6 Steps to Ace the Coding Interview

Code interviews are what every developer either despises or looks forward to (if you know what you’re doing). Why is it that so many people despair at the thought of going through an intense code interview? 

This blog will go through my experience with technical interviews and what I’ve done to get through them despite not being a coding wiz.

1. Study Your Face Off

The reality is that most of the fear around coding interviews is rooted in the mere challenge of getting passed the technical questions. It’s like taking the ACT or SAT all over again, but difficulty x1000. Topics include data structures and algorithms, design patterns, distinctions between languages, seemingly ridiculous math problems, frameworks, and more.

What can one do to overcome such challenge besides reading 1,000 books on software development? I’d highly recommend you check out Pramp. Pramp sets you up with mock interviews that give you exactly what you need to know to ace the coding interview. Once you’ve gained some interview experience, you can interview for real positions all through Pramp! Save yourself the time and effort and focus on learning what really matters to get through that interview.

2. Dress Nicely

A lot is said by the way we dress. If you can’t code very well, coming to an interview dressed nicely at least shows that you intend on coming to work as your best self. That’s why we dress nicely at a wedding. It says “this is important to me.” This goes with all of the other things, like…showing respect, being punctual, shaking hands, sitting up straight, making eye contact, listening intently, and saying please and thank you. You know, all of those things this modern generation has forgotten.

3. Be Authentic

Kind of like how you be yourself with your friends. Remember that getting through the interview is just step one. If you’re fake in the interview, you’re setting yourself up for a miserable time once you get the position. Nobody’s as good at being you as you are. Seek authenticity in your experience, your interests, and your career goals.

Authenticity in Experience

If you exaggerate on your resume on how much you really know, or if you go into the interview acting like a total boss, it’s very likely that your expectations are going to be beyond what you’re capable of meeting. Kind of like when a lady wears too much makeup and is then seen for the first time without it.

👸🏼 (You at the interview)

👹 (You after the interview)

Authenticity in Your Interests

Interviewing is less about answering every question correctly and more about opening up the doors of communication. The employer wants to know what you gets you excited, what bothers you, and what you could offer to the workplace and the team. Because of this, you’ll likely get some ice breaking questions like what your interests are outside of work. 

Avoid answers like “I code during all of my free time,” or “When I’m not working I like to study algorithms,” or even worse, “I only work.” Although you may enjoy coding in your free time, it’s not the only thing you enjoy. A statement like this can make you come across as fake or can give the impression that your interests may be divided with other software projects. Not good.

Instead, talk about some hobbies. You don’t have to go crazy with this, just open up and let the hiring manager know you’re human. “I really enjoy watching movies with my spouse on the weekends,” or “I love hiking and playing guitar… At the same time.” Have a bit of fun with it. 

Authenticity in Your Career Goals

Where do you see yourself in five years? This is a challenging question. Answer too strong, you’ll come across unathentic. Answer too weak, you’ll come across as not interested.

Bad answer: “I have no doubt that I’ll be a leader within this company. Just from the time I’ve been here I know I’m a perfect fit with the company culture. I doubt I’ll ever leave.” This screams fake and suck up. You don’t even know if you have the job. For all you know, 3 months in to the job you might be completely miserable. 

Also a bad answer: “I want to be a professional daredevil. I’m really just looking for the money to fix up my bike. I can see me giving a few good solid years and really leaving a mark at this company.” This shows complete disinterest as if your mom made you apply for the job. Why would they hire you, train you, and deal with you if they know you’re intending on leaving within a few short years?

Just right: “I’d like to gain a lot of experience as a software developer. I’d like to learn what I can from the team and develop the attributes of a leader. I think this role is great for me, but I definitely want to see my role here grow in the next 5 years.” This comes across as the perfect medium where you are legitimately talking about where you want to be. You’re not acting like an obsessive freak, but you’re also not totally uninterested.

4. Be Positive

I’m not a huge advocate of the “Everything will be perfect if you just… believe” mindset, but I do believe it’s rooted in some truth. Reality is influenced by our perspective and our attitude. Every time I tell my parents I’m irritated or having a bad day, the first thing they call out is my attitude. Regardless of how much I try to hide it, my attitude is shown in the work that I do and the way that I talk with others. I rant to my parents as if they’re my pro bono therapists (that’s what parents are for, right?). Once I take a few steps back from my problem, I’m able to tackle the issue with a positive attitude.

Attitude works the same way with interviews. Attitude can be sensed, and whatever vibe you give in the interview will be the vibe you give on the job. 

There are numerous questions and answers that can take the interview down a negative path. Particularly be warned of questions regarding previous positions. Have a rough experience at prior job? Rather than saying “OH…that… yeah, the management was terrible, I wasn’t treated right, my boss always yelled at me, not enough parking, and the snacks were stale. I got sick of it, so I hacked into their servers and deleted all of their customer records.” …Just explain why you didn’t enjoy the work and decided to move on to something better in your career. A wise employer will understand that any developer could have a toxic experience at any company, so don’t over think it. Always figure out how you can take a potentially negative question and turn it into something good. 

When you go into your interivew, purge your mind from doubt, shame, and negativity. An good employer is going to want to hire a confident, yet humble, candidate. If all attempts to have a positive attitude fails, why not watch some kittens to help uplift your mood?

Yes, I seriously just gave career advise to watch cat videos before an interview. That’s something you won’t hear in the books. 

5. Interview the Interviewer

Of the millions of job openings, not every one is the perfect job for you. You know this. Often this is not something you can know simply from reading the job description. You gotta feel that culture fit. It’s so easy to get caught up in doing so well at the interview that you forget to ask questions yourself. What will be my expectations? What would you like to see from me in the next 5 years? What are some of the challenges I should expect? 

Let’s say you manage to get the job. You could have gone through the interview not asking a single question, take the job, and end up hating it. If you were willing to ask questions, you may have figured this out and could tell them you’re not interested once you receive an offer. 

Not only can asking questions prevent you from taking a less-than-ideal job, but it can show the employer that you’re interested in making the best choice and that you want to make conversation (remember, interviews are more about conversation, not Q&A). 

6. Chill out

This may seem self explanatory, but it’s so easy to be overwhelmed with nervousness and anxiety about an interview, especially if you really want to get the position. I don’t have a 100% cure for this, but I’ll give you some ideas that I’ve used to help me.

Remember that there are always more jobs

There will always be work. Don’t believe me?

Told ya so. Get out of the mindset that this job is your only opportunity and you have to make it work or your life is going to immediately come to an end. You’re setting yourself up for anxiety which can lead to coder’s block during a technical interview and shallow conversation during a personal interview. 

Prepare a long time before the interview

Don’t do your preparation right before the interview. One may even argue that doing something distracting before the interview might help ease the stress (like watching cat videos). 

Understand that the position might not be for you

I applied for two positions one time. One was a very terrible interview and I did not get the job. The other was a very successful interview and I was offered the job. When I was denied the first job, I felt bitter, but looking back I believe this was God directing my life and preventing me from taking a job that wasn’t for me in a city that definitely wasn’t for me. You may see it a different way, but the thing to understand is that some jobs you are just not meant for. That’s the whole point of the interview! Don’t be defeated if you fail, because that means that the job was likely not for you (or you failed to prepare with Pramp 🙂).

To Wrap it Up

The technical interview is a good challenge and is something you should be excited for! Follow these tips and let me know how it goes for you. Check out the video:

Concerned about what language to practice for your technical interview? Read up on the top languages of the year.

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