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Interviewing in the tech industry: Technical and behavioral interview tips

This is the fourth in a series of articles on careers in coding from our friends at Career Karma. Check out their previous posts on tips for creating a technical resume, JavaScript technical interview prep, and tech salaries by profession.

There is an art to interviewing in the tech industry. With the different types of interviews that you can encounter, practicing or studying for an interview may feel overwhelming. We've rounded up some tips to help you prepare.

In this article, we’ll talk about the two main types of interviews that interviewees encounter while on a job hunt in the tech industry — behavioral interviews and technical interviews. We’ll share tips that will help you put your best foot forward and feel confident during your interview process.

Behavioral interview

The behavioral interview can take on many forms. More than likely, this interview will be with a recruiter or a senior company manager. It consists of questions focusing on your ability to react to certain industry situations, assesses the greatest strengths and weaknesses of your character, and your ability to overcome certain situations. In this section, we’ll take a look at some tips for how to approach this style of a job interview.

Before the interview

Research the company and the interviewer

You are likely to succeed in your interview if you are familiar with the products of the company you want to work for. Take a closer look and see if you can identify the company’s vision and mission. Why do they mesh with you? Also, do some research on the actual product you would be working on to make sure you are one step ahead of other job candidates.

Don’t stop at just the company! Most recruiters are happy to tell you who you will be interviewing with. Look your interviewer up on LinkedIn or GitHub to see if you can find anything out that’ll give you an edge – maybe your interviewer has a side business or hobby you can connect with and mention in your interview.

An interviewer is likely to remember you as that person “who plays the same musical instrument as I do” than the person “who can recite MDN backward and forward.”

Career changers: Why did you make the switch?

What’s your “why?” Many interviewers like to ask “why” to figure out who is in it for the money and who is in it because they are truly, genuinely interested in creating something awesome. Construct an elevator pitch if you don’t already have one – a short, 30-second snippet of who you are, what you do, and where you see yourself going. Here’s an example:

“Hi, I’m Christina. I’m a musician that took her love of practicing, mentoring students, and breaking down problems and turned it into a tech career, if you can believe it!”
“I’m currently a technical writer, creating blogs and articles for beginner level to professional level developers and engineers. I see that you got your start in writing as well! I would love to be able to pick your brain about how to transition to web development.”

When you create your elevator pitch, it helps guide you into thinking about why you are taking the coding or tech journey. Be thinking about this as you head into that initial interview.

Questions to think about

There are several interview questions, that no matter the industry, always seem to pop up in interview situations. Think about or jot down anecdotes to share that answer the following questions:

  • What is your greatest strength?
  • What is your greatest weakness?
  • Tell me about a time you had a conflict with a coworker?
  • What makes you unique?
  • Why should we hire you?

Knowing the answers to these questions will prepare you better for your interview. Keep a notebook or the notepad app open to jot down ideas and flesh out ones you’ve thought through.

Know the market rate for developers and engineers in your area

If you happen to live in the middle of the Midwest, but are interviewing for an engineering position in Seattle or San Francisco, it’s definitely a good idea to research median and average level salaries for a software engineer/developer in the area you will be living in before you comment on any salary requirements. Many times a recruiter will immediately ask for a salary expectation – if you don’t know the numbers for the area, you can possibly sell yourself short.

Hint: Respond with “What is the budget for this position?” and see what the recruiter has to say.

Prepare a Q&A for the interviewer

Interviewers tend to leave 10 minutes or so at the end of the interview to open the floor for questions. This can be a time for you to shine. Take the time to ask the interviewer about the culture of the workplace, how the company responds to disease pandemic situations, what the work/life balance is like, etc. Remember, this is usually answered in your initial interview, so don’t bring up anything yet in relation to salary or bonuses/benefits unless they open the floor to that conversation.

