Softer Sides of a Technical Interview

In a technical interview, a candidate with a 9.5 GPA was asked to say why he should be hired. The candidate started telling about his degree, his marks, his institute name, etc. with full of confidence and concentration just like a surgeon performing a complex medical procedure. While he was going on the interviewer stopped him and uttered five simple words, “This isn’t what I want to know”.

The surgeon heard a flatline. The candidate was so sure about what he had been asked to say. He was being super-confident about this common question (“Why should we hire you?”) but equally devoid of interpersonal skills, the candidate spoke, “but this is exactly what you asked me to say, telling about why I should be hired”.

The interviewer replied, “I don’t want to hear about your degree, marks, and college name because I already have your resume, I wanted to know what makes you a good fit for the position that you applied for”.

At that moment, the candidate felt as exposed as a newborn child.

Softskills in a technical interview

Now, the actual question behind “why you? why not others?” is clear, and all we need to understand a “Critical Thinking”, the framework that will fit all our technical skills like a puzzle-solving game on the board of the job profile.

Apart from this, in the competition from the ocean of deserving candidates with competitive technical skills, the deciding-factor to pull out the ideal one can be Soft Skills.

No hiring manager is ever going to directly ask about soft skills in an interview, so it’s entirely up to us to showcase them. The secret is to express your soft skills as part of how we answer the interview questions, even the technical ones. It’s a matter of explaining our answers with a ‘how’, ‘when’ and ‘what’ statement, rather than just talking about a result.

In this question, “why should you be hired?”, it is important to describe your experience also in a structured manner.

The STAR format is a framework to help you organize your experience into sections that flows nicely. From Wikipedia:

Situation — The interviewer wants you to present a recent challenge and situation which you found yourself in

Task — What were you required to achieve? The interviewer will be looking to see what you were trying to achieve from the situation. Some performance development methods use “Target” rather than “Task”. Job interview candidates who describe a “Target” they set themselves instead of an externally imposed “Task” emphasize their own intrinsic motivation to perform and to develop their performance

Action — What did you do? The interviewer will be looking for information on what you did, why you did it and what the alternatives were

Results — What was the outcome of your actions? What did you achieve through your actions and did you meet your objectives? What did you learn from this experience and have you used this learning since?

Here are some aspects of your soft skills that you can focus on:

Crisis-Management: Suppose you are asked, “Tell me about a time when you performed well under enormous pressure.”

Step 1. Using the STAR method to answer this question, we’ll first start with describing the situation:

One time, at my last job, my coworker had a family emergency and needed to miss work for some time, and their most important project was left incomplete and without a manager.

Step 2. Next, we’ll give them the task:

My project manager instructed me to take on the project, and with no leniency on the deadline, I had just a few days to complete a project that originally should have taken several weeks.

Step 3. Then the action is taken to solve the problem:

I requested and was granted a reduction in my weekly goals, allotting me more time to focus on the special project. As far as my weekly goals, I was able to delegate them out evenly to some of my teammates.

Step 4. And finally, the result of your actions:

With the reduction in my daily goals, I was able to dedicate more time to that project. This allowed me to finish it on time and with complete accuracy. My supervisor appreciated my attitude and drive, and I was given several more projects after that, along with an eventual promotion and pay raise.

Perseverance: Now perseverance is the skill to show your constant dedication and motivation for your work. Suppose the hiring manager is asking you, “Give me an example of a goal you couldn’t meet and how you handled it.”

Your answer in the STAR model: Last January, I had to fix a bug for a project for an international client. Throughout the month, I was tasked with small responsibilities that took time away from my goal. I was unable to complete my task, but I talked to my team-lead and detailed all my extra work completed, and I was praised for my accomplishments, as well which motivated me to complete my work within the next 2 days with full of my dedication.

Teamwork: To show your collaborative skills, you should demonstrate your success by saying how you coordinated with your team and how you all made it successful. You can replace all your “I” statements with “we”.

Your answer in the STAR model: As part of a software development team with tight project deadlines, there were always fires that needed to be put out. Perhaps the greatest challenge we faced together as a team was when our technical lead was suddenly hospitalized, eight days before our final rollout. Even in his absence, we overcame this challenge by working overtime and making an extra effort to ensure that all team members were “in the loop” regarding daily project statuses. The release went off without a hitch.

This response has a clearly stated challenge, along with the steps taken to overcome it. That’s the motto of the STAR method.

Time-management: During a job interview, the hiring manager wants to find out how you manage your time and how you prioritize decisions. To show your time-management and decision-making skills,

Your answer in the STAR model: Last month, I was assigned a big project with zero co-workers. Whereas, I had my weekly targets also. I installed a project management software and broke down all my works into small steps ordered by priority based on deadlines. I completed my work smoothly in a calm manner.

This answer is not only showing your time managing power but also showing how organized and adaptive you are !!

Persuasion: What do you think your kids are doing when they display their emotions about you not taking them to the park? Or think about a salesperson narrating all the benefits of the product he has to offer. They are all using their persuasion skills to convince you and achieve something (i.e. happiness, sales target). This is the easiest skill of all to demonstrate — your role in an interview is to persuade the interviewer to hire you! Demonstrate your persuasion skills by clearly stating and elaborating on your answers. Use persuasion along with your communication skills to showcase why you’re the right candidate for the job.

Your answer in the STAR model: I was leading a group of developers in a small deadline project. I tried to convince the technical lead to change the software library that we were about to use for our project. I proposed a concept to him, but he was stubborn and considered the existing package effective enough. I did not give up though. Preparing a visualization on my laptop, and doing some calculations and forecasts, I showed them exactly, in numbers, how much we can improve our performance with the new package with the current choice. There was some back and forth at first, but in the end, my colleagues also realized it was the best option for our budget and our requirements. Finally, the technical lead was also convinced and we got a green light.

Non-verbal Skills: Other than the above verbal skills, you have to focus on the non-verbal skills also. Even how you shake hands can create a long-lasting first impression. Your eye -contact and a positive smile will reflect your amiability. Last but not least your gesture and posture should be confident. Michel De Montaigne said, “Actions speak louder than words”.

We all come across multiple people selling us stuff/services, but we don't buy from everyone. We will only buy from those who are empathetic about our needs and focus on what would serve us best.

In a technical interview, you not only have to qualify for the skills but also as someone whom they would see themselves as working with.

Last but not the least, you can ask them about their company, their work process and the problems they are working on solving.

This is where the communication meets completion as it is a two-way process, so after telling about yourself, you should also show interest to know about them.

After all, you are also interviewing the company.

This creates a lasting impression and builds a relationship between you & the interviewer and creates opportunities for success.

The subject of soft skills is large and we have only tried to touch the surface of it.

We will be releasing multiple such you go through with this transition.

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