12 Steps to Prepare for your Next Coding Interview
Coding interviews are no joke. You’re often in a room for several hours standing in front of a whiteboard and talking through how you would go about solving any number of programming questions. There is a ton of studying, preparing and researching that should be done upfront. The better prepared you are, the better you will perform in your interview and ultimately increasing your chances of landing the job.
Here are 12 things you can do to prepare for your next coding interview.
1) Research the company. Read the website backward and forward. Read articles about it. If it is a startup, check CrunchBase for funding amount and rounds. Look up the founders, and anyone else you will be meeting with on LinkedIn. Knowing people’s backgrounds (ie how technical they are, what role they play) will help you know how to speak with them. While you might ask other developers about their day to day challenges, if you meet the CEO, more relevant questions would include ones about the product roadmap, long term vision, competitive threats, etc.
2) Come dressed just a touch nicer than everyone else. If it is a tshirt and jeans kind of place, a button up and jeans will make you look like a serious interviewer without coming off as stuffy. Some startups won’t hire someone that shows up in a suit! Then again, if the role is at a bank, a suit is likely the only thing an interviewee should wear.
3) Arrive 15 minutes early. We focus mostly on the NY market, and in NY transit can be touch and go. Don’t let “train traffic in front of us” cost you your dream job. That said, if you do arrive late, try not to dwell on it. Kick as much butt as you can on the rest of the interview. Explain what happened and move on. We’ve seen candidates come late because of transit issues or getting lost, that have still gotten a job offer.
4) Be nice to everyone you meet in the company. This includes the recruiter, receptionist, the janitor, and the junior developer who asks you a linked list question. Any interaction you have with the company should be considered part of your interview. We saw a Director of Engineering candidate lose his dream job because he acted like junior dev’s questions were below them. Today, I would advise him as such: If you know the answers, go ahead and answer. If you’re too removed from hands-on coding to feel comfortable, keep the mood light and acknowledge that you’ve been focused more recently on leading teams, and are rusty on the things he’s asking. Trust that the company will take all of the feedback holistically. While everyone’s voice counts in the interview round tables, most companies do not use consensus for hiring.
5) Don’t ramble. Make sure you internalize each question and what is truly being asked. Stick to that and don’t go off on tangents. The interviewer will ask follow up questions if necessary. When discussing a highly technical solution, check in from time to time to make sure they are following you. Watch for non-verbal cues such as looking at the clock or a glazed over look; they may indicate it is time to wrap up the answer.
6) Ask clarifying questions. Most coding questions will have more than one solution. Do they care about code performance more, or security more? Do they want you to worry about certain edge cases (call them out) or can you create a solution that works 99% of the time? If they say they can’t answer questions, call out any assumptions you make.
7) Be honest about what you know and what you don’t know. Never try to pretend you know something you don’t. If you’ve listed a technology on your resume, but you’re rusty on it, or only used it on a small project, make that clear rather than hyping it up. You’ll most certainly get caught when they tech you out. Interviewers don’t expect you to know everything. Stay positive. If they ask you to code something up in language X, see if you can code it up in language Y instead. Being strong on CS fundamentals – and being honest – will get you far in the interview.
8) Use your research to show your interest but not be creepy. Most interviewers are turned off by a candidate that has no questions. You can ask follow up questions about things you read, ie to see if new initiatives launched may be something you’ll work on if you join. Stay away from questions that were already answered online. A safe way to do this is to keep questions more on the personal level, ie How long have you worked here? What were some of the biggest challenges in adapting to the work and culture here? How would we work together if I joined? Some interviewers will love it that you looked them up ahead of time, and others may be creeped out. Tread lightly here. If you have something truly in common, like you went to the same college, that’s probably fine to bring up. However, if it is more tangential, “I see you like to ski; my dad likes that,” it feels like you’re grasping at straws to make a connection and it will likely feel forced.
9) Always stay positive. If they ask you something like, “Why are you looking to leave your current employer,” do not take this as an opportunity to bash them. Mention some things you like about working there, but explain why it may not be the best place for your career moving forward. They know that if they hire you, someday you will be sitting in another company’s office talking about your tenure with them – and nobody wants to be bashed.
10) Have a good answer to the question, “Why do you want to work here?” You will likely be asked that. If you don’t have an answer to that, why are you interviewing anyway?
11) Take note of each of your interviewers’ names. The recruiter may ask questions like, “How was your conversation with Jared?” Avoid embarrassment by remembering who that was.
12) Email (or snail mail) a thank-you note, calling out all of the people you met. We have certainly heard companies ding people a little for not sending a thank you follow up.