Software Engineer Interviewing - Part 3 - Preparation Strategy

This is part 3. Please check out the intro and mindset.

In my role as a Staff Software Engineer, I have interviewed many candidates that look like they have not prepared at all. They seem like they thought they could arrive at the interview, talk a little bit about their background and hope we make them an offer. They were essentially winging it. The sad reality is that sometimes this works but many times it blows up the candidate’s face.

You should have a strategy for preparation that includes a checklist of things to do before the interview. Below are some ideas but you may want to add to it.

Keep a note or google doc with answers to the following questions:

  • What have you been up to? Tell me about your career?
  • Tell me about some interesting problems you have solved?
  • What are you looking for in your next role?

Rehearse your answers regularly before the interview. You can do this in front of your webcam if you will be interviewing on Zoom.

Do not try to wing it on these questions. Have solid answers ready.

However, you should expect to get different questions about your experience that are slightly different than these.

Who did the work?

The easiest way to talk about your experience is to go through your resume and think of stories that you can tell that highlight YOUR contribution to the success of the company.

A common mistake I see candidates make is focusing on their previous company’s mission, technology or solutions. The candidate explains the problem the company was solving and the tech they rolled out to solve it. The candidate will leave out their role.

You are the person interviewing. We want to know what specifically you did.

As part of your preparation, be sure to brainstorm stories to have on hand for these types of scenario. Put these in your google doc or note:

  • Having a challenging product to implement and how your contribution lead to success.
  • Having performance issues to troubleshoot, your contribution and what metrics you improved.
  • Juggling different priorities and managing expectations.
  • Implementing new technology in a team or org and your contribution in learning, mentoring and spearheading the effort.
  • Efforts you lead that motivated or nudged others on your team to form better habits (testing, code reviews, etc)

Notice all these highlight your role.

Remember, we are interviewing YOU not your old job, your old team or your previous company.