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Navigating the Technical Interview

Regardless of how much history and success you’ve had with interviewing, the process can be daunting. For software engineers, the challenge compounds when employers incorporate measures of fluid intelligence in the form of whiteboard interviewing, coding puzzles and general problem solving. So how can engineers best prepare for these complex meetings, called “technical interviews,” at which intelligence, personality and communication skills are all being assessed?

While a technical interview aims to gauge a candidate’s problem-solving ability—which, in theory, is a skill that cannot be taught—there are still steps you can take to prepare for a better end result. 

Practice Makes Perfect

With practice and repetition, you will greatly enhance your ability to calmly direct your thoughts to the task at hand. As a recruiter, I partner with candidates going through technical interviews. I often see a drastic improvement in performance from the first assessment to the second, third, fourth and so on. Each experience becomes more comfortable, and each session goes better than the last. 

But if you are looking for ways to get experience before that first interview, there are several online resources to practice coding challenges. These sites provide current and relevant examples of what’s being asked in this market. Some of the best include Google Code Jam, HackerRank, Project Euler and TopCoder.  You can also reference common technical questions posed by employers by searching anonymous interview reviews on sites like Glassdoor and Quora.  

Additionally, many tech companies provide a roadmap describing the format of their interviews. Check out the company’s Engineering blog to see if they have the details you might need. Anything that removes the element of surprise on interview day will help calm your nerves and improve your performance. 

Communicate… a Lot

You’re in the middle of a problem-solving exercise and you’re stuck. The awkward silence mounts, making it even harder to process what to do next. How do you recover? Talk it out! Verbalize your thought process with your interview panel, explaining where you are currently in solving the problem and where you are trying to go next. It’s important to remember that part of a company’s agenda in conducting interviews this way is to simulate the experience of working with you. 

With the emphasis on teamwork and collaboration in today’s landscape, if the employer enjoys their experience working through a problem with you on the interview, it’s a reliable indicator for what it will be like when you are a colleague. They might be happy to provide a hint or clue to get you to the next step in solving the rest of the problem. If nothing else, by voicing your method you are providing a window into how your brain approaches solving difficult problems. As a result, you give yourself a better chance of making a positive impression.

Control the Things You Can

The technical interview remains one of, if not the most, challenging types of interviews a candidate will experience. There will always be elements you cannot control. But, through practice, communication, and preparation, you can and will position yourself to leave the most accurate impression and assessment of your skills. In the end, that’s all you can ask of yourself. 

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