by Sheri Dover - Sept. 10, 2019
Cracking the Coding Interview: 6 Tips for Technical Interviews

Congratulations!  You’ve landed that in-person interview! Tackling your first interview can be less nerve-racking when you know what to expect.  

It the programming world, each technical interview is unique, and may include anything from whiteboarding, knowledge-based questions and brain teasers designed to test your technical knowledge and how you work under pressure. The good news is that most technical interviews are designed to give you partial credit. Make sure you get all the credit you can by keeping in mind the following tips designed to help you ace your next technical interview. 

How to prepare

  1. Practice Coding Challenges 

Spend a structured part of each day during your job search building your coding skills. Learn new skills by making web apps and building stuff rather than treading water in endless tutorials. 

2. Use to research the company.

Find out what they have asked in interviews in the past, what technologies they use, what they value and what the normal compensation is for the position you are applying for. 

What to expect

Most tech companies start with a phone screening. They will ask questions about your skills and experience, get a general sense of who you are behaviorally and ask about your compensation expectations. Do not give the first number! Tell them that at this point you are most interested in finding out how you fit in the company and how you can add value to a team there. They will ask you again right before they offer you a job. At that point, you might tell them that you don’t have that number at this time and that it will partially depend on the benefits package. You may also say that “I’m looking for the normal market rate for the position”. 

The next step is usually an off-site tech challenge. The company will send you one or more tech challenges or short projects to solve in a given time frame. It’s perfectly acceptable to ask questions about what to expect in the challenge before you start. It shows that you think ahead. Again, reading about the company’s interview process on Glassdoor can help. 

After that, you will do in in-house tech interview, or an in-house behavioral interview. 

Tips for an in-house technical interview

  1. Show them how you solve problems by talking through what you don’t know. 

Technical interviews are designed to find out what you know, how you solve problems and how you work under pressure. It’s completely okay and normal to not know the answer to everything. You probably know something related to the question. If you don’t know an answer, talk about what you do know about the topic. Show what you know by keeping the dialog going. Keep calm by practicing your breathing, ensuring that you’re maintaining an even tempo. Whenever you feel the nerves start to get to you, smile like you mean it! When you smile, it tends to put your interviewer at ease which in turn will help you to feel at ease too. 

The questions and problems you’ll be presented with will inevitably get progressively harder in order to test where your knowledge starts and stops. Talking through your thought process and writing out your work are sure-fire ways to keep a calm head. 

2. It’s okay to be nervous - most everyone is nervous during an interview!

If you get stuck, take a breath and let your interviewer know that you’re nervous. It helps fill in what could otherwise be silence and reminds the interviewer that you probably know more than you’re able to say.  

3. Don’t forget your interviewer. You may be looking at your future teammate!

Your interviewer is looking for skilled communicators and collaborators. If you need clarification, ask! This opens up a dialogue with the interviewer while gaining context if you need a little assistance. Don’t discount your interviewer- they’re an important resource! 

When all is said and done, your interviewer is someone who you may be working with every day. Even if you missed a few questions, the overall connection that you make should be positive as they are looking for someone who can elevate their team. If you’re anxious about small talk, a good tip is to practice a 30 second elevator pitch for when you’re asked to talk about yourself at home.

4. Don’t give up and pass on an answer.

When in doubt, use pseudo-code, or talk through what you do know. 

It’s better to demonstrate that you understand the underlying logic - even if you can’t remember the syntax - than it is to leave the question on the table. Practicing how you will handle getting stumped is a good way to ensure you prevail should it actually happen. Saying, “I’m not sure but drawing from my knowledge of these related topics I would guess the answer may be…” is a much better way of answering interview questions than just saying, “I don’t know.” Mastering this form of answering demonstrates that you are thinking creatively outside the box and drawing on your knowledge and that you’re not content with giving up. Interviewers are looking for candidates who show drive, grit, and initiative like this. 

5. Leave arrogance at the door, but still get a leg up by allowing the interviewer to see you as a rockstar for multiple projects. 

Top candidates are eager to learn, adaptable, and resilient to the ever-changing environment of technology and business needs succeed. The humbler and more eager to learn you appear, the more projects and roles your future manager can envision you in. 

When interviewing, make sure to approach the situation as if there is much to be learned during that interview and your interviewer will remember you as someone they can teach, grow, and develop into a team superstar in the future.

6. Brag just a little.

Show them what you’re made of by showcasing some recent projects!

While you don’t want to be arrogant, you do want to show off your skills! Come prepared with one or two projects that you accomplished in your last position, or on your own! Showcase a project that has the minimum level of complexity to match the job you’re applying to. 

Don’t have a project you can showcase? Try building one! Study the job requirements and produce an independent project that matches in complexity. The extra level of detail, work, and effort will set you apart and give you a leg up before you even walk in the door!

Join us for Monday Night Python every Monday at PDX Code Guild and get help from other programmers and extra motivation to finish that project. Keep these tips in mind so you can achieve your dream programming position! What are some of your best technical interview tips? Leave them in the comments below!