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How to Prepare for Technical Interviews

Posted on 
February 24, 2021
|
by 
Team Interview Kickstart

Technical interviews serve as a yardstick to measure your programming skills, personality, coding competence, and overall caliber. Tech interviews at FAANG and tier-1 companies are particularly difficult, requiring a sound prep strategy to ace them.

An on-site interview, for say, at Google, comprises grueling rounds that demand in-depth knowledge of coding, data structures and algorithms. Even experienced candidates need to be extremely well prepared to ace such challenging tech interviews     . 

Despite the challenges, the perks at the other end of the highway are worth your labor and sweat. Besides the annual compensations that spike quite steadily, companies like Google and Apple lay down multiple employee-friendly policies that make your stint enthralling and productive. Totally worth it, right?

Below is a comprehensive guide on technical interview preparation to take you through the process and help you prepare for an illustrious career at tier-1 technology firms.     

Table of Contents

How Are Technical Interviews Unique?

Tech Interview Basics

Skills Required for Technical Interview

How Do Some FAANG Companies Organize Their Interview?

Who you’ll be talking to at Your Interview?

What to Wear to Your Tech Interview?

What to Bring to Your Coding Interview?

What to Expect When You’re Getting Interviewed?

Remote Coding Challenge

Onsite Interview and Whiteboard Challenge

How to be a Perfect Candidate

How to Prepare for a Technical/Coding Interview 

Some Meaningful Questions to Ask the Interviewer

Common Technical Interview Mistakes to Avoid

Before we dive into how to prepare for technical interviews at top-tier organizations, let’s shed some light on what technical interviews are about and how they differ from other job interviews.

How Are Technical Interviews Unique?

A technical interview entails the assessment of candidates for specialist positions in the field of software engineering, IT, and science. Technical interviews are specifically curated to present rigorous tests that examine your problem-solving abilities, knowledge, coding skills, and personality. 

Additionally, these interviews are fiercely competitive. For instance, let us take Google. A highly reputed name in the tech industry, Google stands among the top companies to work for in today’s age and time. So, it is no surprise that this tech giant receives a myriad of applications, close to 3 million a year! However, its acceptance rate for software engineering roles is less than 1%     .

This may sound intimidating or downright nerve-racking to even the best software engineers and coders in the lot. However, here is the silver lining - a conscientious technical interview prep strategy will arm  you well-enough to face this heat. 

Tech Interview Basics

First things first, let us talk about the various stages of these interviews. Contrary to the generic question-and-answer style of job interviews, technical interviews involve a range of challenges and tests. Therefore, the phrase “Show, don’t tell” is quite literally the case in these interviews.

Although the interview procedure varies with each company, there are some aspects that are common, such as:

  • A technical phone screening
  • Remote coding assignment
  • In-person interview

Technical Phone Screening

So, your phone rings one fine morning, and it is the company that you dearly wish to work for. What do you do now? First, congratulate yourself and do a celebratory dance as this means that the company liked your resume. Then, get yourself together and be prepared to answer some basic questions.

During a phone screening, employers seek to gather general information about you and your professional background. Here are some questions that they might throw at you:

  • Tell me about yourself
  • Why are you applying for this role?
  • Describe your role in the previous company     
  • What programming languages are you adept with?     
  • Mention an important project you worked on in your previous company     

An employer, through these questions, examines if you are qualified and well-suited to proceed to the next stage. 

Remote Coding Assignment

After you crack the phone screening (which you will, if you follow this guide or opt for more professional technical interview preparation tips from InterviewKickstart), the next stage is a remote coding assignment. Before they interview you in-person, most tech titans will test your coding skills through a preliminary test. These are usually conducted through a test-coding platform or a shared document.     

These assignments typically focus on the nature of your job position.
For instance, a remote coding assignment at Facebook can involve utilizing an Application Programming Interface (API) to perform a web-related task. Therefore, this assignment will evaluate your knowledge of SQL statements, web technologies as well as databases. 

Additionally, these are take-home tasks. So, you can solve them using whatever resources you have at your disposal within a specified time frame.

In-person interview

The next and final stage is the actual technical interview, also known as the In-person interview. It involves an in-person evaluation of your merits and programming skills by the employer. It also involves coding challenges that you must complete in front of your interviewer(s).

