Landing a job almost always means going through the interview process. But, when it comes to technical positions, the process of landing your next role usually also includes the extra step of a technical interview.
Technical interviews are designed to evaluate your knowledge of tools and technologies of course. But they can be used to see even deeper - looking at your problem-solving skills, ability to learn, fit with the tech team, and more.
But don't let that intimidate you! We’ve gathered insights and tips from recruiters and from Tech Ladies Pro Members experienced with technical interviews, and we’re sharing them here so you can ace your next technical interview and get the offer you're hoping for.
Do Your Research
Your first step to getting ready for a technical interview is to find out as many details as possible about the company and the specific role you're applying for so you can be as prepared as possible beforehand.
Just like before other interviews, you should thoroughly review the company’s website and the job description, but now with a eye especially on the tech stack. You should also research the company's products or services via their site, social media, blogs, podcasts, etc. Other great sources of info can be the company's support documentation, knowledge base, and product update pages.
If possible, try out the company's products or services yourself. You can also do any free courses the company might offer for users as well as look through online forums and discussions about the products or services.
If you’ll have other interviews before the technical one, you can also ask then about the company’s tech stack and tools and even about the technical interview itself. While these interviewers might not be able to talk in depth about the technical aspects of the job or interview, they still might be able to give you some general insights that are useful or have someone else on the team follow up with you with more details. In any case, it shows you're really interested in the company and the role!
Know The Interview
Besides knowing the tech you’ll be tested on, you want to also familiarize yourself with the ways you might be asked.
Some general types of tasks or questions you can expect in technical interviews are:
- Coding or debugging in real time or as take-home projects, alone or in pair programming, using a whiteboard or online tools
- Experience-based asking about your own particular background and skills
- Technical focusing on, for example, your knowledge of certain programming languages, data structures, algorithms, design principles, etc
Samantha Elgelda, recruiter at Tech Ladies hiring partner Project Ronin, says their technical candidates usually first have a technical call with the hiring manager/lead that’s “more conversational, doing a deep dive into their background”. Then, for engineering roles, candidates are given a technical reasoning exercise and a code implementation exercise".
Tech Ladies Pro member and technical program manager Criss Rodriguez also mentions technical interviews where candidates are asked “about general technical concepts like: What is an API? What is happening in an HTTP request? What is NodeJS, and what is the difference with npm?” She says the focus of these questions is to be sure candidates “can explain the technical concept and that they are not just repeating the terminology but really can explain in their own words what is happening”.
Besides these experience-focused or concept-based questions, many technical interviews will test your actual skills in real-time, either online or in-person. Tech Ladies Pro member and senior full-stack software developer Alecia Vogel has also done take-home assignments as part of technical interviews.
Tech Ladies Pro member, software engineering manager, and hiring manager Jeanne Petrangelo says, “At my company we switched from live coding and timed coding exercises to at-your-leisure, take-home coding exercises followed up with an in-person review with people the candidate would be working with. It's been a success on multiple fronts. We get better insight into how people think and a better idea of the type of work product they'd produce. And the candidates overwhelmingly appreciate having a coding challenge that more closely mimics actual working conditions, plus getting to meet the team.”
Practice, Practice, Practice
Whether you have a specific interview coming up or you’re looking to strengthen your chances for technical roles in the future, you’ll benefit from doing exercises or projects like those you’ll see in technical interviews.
Samantha shares that Project Ronin offers prep guides to their candidates and recommends reviewing it before. For their technical calls, she encourages you to “review the job description and review the requirements and the bonus items. Think of solid examples of past work experience and have those in the back of your mind. At times, it can be difficult to think of these things on the spot.”
Take the time to review the fundamentals of the languages and technologies you'd be using for the role so you'll feel confident talking about them generally and using them for specific tasks in the interview. And, if your interview will involve live coding, try to simulate that before your interview so you'll be familiar with the experience and can concentrate just on the code in the actual interview. Alecia has used HackerRank in interviews and LeetCode to prep for them, and Code Signal is another popular choice.
As you’re practicing, keep in mind some keys to solving any kind of technical problems:
Amanda Martinez, Tech Ladies Technical Community Manager, has seen how reflecting on your skillset in advance can help in the heat of the moment. She says, “Sometimes you can choose the language that you want to use to solve the problem, so I have spent time figuring out which one I feel the most confident in before walking into the interview”. So spend some time thinking - both before a technical interview and before leaping into task in the interview - about how you can best show your skills within the task you're given.
You can't answer a question well if you don't get what the question is. It can be particularly tempting to skip this step in an interview. You might feel afraid to ask for clarification and under pressure to come up with an answer quick to prove you know your stuff. But your results will be much better if you make sure you understand the question before you rush into answering it. And you wanting to be clear on the task first shows the interviewer your ability to thoughtfully approach a task.
Break it down
A problem or project you’re given in a technical interview might feel overwhelming, whether it’s just the stress of the situation or because the task is actually challenging. Either way, the best way to tackle it is to break it down into small parts and focus on solving one part at a time. Even if you can’t figure out the whole task, by creating effective ways to work through as much of it as possible, you show the interviewer you can handle complex problems.
While having technical skills is obviously fundamental to success in technical interviews, you can easily forget the importance of being able to talk about your thought process as you're solving problems or working through a task. Explaining what you're thinking in a technical interview is crucial because it lets the interviewer see how you approach problem solving, even if you don't necessarily get the "right" answer to the question or find the solution they were looking for.
Bernadette Lagman, Senior Recruiter at Project Ronin, says it’s “important to have strong communication skills to explain your reasoning behind the development process”. A framework you can use in a technical interview is:
- Restate the problem in your own words to show you understand it.
- List any assumptions you're making and why so the interviewer knows any parameters you're using but that weren't given in the task itself.
- Say what you plan to do to solve the problem so the interviewer sees your ability to structure solutions
- If you've thought of different approaches, discuss the pros and cons of each, and explain why you've chosen the one you're using.
- Describe each part of the your code as you write it or part of the process of solving another problem so the interviewer can see how and why you're "technically" handling it the way you do.
- Once you're finished, quickly summarize your overall thought process for the approach you took and any insights you had along the way that you didn't already share.
If, as you're solving the problem, you realize a better technique or solution, don't be afraid to explain that realization and change your tactic. And, if you have time, ask for feedback on your work once you're done. That both shows your open to input and can help you either in future interviews or once you start in this role! As Amanda says, “I have seen [technical interviews] become more about not solving the problem 100% and more about the conversation that is happening and I think that relieves some of the pressure of live coding when it can be more interactive.”
Criss adds, “People need to practice the interview setup. They need to practice talking about their code to solve questions in front of another person in an intimidating setup.” And she goes further with some practical tips, “It’s a muscle you can practice the same way you practice connecting API or creating real projects. I now think about tech interviews as exercise: something that you should do at least for 20 minutes daily so you don’t lose condition. And, of course, similar to exercise, if you find an accountability buddy or even a friend to practice is even better.”
Hopefully these tips from people who've done plenty of technical interview help relieve some of the pressure you might have been feeling about technical interviews and, increase your chances of success in your next ones. Remember technical interviews aren't just about getting the right answers - They’re about showing that you know your stuff and can do the job.
Be sure to also check out our Tech Ladies Guide to Job Interviews. It’ll give you the foundation and confidence you need to ace all the conversations you have for your next great adventure in tech!