The Ultimate Software Engineer Interview Prep Guide
Technical interview preparation is key for any software engineer looking for new opportunities. Whether you want to become a part of technological giants such as Google or Facebook or want a job at a startup, your technical skills will be tested, and sometimes, on more than one occasion.
If you are looking for a new job, knowing how to prepare for a software engineering interview should be your top priority. Learn more about this process and a few valuable tips on navigating it below.
Technical Interviews 101
IT interviews are generally very specialized and rigorous instances that will test your skill level at coding, as well as your problem-solving abilities. It’s the moment where you need to show the expertise your resume claims.
This type of interview will reveal to the interviewer everything they need to know about how you operate, the type of decisions you can make under pressure, your assertiveness, and the thought process behind your actions.
They are challenging and sometimes even intimidating, but by prepping and knowing what to expect, they can take the edge off, even if the interview doesn’t turn out to be exactly what you prepared for (be ready for some curveballs!).
An IT job interview generally involves three stages:
- A technical phone call where the recruiter or HR representative wants to know more about you and your qualifications for the position.
- A remote coding interview or assignment is sometimes requested by companies as a preliminary instance to test your skills before actually completing a test in person.
- An onsite/whiteboarding challenge, commonly known as the technical interview, requires completing a series of coding challenges on a whiteboard in front of your interviewers.
The process can vary depending on the company, but technical interviews are necessary for any candidate looking for a software engineering job. Regardless of the company you are interviewing for, be patient and prepare for a long process.
A member of the engineering team generally conducts technical interviews. Depending on the company’s size, you can be interviewed by anyone from a senior developer to a whole tech team or even the Chief Technology Officer (CTO).
How to Prepare for a Technical Interview
Technical interview preparation requires dedication, practice, and quite a bit of effort, but doing this can easily set you apart from the rest of the candidates since you will come across as professional, and most people don’t take the time to prepare.
When it comes to preparing for a technical interview, there is no secret other than dedication. However, these tips to crack a technical interview can help guide you:
Make Sure Your Technical Knowledge Is Solid
Apart from behavioral questions, you will be asked about more technical aspects of your work like algorithms, structures, coding, and much more. So before any interview, we recommend you take a closer look at the basics and have a short refresher course to strengthen your concepts.
This will be especially important for the remote challenge and the onsite interview, where your knowledge will be put to the test.
Prepare Answers for Potential Questions
What kind of questions can you expect in a technical interview? Technical interviews are not uniform at all. Questions change constantly depending on which company is conducting the interview and who is interviewing. You can either be asked more company-oriented or hypothetical questions for the most part.
First things first: if the recruiter or interviewer sends information before the interview, make sure to read through all of it and ask any questions beforehand.
While company-oriented questions will significantly depend on how big the company is, don’t leave these to chance.
Do your research. Visit the company website, the About Us page, and any other content page that might provide helpful insights. Glassdoor is a great site to learn more about because it includes comments for present and former employees. You can discover how aligned you might be with the company culture, the type of projects the company commonly handles, etc.
You can find the typical questions big software companies like Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple, etc., ask their potential candidates on several other sites. Here are a few examples:
- 35 Google’s Tricky Interview Questions and Answers (2021)
- Facebook Interview Questions and Answers
- Top 35 Amazon interview questions (example answers included)
- The Top 22 of Apple Interview Questions (With Sample Answers)
- Microsoft’s most asked interview questions
Behavioral, also known as hypothetical or situational, questions generally aim to learn more about your work style, skill level, and recent accomplishments. You may be asked questions about, for example:
- Whether you prefer to work alone or with a team
- Your favorite traits in the programming language you use more
- The last bug you dealt with and how you went about fixing it
- The workflow your team generally follows on any given project, its pros and cons.
Classic behavioral questions such as “Tell me about yourself?” or “Why are you interested in this job?” are fairly common, but not having them thought in advance can lead to superficial or straightforward answers and leave the interviewer unimpressed.
Keep in mind that the interviewer is looking for traits and attitudes compatible with the team already in place, so try to make your answers positive overall, even if you are pointing out negative aspects.
Regardless of the type of question the interviewer asks, taking the time to prep for any software engineer interview will benefit you. Knowing how you want to frame specific answers and having a few preset phrases you can resort to will help you feel more confident.
Take Your Time and Don’t Dwell on Your Mistakes
Given the length of technical interviews, you can often feel like you need to hurry, and this is not necessarily the case. Take your time to think over your answers and consider the question carefully. If you have doubts, ask.
Don’t strive to be perfect. You will make mistakes, so try not to let them affect the rest of the interview. If something isn’t right, try and move on and keep your focus on the rest. You will lose focus by dwelling on your mistakes, and it might be challenging to continue engaging.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Practice is key to ace an interview prep for a software engineer. With every answer, you will gain confidence and take the edge off of the process. Practice makes perfect, whether you are prepping for the first phone interview or a technical interview.
You can ask friends and put together mock interviews to help you practice. If you have friends with more technical backgrounds that can understand and ask follow-up questions, make sure to ask them for help.
Explain your thought process behind recent projects and tasks you needed to work on, think back to how you resolved specific roadblocks, and how you would explain the situation and your solution.
You can always resort to interviewing prep software such as Pramp or CodeInterview, where you can schedule an interview. Simply select your primary topic, language, and area of expertise and book a slot. It’s easy, and it can help you feel better about the process.
Facing the Remote Code Challenge
This stage is not as rigorous as the onsite technical interview with the whiteboard, but it will require much preparation. The conditions can vary depending on the company: they can either send a test for you to complete at home and give you a deadline or send a real-time challenge to monitor your work and see how you code.
However, smaller companies and startups don’t generally have this stage in their process and instead have the whiteboard challenge onsite after the telephone interview.
During this stage, be sure to thoroughly go over the material, instructions, and requirements and ask questions. Plan your code before writing it, and make sure you complete every task required. Always review your work before sending it.
If the challenge is in real-time, think aloud and discuss the process. Be inclusive, show that you are a member of the team.
Onsite Interview: the Last and Decisive Step
This is the last step in the IT interview process, and it’s where the interviewer will evaluate your knowledge, skill, and problem-solving ability in real-time. This process might be less formal in startups, but if you, for instance, are interviewing to work at Google, this stage may include more than one onsite interview.
Before starting, make sure to ask questions and resolve any doubts you have. This will make it easier for you to begin your project more confidently. Think aloud and guide the interviewer/s through what you are thinking and why you want to tackle the problem in that specific way. Your ability to communicate clearly is essential.
If at any point you get stuck, breathe and stay calm. Try out new ideas. Don’t stop, simply try and look at the problem from a different perspective. The interviewer must see that you are trying your best to develop a solution. If you don’t know, be honest and explain how you would solve the problem if faced with it at work. Keep it simple and precise, don’t overthink everything.
Software engineer interview prep is key to ace your technical interview, regardless of how many stages the process has. Take your time, practice, and get ready ahead of time. There are thousands of free resources at your disposal to hone your skills or practice your interviews, so be sure to take advantage of them all.