Here is a glimpse at the interview stages in some popular tech companies:

Amazon:

  • 45 minutes to 1 hour of Phone screening
  • Take-home assignment
  • Final “loop” interview

Facebook: 

  • 30 to 50 minutes of an initial technical phone screen
  • An entire day of onsite interview

Google:

  • 30-50 minutes of initial phone screening via a call or Google Hangouts 
  • 4 hours of onsite interview

Uber: 

  • 30-60 minutes of initial phone screening 
  • A day of in-person interview

Technical knowledge and analytical skills required for technical interviews

Recruiters of tech firms usually look for some specific characteristics in a potential employee. So, it is imperative that your technical interview preparation includes brushing up the following skills:

  • Sound knowledge of programming
  • Prowess in project management
  • Advanced problem-solving skills
  • Data analysis and business intelligence
  • Creativity and innovation
  • Communication skills

How do FAANG companies organize their interviews?

While scouring for resources on “how to prepare for technical interviews at FAANG companies”, you must know that the process differs with every organization. For example, the technical interview, and subsequently, the hiring process varies  between Facebook and Google. Further, these interviews also differ slightly within a company, premised on the job position. 

     Here is what the generic interview process at these companies look like:

  • Facebook

Firstly, a Facebook recruiter will get in touch with you upon reviewing your resume. Then, they’ll arrange a series of phone or video interviews to evaluate your interest in the job role as well as your ability to fit into the role. Then, you will face an in-person interview at the company with your potential teammates, managers and other team members. For tech roles, the company will ask you to complete take-home tasks or whiteboard coding tests within 30 minutes. Additionally, alongside the solutions, Facebook also considers how a candidate approaches a problem.

  • Amazon

Depending upon the role that you are applying for, Amazon requires you to take an online assessment. The number and type of assessment depend on the given job position and must be completed within a specified time frame. However, there are two common types of assessment at Amazon: work sample simulations and work style assessments. 

Work sample simulations call for you to complete certain virtual tasks. They usually take 20 minutes - 1 hour to complete and evaluate your interpersonal abilities, problem-solving capabilities and prioritization skills. Work style assessments typically take up 10-20 minutes and revolve around Amazon’s work culture and leadership principles. 

After you pass these evaluations, you will undergo a phone interview, followed by an onsite interview, in which the company will assess your personality as well as your skills pertaining to data structures, algorithms, programming language, operating systems, general machine learning, and artificial intelligence, etc.

  • Apple

The interview process at Apple typically takes about 1-2 months. First, the company evaluates a candidate through a phone screen with a hiring manager. Next up, you go through another round of phone screen with an engineer, which also includes technical questions and a coding challenge on a shared platform. Once you clear these tests, Apple invites you for the onsite interview. The interview consists of multiple rounds, and their technical interview topics include data structures, algorithms, as well as distributed systems design.

  • Netflix

The hiring process at Netflix begins with a phone screen with a hiring manager, which approximately lasts an hour. Then, you face a second phone screen that includes several open-ended technical questions and some more on programming languages and technologies you are familiar with. Netflix also asks you to complete a coding challenge via a shared editor. Its onsite interview consists of two parts: a) technical interview and b) human resource interview. So, tech candidates should be well-prepared to face whiteboard challenges, Leetcode problems, and technical interview topics around data structures and algorithms.

  • Google

Google’s hiring process begins with a brief online assessment in the form of a coding quiz. Before diving into in-depth coding rounds, the company evaluates you by way of shorter conversations over a phone or video call. Then, you receive a small project or a remote coding assignment. After the completion of this task, Google conducts the onsite      interview consisting of 3-4 rounds. Hiring managers ask  open-ended questions that evaluate your technical skills, interpersonal skills, and personality strengths.

Who will you be talking to at your interview?     

The nature of your technical interview relies on a number of factors, and a company’s size is one of them. Essentially, you’ll face one of these two situations:

  • At a larger company

.Technical interviews at larger firms typically include an HR staff, recruiter, and  a member of the engineering team. 

Additionally, the interviewers have a formal list of questions that they will cover within a limited time. So, make sure you’re well-prepared to face tricky questions.      

