Software engineer interview preparation can be an extremely daunting task - we know because we’ve been there! Knowing what to expect in an interview is a good place to start and will make the technical interview preparation process more bearable. Software developer technical interviews are rarely a one stage process and the interview style varies depending on the role you are applying for. Front end interview preparation will differ from computer science interview preparation, for example. We find it helpful to break technical interviews down into two broad categories: domain specific interviews and computer science fundamentals interviews. To have the best shot at your dream job it’s important to understand the different technical interview styles and evaluation methods. This will help you decide how best to prepare for your software engineering interview. That’s why we’re here to break it down for you!
Domain Specific Interviews
Domain specific interviews, also referred to as specialist interviews, assess your knowledge and skills in your chosen area of expertise. You will come across this interview type when applying for specialist roles and often when interviewing with small startups racing to get their product up and running and into the market as quickly as possible. Unlike the big tech giants, startups don’t always have the time nor the resources for an extensive interview process. Therefore, domain specific interviews are a fast and efficient way of identifying whether a candidate has the technical skills needed to successfully carry out the job in hand.
Specialist interviews are much more practical than theoretical. Unlike in other coding interviews where the candidate can choose their preferred programming language, for domain-specific positions, such as front-end, iOS or Android engineer roles, you will need to be familiar with specific coding algorithms relevant to the job. The recruiter wants to be sure that you can build something well that works, so they will give you a practical coding challenge similar to what you would face on the job. For example, if you are applying for a role at an e-commerce startup, they may ask you to build a chatbot programmed to automatically reply to product requests with price estimates and similar product suggestions. Remember, the interviewer is not only interested in the final product. They are looking at how you go about creating it and they want to see clean, scalable and maintainable code. So, make sure you show them you know what good coding looks like.
Expect to be asked about the specialized skills you listed on your resume. If your programming language of choice is Python, be prepared to answer questions about your strengths and weaknesses, best practices and features, for example. Make sure you have an up-to-date portfolio to showcase the recent projects you have worked on and prepare strong arguments to back up your methodology and tech stack choices. GitHub is a great tool to display your work, and provide your interviewer with insight into how you think, perform, communicate and work, both on your own and with others. By evaluating your previous work recruiters can get a better idea of what they can expect from you in the future.
There’s no quick way to go about domain specific technical interview preparation. Specialists are hired explicitly for their expertise, so your years of experience, extensive knowledge and strong background in the field is your most valuable weapon! Use it wisely and don’t hold back. Remember, showing off your abilities and sharing your ideas and opinions are rewarded in American workplace culture!
Computer Science and Fundamental Programming Interview
Computer science fundamental interviews assess your raw programming skills and problem solving abilities. It is your chance to show how much you know and demonstrate you have the required technical abilities to excel at the role. This type of coding interview is a standard evaluation system at most companies, both for small startups and large reputable tech companies, such as Google, Amazon and Uber. You can expect to come across computer science interviews at any level of programming job, for both specialist and generalist positions.
Computer science interview questions usually consist of algorithmic-type challenges that test your knowledge of basic data structures and algorithms. They may also include abstract system design questions whereby you will be asked to explain how you would go about designing a particular system or product: ‘how would you design a global file sharing and storage app?’, or ‘how would you design a search engine?’. Recruiters are interested in your approach to solving a problem and how you arrive at the best possible solutions.
There is only one way to go about preparing for computer science interview questions and that is with many hours of practice - sorry to break it to you! Start by deciding which programming language you want to use for the interview and stick to it. We recommend using the language you are most familiar with, as opposed to learning a new language just because it is the company’s top pick. You will need to know your chosen programming language front to back, as well as data structures and algorithmic approaches to solving problems. Learn the common traps and caveats of the language and show the interviewer you are aware of them, rather than stumbling into them yourself. When it comes to data structure and algorithm-based questions it can be helpful to divide them into different topic areas:
- Linked lists
- Graph algorithms
- Stack and queues
- Recursion and hashing
- Dynamic programming
- Divide and conquer
Dedicating sufficient time to studying and mastering each of the topics will give you the best chance of acing this part of the technical interview process.
Refine your skills with coding challenges and basic programming interview question samples. Coding practice sites, such as HackerRank, LeetCode and Coderbyte, are valuable resources to level up your coding skills in your chosen language. The practice questions are similar to those asked in interviews, so there is a good chance you will come across something very similar in the real thing. LeetCode and Coderbyte also provide mock interview tools which is a valuable way of practicing explaining technically difficult concepts out loud, in English, and getting used to coding with someone watching your every move.
Mock interviews with trained, industry-specific career specialists are especially valuable because they have a clear idea of what hiring managers in your field are looking for and how they are interviewing. Alternatively, ask an English-speaking friend, colleague or family member to stand in as interviewer, and give you valuable, non-bias feedback on your performance.
When preparing for developer technical interviews, it’s important to be extremely clear on what the company is hiring for. If it is not clear enough in the job specification, don’t be afraid to ask the recruiter for a detailed description of the role and the company’s hiring process. Ask them for information regarding the different assessment stages and the criteria they use to evaluate their candidates. Whilst each company has their own interview process and evaluation strategy, in the US it is industry standard to have a multiple-stage interview process consisting of an initial phone screening and followed by role-specific assignments. At Nexton, we’re here to support you through this process. Join our talent network and check out our blog for more software job interview tips. Don’t hesitate to get in touch if you have any queries!