Your chances of landing a new job can hinge on your technical interview performance. Here are ten tips for preparing for, and acing, your next one!
Given that making the wrong hire can be such a costly mistake for firms, technical interviews are fast becoming an essential way for hiring managers to thoroughly vet potential candidates.
Although candidates without a computer science background can become more stressed about technical interview, leading experts including the author of ‘Cracking the Coding Interview’, Gayle McDowell, say this shouldn’t be the case. Unlike resume-based interviews, technical interviews give no weighting to someone’s educational background. They are truly meritocratic in that they only test whether a candidate can perform the required tasks such as coding challenges, puzzles, brain teasers or word problems.
McDowells’ outlook is seconded by CodeFight’s CEO Tigran Sloyan. According to Sloyan, technical interviews provide an "objective platform to measure skills” that is free from bias. As long as you can get the job done, there’s no reason why the school that you went to, or the route you took into programming, will be a hindrance.
However, there are a number of tricks and tips that don’t hurt to know along the way. Whether you are applying for an internship or your next job, these ten expert-approved tips will help you to prepare for, and ace, your next technical interview.
#1. Complete at Least 20 Coding Challenges
According to Google engineer Patrick Shyu, the first stage of the interview process is a phone screening interview during which you will be asked some basic coding questions. During a recent video on the subject, Shyu revealed that his best recommendation is to practice online coding challenges to get through that first phone screen.
Shyu’s view is seconded by Ed Nathanson, director of talent acquisition at Rapid7. According to Nathanson, coding challenges will also help prepare for the on-site portion of the interview. He notes that rusty whiteboarding skills have let many otherwise impressive candidates down. If whiteboarding doesn’t come naturally to you, there are a large number of free, online coding challenges that can help you prep for the big day. HackerRank and CodeFights are two examples of good practice resources that can mean the difference between being hired and missing the mark. According the HackerRank’s research data, programmers perform 200 percent better in skills assessment tests if they’ve completed at least 20 coding challenges, compared with programmers who haven’t practiced their skills.
In a blog post about this research, HackerRank’s Ritika Trikha, explained that the practice submissions of over two thousand developers were examined to calculate this statistic. HackerRank can calculate how many tests programmers will need to complete in order to pass a coding interview based on the results of their practice coding challenges. Developers with more than three years of experience can increase their interview chances by 50% after completing 20 challenges, Trikha revealed.
Tip #2. Do Your Homework on the Company
While technical interviews focus predominantly on your technical skills, communication skills play a huge part in landing the role. It’s essential that you research the company you are applying for before you go in. You need to know more about a company than just their products and you must be able to communicate why your skills make you the perfect fit for their position.
According to Nathanson, sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn are great places to find information on the company you will be interviewing with. Nathanson advises that candidates should search for information about their interviewers, if they are told this beforehand.
Why should the company hire you?
Why does your background and skillset make you a good match for the position?
Nathanson advises that companies often test candidates to see how they think and you need to be prepared for this. Subpar communication skills can be a deal-breaker, even if your technical skills are brilliant.
#3. Prepare a Portfolio That Matches Your Position
Tigran Sloyan’s advice for candidates who are preparing for a technical interview is to prepare a portfolio that matches the position they are applying for. He advises candidates to do a code review with a friend or colleague in preparation. This is because there are normally “one or two senior engineers, or QA engineers” who will review your code during a technical interview, he says. Therefore, you should become comfortable receiving feedback on your coding beforehand in order to be more prepared.
So, what should your portfolio look like? Examples of your skills and experience in the real-world are your best bet, advises Sloyan. These could include samples of past projects or a link to your GitHub repository. You could bring in proposals you’ve written and examples of your coding.
Sloyan advises that creating a solid portfolio is often most challenging for developers with no computer science degree. He advises these candidates to find a professional mentor or colleague who can review their code prior to the interview.
#4. Prepare an ‘Elevator Pitch’
Imagine that you had less than thirty seconds to sell your skills, experience and qualities to a complete stranger. Could you do it? The so-called ‘elevator pitch’ is all about selling your idea or company to someone you meet for less than half a minute in an elevator. The idea is to create a concise, streamlined speech that will win people over before the elevator stops.