  • At a startup

In startup land, it is highly likely that a firm does not have a fully functional human resource unit. Therefore, you will be facing member(s) of the engineering team, a CTO, or a senior developer. In startup interviews, you have the liberty to steer the conversation instead of sitting back and passively waiting to give scripted answers to their questions.

What to Wear to Your Tech Interview?

Whoever said, “Dress like you want to be addressed,” could not be more apt. One of the common questions in an interviewee's mind is - “what to wear?”, and rightly so!      After all, a smart attire will definitely make you more confident. Just slip on a well-tailored suit, perhaps a bespoke shirt, and a nice pair of shoes, and notice how you feel. It just feels good, which reflects on your personality as well. 

However, being well-dressed should not be confused with only wearing a suit. For most FAANG companies, you can opt for a lesser formal outfit, such as business casuals. But no matter what your attire is, make sure you pair it up with a dash of confidence. 

If you do not wish to waste too much energy choosing your outfit, here is our nugget of wisdom – dress one level above the company’s prevalent dress code. For instance, if a given company follows a casual dress code, you should be wearing business casual. So, while you are busy with your technical interview preparation, take out some time and find out the company’s dress code. For this, you can refer to their social media handles or simply ask the HR/recruiter. 

What to Bring to Your Coding Interview?

You do not need to carry a lot of things to a technical interview - a pen, notepad, and printed copies of your resume should suffice. Additionally, you need not bring your laptop or coding samples with you unless the recruiter requests it.  

What to Expect When You Are Getting Interviewed? 

Here is a rundown on the phases of a technical interview and some quick tips to ace each of them:

Phone Screen

Congratulations! Your resume has caught the eye of the company. Now, the phone screen is your shot at making an excellent first impression. For starters, remember to sound confident, calm, and collected when answering their questions. These questions usually aim to analyze your soft skills and basic tech skills. Therefore, make sure to display your enthusiasm, learning abilities, communication skills, etc. 

Your technical interview preparation should entail the following points:               

  • Be honest

Tell your interviewer about your previous roles, your strengths, and your expectations from the future job position. The  key here is to be honest when communicating about your background, as recruiters are adept at evaluating people. So, avoid inflating your achievements just to impress the recruiter.     

  • Give scenario-based answers

We said it before, and we will say it again: show, don’t tell

When faced with behavioral questions, try answering them through past experiences. For instance, if the interviewer asks, “tell me about how you work under pressure”, do not give a headfirst, generic answer. Instead, talk about a situation in your previous job role when you handled pressure well and managed to meet critical deadlines.

How to Stand Out Over the Phone?

A simple trick to set yourself apart from the crowd is to tailor your answers to correspond with the  job role and the company you are applying for. When your answers relate to the given position and organization, it signifies that you do not just want a job but that you want that particular job in that specific company. 

Remote Coding Challenge

This step is an intrinsic part of the recruitment process in FAANG companies. A remote coding challenge varies with every firm but is premised upon the same objective – evaluation of your all-round technical skills. They essentially evaluate the following abilities:

  • Your coding skills
  • Testing code as they are written
  • Time management
  • Your problem-solving prowess
  • Collaboration skills

Let us now gloss over some common sorts of remote coding questions and challenges:

  • Some firms present you with a take-home task which you must complete within a given time limit. This time frame can vary from 24-48 hours. Here, you can relish the luxury of using whatever resources necessary to complete the task. 
  • Other companies require you to face a real-time monitored challenge to examine your coding skills. Generally, this assignment takes place through a video interview coupled with a web-based code editor, such as Collabedit, CoderPad, or Google Doc.
  • Startup companies may not include a remote coding challenge at all. Instead, they usually conduct onsite interviews right after a phone screening.

How to Stand Out in a Remote Coding Challenge?

Needless to say, you must complete the given task on your own devices. Do not cheat or get help from others. More often than not, interviewers conduct follow-up rounds and cover technical interview topics pertaining to the given task. So, when working on a remote coding challenge, make sure that you put your DIY skills to use. As a result, when an interviewer probes, you can answer him/her with ease. Also, if you resort to external help during the challenge, your lack of clarity on the process will expose you. 

Additionally, sometimes, these challenges are accompanied by an optional “bonus” requirement. Therefore, in order to truly stand out from the rest, complete these requirements and earn some brownie points.