During the interview

Use STAR Method to tell your anecdotes

In the previous section, we talked about coming up with anecdotes to talk about all of those really tough interview questions. There is a method, called the STAR Method, that can assist in crafting an engaging anecdote.

STAR stands for:

S -  Situation:  the basic setup or premise of your anecdote. It sets the stage.
T -  Task: your responsibility within the situation. What can you quantify here?
A -  Action: the breakdown of what it took to get you from point A to point B.
R -  Result: the outcome of the action.

If you can follow these four guidelines when answering your questions, you will do very well.

Ask questions

Don’t be afraid to ask questions! You are interviewing the company as much as they are interviewing you.

By the same token, if something is not clear, be sure to ask a clarifying question to make sure you understand the initial ask.

Technical interview

You’ve made it to the next round of interviews — Congratulations! The technical interview is all about assessing your approach to problem-solving.

Be sure to ask the recruiter what format the interview will be in and if they have any recommendations on how best to prepare for it. Technical interviews are usually proctored through whiteboarding, a take-home project, or a Hackerrank challenge.

Whiteboard

When it comes to writing out code on a whiteboard, don’t be afraid to think out loud. Part of the interview is as much about the discussion of the algorithm you are being asked to write as it is about the actual solving of the problem.

Ask questions if you have them, especially if you are worried about edge cases. Usually, your interviewers will be happy that you have noticed an edge case, but won’t necessarily make you take the time to code it out if you can vocalize how you would do it.

Remember that whiteboarding is not about coming up with the best answer, but about talking through your approach to get to a workable solution. It probably will be a brute-force or naive solution, and that’s okay.

More than likely, your interviewer will want to talk through time complexity anyway – so this would be a good chance to show off your ability to think about time complexity and then steps you would probably take to refactor the solution to make it more efficient.

Take-home project

Another possible approach is through a take-home project. This will be some sort of prompt that will ask you to recreate an application based on a web design, or to implement the functionality of a web page – this is highly dependent on the position you are applying for.

If you are applying for a front-end position, focus on creating a pixel-perfect application with proper state management. If you are a full-stack or back-end candidate, focus on the architecture and functionality of the application. Design shouldn’t take a back burner, but you are being tested on your ability to think through system design.

Document your project if you have the time. A project with good documentation, either with inline comments or a good README.md, will get ahead. Be prepared to present your code in an interview with a round table of senior engineers. Talk about approach rather than going line by line. This will demonstrate that you can give a technical presentation and know what you are talking about in addition to producing viable code.

Ask questions

As I mentioned in the previous section, you are interviewing the company as much as they are interviewing you. This is the place to ask questions about the technologies the team uses, what the workflow looks like, how the team typically works together, etc. This is the time to find out as much as you can.

Interview follow-up

After the interviews are over, keep in close contact with the recruiter. They will be the ones to help navigate you through the next steps. If you don’t have e-mail addresses for the interviewers who talked to you, ask the recruiter for them so you can send a thank-you note for taking the time to speak with you.

The thank you note doesn’t have to be anything lavish or fancy. Here’s a simple example:

Dear [ name of interviewer ]:
I just wanted to take the time to thank you for meeting with me today about [ position applied for at [ company applied to ].
[ Mention something here about anything you’ve discussed during the interview that might be memorable so they will remember your meeting ].
If there are any other questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out. Thanks again.
Sincerely,
[ Your Name ]

Remember to breathe

This is the first interview of many if all goes well! Remember to take full breaths to keep yourself as calm as you can be, try not to interrupt the interviewer (It’s hard to do sometimes when you’re interviewing via phone or video conference!), and, most of all, have fun. You will only get better as you do more behavioral and technical interviews!

Christina Kopecky is a writer at Career Karma where she focuses on coding tutorials and technical articles.

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Christina Kopecky

Christina Kopecky

Christina Kopecky is a writer at Career Karma where she focuses on coding tutorials and technical articles.

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Interviewing in the tech industry: Technical and behavioral interview tips
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