Top tips to prepare for software engineering interviews
This is a blog is a guest contribution from Pathrise.com
When you are looking for a job as an engineer, whether it is your first job out of school or a new role after years in the industry (or something in between!), interviewing is a hurdle you will have to overcome.
Unfortunately, a lot of the job search, especially when it comes to interviewing, is shrouded in mystery.
At Pathrise, we have worked with hundreds of software engineers on their job search so we can help uncover some of the more mysterious elements and give candidates a better sense of what to expect. A lot of our work with job-seekers focuses on helping them prepare for both technical and behavioral interviews, so we wanted to share our top tips.
Start by researching the company
This is an extremely important step in the interview prep process and is often not taken seriously. While applying for big companies such as Google, Facebook, and Apple, candidates often think that they do not need to do research because they are already familiar with the product.
That is not true. You need to walk into your interviews with knowledge about the company’s mission, values, and goals. You can do this by going to the company’s website and reading the About Us section.
Researching the culture of a company is also crucial. You should talk about the culture and values of an organization during your interview so that recruiters see you as an ideal fit. For example, if you are interviewing at Facebook, start with their company page to learn more about their mission and history. Next, take a look at the Facebook Life page to understand the company’s culture and values, read testimonials from employees, and more. Finally, you can look at the company’s Diversity page to learn about their commitment to diversity in the workplace.
Why is this important? In your behavioral interviews, you will likely be asked directly about their mission and possibly about their values. Even when you are not directly asked, you should be adding information about how their values match your own in your responses. For example, “In my internship as a Community Manager at Twitter, I worked to make sure that the content was appropriate for everyone. This helped me recognize the importance of doing work that has an impact, which I know is a value here at Facebook. It is something I want to continue doing as part of my full-time position.”
You should also spend some time researching the company’s products and areas of work of the company you are interviewing with so that you know what to expect if you are selected.
Citing an example from Facebook again—the company has a variety of products and teams listed on their Areas of Work page, giving you the opportunity to learn what they are working on, the languages and programs they use, and how you can contribute, even if this is your first attempt at a software engineering job.
If this seems to be too time-consuming, we have created 200+ interviewing insider company guides that you can use to learn about the mission, values, hiring processes, interview questions, demographics, and more of top tech companies around the world.
Practice for both technical and behavioral interviews
Before attending an interview, it is imperative to analyze the types of questions you will most likely be asked and practice them. There are a lot of resources available for software engineers to help them prepare for technical interviews. We’ve compiled a list of 90+ technical questions from real tech companies, which can be a good place to start. Also, we created a step-by-step guide to solving a classic software engineering interview question asked at Google and many other tech companies. Furthermore, you can use platforms such as HackerEarth to practice technical questions.
Besides technical interviews, there are also behavioral interviews. The goal of these sessions is to discover how you act in specific situations and if you are a good fit for the company culture. People often forget to prepare for these behavioral interviews, but they are just as important as the technical sessions.
The best way to practice is to write down answers to real behavioral questions and say them out loud in front of a mirror or to a friend. You don’t want to memorize or sound rehearsed, but getting yourself into the practice of saying these will help you feel more comfortable when you are asked the question.
Anxiety often arises when people don’t know what is going to happen. Understanding the structure of a behavioral interview will help reduce anxiety during an interview.
- Introduce yourself
The first part of these interviews is always an introduction, so it is important to have your elevator pitch ready. It should be no longer than 2-5 minutes. You can talk about your education, experience, projects, and conclude with a summary of yourself as a candidate and a response to the most common question, “Why this company?”
- Resume deep dive
The interviewer will review your resume with you and ask you questions about your previous positions, projects, and education. Be truthful.
- Specific questions
Interviewers will ask questions about specific situations (“Have you ever had a conflict with a coworker?”) as well as to test your culture fit (“Our values are XYZ. Tell us about a time in which you embodied one of these values.”)
- Why this company
When crafting a response to “Why this company?” always talk about the mission or product first and the approach or values second (ex: “Nobody else approaches it like you. You’re being more scientific than ever before”). Avoid talking about perks, salary, and everything else.
- Your questions
At the end of the interview, you will have time to ask questions. Asking questions that show your willingness to learn and drive to do well will help the interviewer leave with a positive impression about you. See our top 10 questions to ask at the end of the interview for ideas.
Keep your responses succinct
The best responses are clear, specific, and concise. Focus on numbers, context, the reasoning behind the decisions you made, technologies or algorithms, and examples so that your responses hit the empirical points.
We always tell people that it is better to have a short, more specific response in which you offer to ‘go into more details’ than to continue talking for too long. If the interviewer is interested and they want to learn more, they will ask you for more details.
For example, “I implemented 3 core features to help us with our goal of getting more views. At a high level, I worked with the design team on a revamped landing page, developed a more efficient and innovative social media sharing, and highlighted referrals clearly. With these features, we reached 100,000 views in a week! I can share more details with you about each of these tasks if you’d like.”
With these tips to help you prepare for your interviews, you should be able to go in with knowledge and confidence. With our help, the candidates in our program have seen their interview performance scores doubled on average and we hope yours increase too.
If you’re interested in working with an advisor 1-on-1 on your job search, become a Pathrise fellow.
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