cause at the end of the day, the interviewers will have to justify the offer to some one. Consequently, you will have to prepare to be and exceptional performer in answering the difficult questions possible for the role or the questions that will appear difficult to you, as you are looking at one level above your normal capability.

Not an interview but a discussion:

     This will have a direct impact on the selection decision. An interview is never a oral examination, where the examiner is asking questions, you are giving answers, and waiting for next question. In an interview, the person is not fitted in the technical competency requirements, but also to the organization’s culture and teams. You can change the mode of interview into a group discussion from one to one questions and answers. How to do is learning the group discussion technique, the only difference is – here you are allowed to speak freely after a question, and you don’t have to wait for an opportunity. But the answer should be such that you encourage the interviewer to express his/her view points. Once this flow is started, then the discussion will happen on its own. This will also make you comfortable during interview and increase your confidence.

Tell us about yourself/tell us about your previous assignment:

     Mostly, this is the first question where one is caught on wrong foot. Though this is the starting question of most of the interviews, people do not take it as an opportunity. This is the golden opportunity to set right tone of your interview at first step itself. Though the question remains same, the answer goes on changing dramatically as you move from one role to other. Such as, if you are going for a fresher’s interview, the answer would revolve around your family background, and your academic achievements. But if you are appearing for a project manager’s interview, then the answer should reveal how you deployed your skills in your past assignment and worked on the role which you are targeting now. This might be the only chance for you to tell how you fit in the target role. When you end this brief answer, try to guide the interviewer to your favorite topic so that you feel at home at the start of interview.

When is the resume referred?:

     Resume should mapping to the role you are applying instead of a general purpose document. Resume is a question bank given by you to the interviewer. If your first answer/any other answer does not lead to any concrete topic, then the interviewer goes back to the resume and prepares questions mapping to the role/competency metrics. This action happens periodically, hence it is better to go thoroughly through your resume and prepare on the areas on which you expect questions. It is not advisable to not let the interviewer to go back to the resume during interview, because if he/she does not refer to the resume, then he/she will continue drilling down on same topic, which will increase the difficulty level considerably. Every time the resume is referred to, one can be hopeful to get a first difficulty level question.

Every role has a language of it’s own:

     Every role has a language of it’s own, and this language is comprised of few words/jargons/short forms which keep on changing periodically. May be this is inline with the technology advancement, or business maturity but the truth is – at each role there are few words, which a person should be speaking while giving an interview or practically in day to day official life. There may be some terms which last long e.g. a project manager can speak of top line, bottom line, margins, etc. forever, but there may be some terms coming and going. Find out these words and use them appropriately during interview. This will show your familiarity with the target role. It is as simple as – when you are answering a history question; you should not use scientific language.

Why are you leaving current organization:

     It is known to everybody in the interview panel that you are ready to leave your current organization, and they are also ready to accept you in their organization. But this question is generally asked to understand how long you are going to continue in the new organization. They would have done your resume analysis on this point, but they just want to make sure that you are not considering their organization as a hop in/hop out sight seeing bus. Few other aspects, like your relations with your current organization, your behavior in your current organization, and how much maturity you show while speaking about your current organization are also checked in this answer.

Salaries are getting rationalized across Indian IT industry:

     This may be one of the last questions, “What is your (salary) expectation?” and you say a number which spoils so far successful show of your interview. Over last few years, the salaries to experience to role mappings are getting standardized in Indian IT companies. These standards may have different charts depending on the category in which your target organization falls. E.g. Salaries of module leads of some experience in organizations like TCS, Infosys, Wipro, and Cognizant may vary by narrow margin. Some factors like job security, size of company, onsite opportunities, etc. can bring in some variation in the packages offered.

     When you accept an offer, you can perform a basic check – you are not going to get any role change or any hefty salary revision in next two years after joining the new organization. Now put your current organization’s compensation growth path for you along with this and compare. If you are getting considerable benefits in monitory and designation in short term/long term, then move on. Otherwise recheck if you really want to change (or just changing the boss will do), cause you will have to build the reputation from scratch in the new organization.

To Summarize:

     It is possible to determine and drive the course of interview to a best result. In addition to extensive preparation and experience, there is need of a systematic approach. The guidelines provided in this article should help you to identify the questions and to drive through your interview. Good Luck!!!