How to prepare for technical software engineer interviews

Oct 24, 2019

Here are some best practices for preparing for traditional software engineering interviews

This blog post was written and produced in partnership with Pathrise.


Software engineering jobs are growing at a rate of 21% from 2018 to 2028, which is much faster than the average for all other occupations, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. If you are looking to break into this rapidly growing and lucrative field, you won’t be alone. As the demand for these positions grows, so does the amount of competition.

We’ve worked with hundreds of software engineers on their job search, including helping them prepare for both technical and behavioral interviews, and these are our top 3 tips. But, to start, make sure you have the right skills to even be considered for these roles. We’ve compiled a list of the best resources to help you learn the background needed for a career in software engineering.

Once you know that you have a good understanding of the knowledge needed, it is time to prepare for your applications and interviews. Here are our top 3 tips to help prepare.

1. Research the company to prepare for your behavioral interviews


A lot of people don’t think they need to do research on tech companies because they know enough about them. Maybe they use the service, like Google and Facebook, or they have just heard enough about them, like Stripe. But, that is not the case. Before you even have a phone screen, you should be sure to do a fair amount of research on the company so you can get a good sense of their mission, values, and goals. We recommend you look at a few different places on their website to get the information you need.

About page

This is a great place to start because it will explain their mission, history, and future goals. You can use what you learn here to understand how you can talk about the impact you can make and to connect yourself to their mission.

For example, if you are interviewing with Stripe, check out their About page to see their mission. Continue reading the page to understand more about how they have been working towards this goal and what they expect to accomplish in the future. Then, when you prepare your elevator pitch and your behavioral interview responses, explain how your interests and background match their mission.


Jobs/Careers page

Next, take a look at their Jobs/Careers page. Often, on these pages they will include information on what their teams are doing to build solutions. They will also include what makes a good employee at their company. This is really important for you to internalize when applying because it helps you to become the type of candidate they want. For example, at Stripe, they say that to be successful in the company, you would be a “rigorous thinker” and “unafraid to be wrong.” So, when you are responding to their behavioral questions, tell stories that highlight these personality traits so they know you are a good culture fit.


Culture or Life at page


A lot of companies have a culture or page with information about what it’s like to work at that company. These are great for you to learn the company values, which you can use in your responses. Some companies even ask you which of their values you fit in with most, so it is important to have this background. Amazon and Netflix are well known for asking questions like this, so make sure you do your research on their values before interviewing.


Products


Spend some time researching the company products so that you have knowledge of what you will likely be working on in your role. If you are going to meet with specific teams, take a look to see what they are doing, so that you can properly prepare and jump right into the work when you get there. At Stripe, they have a variety of products listed on their Products tab, giving you the opportunity to do research on what they are working on, the languages and programs they are likely using, and how you will contribute, even if this is your first software engineering job.


2. Practice the types of questions you will see in your technical interviews


To fully prepare for your technical interviews, just like a test in school, you need to practice so that you can get more comfortable with the questions that will be asked and the tasks you will need to do.

There are a lot of online resources that software engineers can use when they are preparing for their technical interviews. We compiled a list of these software engineering interview practice resources so that you can find the one that works best for you without having to search on your own. Pathrise has built guides featuring 90+ technical questions from real tech companies and step-by-step guides for answering a Google interview question. These reources are available here. Devmates.co, Leetcode and this technical interview handbook are other great resources.

You should also remember that almost all of your questions will require understanding of one of the following topics so study them extensively:

  • Hash tables
  • Linked lists
  • Breadth-first search
  • Depth-first search
  • Quicksort
  • Merge sort
  • Binary search
  • 2D arrays
  • Dynamic arrays
  • Binary search trees
  • Dynamic programming
  • Big-O analysis


3. Keep your responses succinct


Every response you give should be clear, specific, and concise. You don’t want your answers to be too long, so it’s helpful to know what topics to mention and which to leave. Focus on numbers, context, reasoning behind decisions, technologies or algorithms, and strong examples. Rather than continuing to talk and talk without stopping for breath or questions, offer to “go into more detail” towards the end of your main response, so that the interviewer knows you have the emotional intelligence to curb yourself.

For example, “There were 3 core features that I implemented to help us accomplish our goals. At a high level, they were a revamped landing page, social media sharing, and referrals. Happy to go into more detail on any one of them if you’d like. With these features, we reached 100,000 views in a week, increasing the view count by 50%.”

With these tips to help you prepare for an interview, you should be able to quell the anxiety and be your best self. The job-seekers in our program have seen their interview performance scores doubled, on average, using these and we hope yours increase too. If you are looking for more help, we created a step-by-step guide to getting a job as a software engineer that can help you with each step of your job search from resume through negotiation.

If you’re interested in working with a former senior software engineer 1-on-1 as a mentor, join Pathrise.

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