Career Corner: The Tech Interview

Think twice before assuming you’re ready to interview for a tech company. – Courtesy photo / Msingularian (CC BY-SA 3.0)

By Angela Copeland

You know, I love tech companies. With a computer engineering undergrad, I’ve spent my entire career working in the world of technology in one way or another.

I’ve recently met a number of job seekers who have had job interviews at tech companies. They’re the kind of companies with only a few hundred employees. They have ping pong tables, video games, and free lunch.

Quickly, I noticed that something was different about their interview experience. Before the interview, we worked to update their resume and elevator pitch but nothing could have really prepared us for what happened next.

The attitude inside the doors of the tech companies was different – very different. Lots of young, flip-flop wearing employees fill giant tables where they are setup with computer monitors. There are no offices or cubicles. Imagine working in a Starbucks, or a lunchroom. Employees look exhausted. Their eyes are red and they’re yawning while interviewing candidates. Despite the office perks, these folks are working their hearts out day and night and the stress of the environment seems to come through in the interview.

Many of the interviews are what are sometimes called a stress interview. They’re interviews designed to upset the job seeker, and to get a reaction out of them. In the middle of the interview, the hiring manager might tell the candidate that they’re not qualified for the role and that their experience is useless to the company. They do this all in a relatively rude and challenging way. Then, the hiring manager asks the candidate to respond. I’m really not sure how a candidate is expected to respond in these situations, especially if they have any self-respect.

There’s also an obsession around money. At a tech startup, everybody wants to know how much money you want to make. If you’re coming from any sort of non-startup environment, it can be tough to pin down your salary requirements because the benefits are different. Startups often provide equity in place of high salaries.

Tech companies are also looking for someone like them. Even when a candidate has all the required experience, it is very common for the number one objection to be, “You’ve never worked in tech.”

A number of tech companies also have an internal voting structure. Rather than the hiring manager selecting you, the entire team is involved. The team will meet together after you interview to decide whether or not you’re a fit. At some organizations, even one vote against you can keep you from being hired.

Right or wrong, this seems to be the reality that tech companies are living in. If you decide to interview at one, be sure to prepare yourself. On top of your normal interview preparation, learn as much as you can about the company, their culture, and their interview process. To score big at a tech company, you need to be more than qualified. You need to fit in.

Angela Copeland, a career coach and founder of Copeland Coaching, can be reached at

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