When you attend a technical interview, the product you are selling is yourself. Developing a short speech is a powerful way to create a lasting impression on an interviewer. According to Google engineer Patrick Shyu, many people “fall into the trap of giving a bunch of jargon,” that leaves the interviewer bewildered as to what they’ve actually done. Try to prepare a way of explaining something impressive that you’ve done in a comprehensible fashion.
#5. Take Time to Understand the Technical Requirements
Nathanson’s overall advice for interviewees is to delve into the job listing to gain insights into the technical requirements.
Which particular technologies are employed by the employer?
Which skills are required?
What knowledge is essential for someone applying for the role?
According to Nathanson, it is important that you match your experience with the requirements of the company. The best preparation is to ensure you can describe why you are the best fit for the role and how your skills and experience will help the firm.
#6. Brush up Your Fundamental Knowledge
According to HackerRank’s CEO Vivek Ravisankar, there is no single process for testing programming skills and technical interviews can take a number of different approaches. Ravisankar advises candidates to familiarize themselves with the fundamentals including acronyms and jargon. This is especially important for self-taught programmers who lack a formal background in computer science.
One of the best ways to brushing up on your fundamental knowledge is by taking online tutorial and practical tests, says Ravisankar. A key reason for the ongoing popularity of Gayle McDowell’s Cracking the Coding Interview is that it is so good for helping programmers brush up on their technical knowledge. As well as practice questions, it contains refreshers for computer science concepts.
Although these concepts, such as the fundamentals of data structures and algorithms are taught in computer science degree programs, they can be the basis for many technical interviews so they are worth revising. “Junior developers do better on these basics,” says Ravisankar, probably because they learned them more recently. However, he notes that experienced developers can do just as well by simply putting in the practice. This shows the value of spending time to brush up on technical aspects of your skill set.
#7. Ask a Buddy to Give You a Mock Interview
One of Nathanson’s top tips is to ask a buddy to give you a mock interview. Going through this process can help prepare your mind for what’s coming ahead. You can practice using technical terminology in a lucid and fluid manner so that it seems natural and unforced.
Quite often, interviewers are less interested in whether you produce the correct answers to challenges and questions than they are in seeing how you work through problems with other people. In a mock interview, you can practice thinking out loud as you would in a real technical interview. The act of doing this will get you much more comfortable with articulating your thought processes.
#8. Practice Articulating Your Thoughts and Asking Questions
Our seventh tip comes from WinterWyman’s Tracy Cashman, who offers that companies often aren’t really expecting you to arrive at a fully formed solution during the interview. Instead, interviewers want to see how you solve problems and work to find solutions. Not articulating your thought process in a technical interview is actually where most interviews go awry. If you’re not explaining what you’re thinking, the interviewer has no chance to course-correct you towards the right solution.
According to Cashman, if an interviewer asks you a technical question that you aren’t sure about, it is fine to admit that you don’t know or to ask for clarification. If you don’t speak up, the interviewer won’t have any insight into how you solve problems, which is exactly what they want to find out. Cashman advises that if you don’t know the answer to a question, honesty is the best policy.
#9. Work on Your Closing
So, do you have any questions about the position?
The answer should always be a resounding “Yes!”
As many interviews end awkwardly, the closing is one of the best things to work on in your mock interviews. You should prepare a raft of questions about the company, its culture and other projects or initiatives it may have in the pipeline.
If there are any specifics of your work experience or skillset that you don’t feel were covered, the end of the interview is a great time to bring them up. If you prepared an elevator pitch but didn’t find a great time to deliver it, you can use the last few seconds to really sell yourself to the interviewer and make a lasting impression.
Our last tip is to relax, you’re going to be just fine! We know that interviews can be scary and talking to an interviewer to prove your worth can be downright terrifying. But know that you are going to own this. Remember that interviews can be long processes and there’s going to be some rockiness. Going in there with the confidence in knowing that you’ve prepared will shine through.
So start preparing, relax and wait for the job offers to roll in!