Onsite Interview and Whiteboard Challenge

This is the most daunting stage for most candidates, if not all. At this point, you will see the office, get familiar with the team as well as get a feel of the work culture. Additionally, you will face a whiteboard challenge, wherein the interviewer will present you with a coding problem and ask you to solve it.

However, before you proceed to solve the given problem, keep these points at the back of your head:

  • Ask clarifying questions prior to writing the code.
  • Give your interviewer a window into your thought process and talk them through your code.
  • Do not get flustered; keep calm and speak clearly and precisely.
  • Refer to concepts by their formal names and avoid ambiguous words. For instance, instead of using the word “result”, refer to it as an output, return value, or side effect. 
  • If you are stuck at some point, do not panic. Think out loud and try out new ideas. Demonstrate that you are trying your best to solve the problem at hand.

How to Stand Out in an Onsite Interview and Whiteboard Challenge?

How to be the Perfect Candidate?

We agree that the first impression is important. However, it is definitely not as crucial as the last impression. So, part ways with your interviewers on a good note in order to stand out as a memorable candidate. Here is how you can achieve this:

  • Send a short email to the recruiter or hiring manager thanking them for their time.
  • If a panel conducted your interview, consider reaching out to them individually or sending a group email with a general note of thanks.
  • If you do not hear back from the company within a week, you can reach out to them via a follow-up email. You can reiterate your interest in the role and enquire about the potential next steps. 

             

Some extra tips while preparing for technical interviews     

  1. Study the crucial CS fundamentals
  2. Choose a programming language and master it
  3. Brush up your skills through regular coding challenges and smart practice
  4. Understand tech fundamentals
  5. Have a relevant project to talk about at the interview
  6. Learn the essential time management skills
  7. Enhance your communication skills through mock coding interviews
  8. When it doubt, find a coding mentor or a study partner
  9. Join a coding boot camp or take up relevant courses
  10. Increase your knowledge on the subject by reading good coding books

You can also sign up for Interview Kickstart’s Pre-enrollment Webinar and gain insights from our founders on how to prepare for technical interviews.

Some Meaningful Questions to Ask the Interviewer

A memorable interview is a two-way street. To establish a lasting impression on the interviewers, try to maintain the flow of communication by asking appropriate questions. Although you must tailor your questions as per the situation, here are some generic questions that one can ask an employer:

  • What are the required skill sets or characteristics to excel at this job position?
  • What are the challenges that an individual in this role would face?
  • How is the company’s present work culture?
  • What tools, tech stack, or frameworks does the company use?
  • Is there a scope of growth in this job position?
  • Does the company offer training for this position?
  • What is the next step in the hiring process?

Common Technical Interview Mistakes to Avoid

When it comes to technical interview preparation, knowing what not to do holds as much importance as knowing what to do. Given below are some interview mistakes that you must keep at bay:

  • Showing up at the interview underprepared
  • Solving a given code without giving it considerable thought
  • Not putting in enough efforts to communicate
  • Not being humble during the interview

Needless to say, your technical interview preparation plays a pivotal role in your professional prospects. After all, to be prepared is half the victory

Interview Kickstart offers a comprehensive technical interview preparation course to software engineers. With over 70 instructors, coaches, and interviewers from top tech companies, we’ve helped more than 5,000 engineers to land their dream job.      

If you’ve put in the effort, irrespective of the results, you must know that you’ve gained an incredible experience in your professional life. So, make sure that you pat yourself on the back.

“As long as you’ve got passion, faith and are willing to work hard, you can do anything and have anything you want in this world.” - Unknown 

We wish you luck in your future endeavors.

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What should I say at the beginning of an interview?

You should start an interview with a polite greeting to the interviewers, thanking them for the meeting. You can say, “Thank you for meeting me today”, “I am pleased to meet you”, “Thank you for taking the time to see me today”, etc. 

  1. How do you answer why we should hire you?

When faced with the question of “why should we hire you”, you must highlight your skills and experience that will prove to be beneficial for the company in the long run. Additionally, convey your excitement to work for the company and what makes you a valuable addition to the team.

Attend our Free Webinar on How to Nail Your Next Technical Interview

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