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Think outside the code: The non-technical secrets to success in an IT job interview

You’re sitting in front of your computer, staring at the job listing. You know you’re qualified. You’re a top-notch specialist in your field, but for some reason, you can’t seem to land a job. You’ve been to multiple interviews, and each time you leave with a feeling that you could have done better. What is missing? Why are you failing job interviews despite your expertise? It’s a frustrating situation to be in, but the good news is that, with the right approach, you can turn it around. In this article, we’ll look at common mistakes specialists make in job interviews and provide actionable tips and strategies to ace your next interview and land your dream job.

I assume that in addition to being a good IT specialist, you have done all the obvious things in your job interview preparation, such as researching the company, preparing answers to common interview questions, and so on. We are here to find that missing piece that is preventing you from getting the job, not to repeat common sense advice, right?

Let’s get started.

Here are 3 hacks that will help you to get that job!

GPT-3 joke about AI failing at job interview
For those who didn’t get it, GPT-3 explains: “It was programmed to think inside the code!”

Push attitude

Do you approach a job interview like an exam, like an assessment of your skills and results?

If you do, you judge your performance accordingly – based on whether you answered all the questions correctly. That instantly hinders your performance and limits opportunities to learn and explore. Job interviews are often not about answering questions correctly or writing algorithms flawlessly. Even technical ones.

A job interview is an opportunity for an employer to get an idea of your personality and determine if you’re a good fit for the company and the job. And the good news is you do not have to be 100% fit for both to get a job.

A study found that 89% of new hires fail because of their attitude, not because of their lack of technical skills. Even if you have good technical skills, you still need to show that you have the right attitude to succeed in the company.

So, if you adopt an exploratory mindset (vs exam-approach), you will be in a better position. Not only does this help reduce anxiety by shifting focus from performance to exploration, but it also makes the interview more of a networking event, with learning and exploring opportunities.

The game of interrogation turns into an adventure of cooperation.

If you think of an interview as an exam and you are faced with a question you do not know the answer to, that is a fail, right? Not knowing the answer means you have failed and are not the right person for the role.

This is not true! Especially in IT, where everything moves extremely fast, and a bunch of new frameworks roll out and become obsolete by the time you brush your teeth in the morning. Or close to it, anyway.

Try to think about a question you do not know the answer to with an exploratory mindset. It turns things you do not know into something you could learn more about! Imagine a person (outside the context of a job interview) asks if you know something, and you do not. You would take the chance to learn more about the topic, wouldn’t you? It is the same with a job interview. Show your curiosity, explore, or use this situation to demonstrate how you quickly learned something. Or take this master class from ChatGPT on out-of-box-thinking (no box required!).

Interviewer: Have you worked with ABC technology?
You: I understand that ABC does such and such. I have experience working with A and B, doing this and that, which is similar to what ABC does. By the way, what do you use ABC for in your projects?

If you have no idea what ABC is, your answer might be:

– ABC? I haven’t heard about it. What are you using ABC for?

You will, most likely, get a brief description of ABC. The chances are you will hit some common ground and will be able to bridge your experience and talk about technologies you used for similar tasks.

This is just one example of how the right attitude can help to handle difficult situations. You cannot predict what questions you will be asked, and it is impossible to memorise all the answers. However, you can adopt the right attitude to handle all questions gracefully and to your best advantage. At worst, you will learn something. Which is not bad.

Hack language patterns

In a study called Words That Cost You The Job Interview, researchers assessed the interview language of tens of thousands of real-life job applicants. Based on language patterns, they successfully divided these candidates into low and high performers. Just think for a moment. Based on language patterns ALONE. They did not assess their skill level, experience, or enthusiasm in that regard. They just studied language patterns.

Here is what they found.

  • High-performer responses contain roughly 60% more first-person pronouns (‘I’, ‘me’, ‘we’). Self-reference in their answers is associated with taking ownership of a situation or experience. Similar to ‘I’ language, using ‘we’ is associated with a willingness to take responsibility. It also can indicate a willingness to share credit and suggest that a person is a team player and possibly has good collaboration skills.
  • Low-performer answers contain about 400% more second-person pronouns (‘you’, ‘your’). ‘You’ messages may signal someone who is not taking responsibility for a situation or experience and may be evidence of a psychological disassociation.
  • Low-performer answers contain about 90% more third-person pronouns, such as ‘he’, ‘she’, and ‘they’. Also suggesting dissociation.

Thus, high-performing job seekers tend to put themselves at the centre of the action demonstrating the ability to control a situation. In addition, they use active voice with a first-person pronoun to convey more energy and connection to the message. On the other hand, low performers are more likely to give abstract or hypothetical answers, distancing themselves from the action/situation by using second and third-person pronouns and passive-voice grammar.

A: I created and refactored SQL queries and scripts, reducing the number of work tickets by 30%.
B: Creation and refactoring of SQL queries and scripts resulted in a 30% reduction in work tickets.

A: I analyzed the diagnostic data to understand the causes of network issues.
B: To understand the causes of network issues, you should analyze the diagnostic data.

You get it – the language hack is to use first-pronouns and active voice. At your next job interview, use ‘I/me/we/our’, put yourself at the centre of the action and assert the experience. Do not distance yourself from your accomplishments! And never refer to your coworkers and company as ‘they’ and ‘that/the company’!

Build right picture

This one is about combining the first two practices to help the employer form a mental picture of you in the company. Let them imagine that you already working there by asking the right questions.


  1. Who is on the project team?
  2. What team will I work with if I have this role?

See how the second question nudges the employer to imagine you as part of the company as if the decision to hire you has already been made? This allows them to form a mental picture of you working there and see where/if you will fit.

What are your life hacks for a successful job interview? Let me know in the comments! And if you have used the techniques described in the post, share your experience!

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