(An Attempt At) Mastering the Digital Interview

Last week I had my first ever Digital Interview and if you’re unfamiliar with what that is, you’re not alone. When I first signed up for the interview and saw it was a Digital Interview, I didn’t really know what to expect. I did some research on the company’s website and found out that these kinds of interviews are becoming more popular for a few reasons. First, it is convenient for both the candidate and the employer — the candidate can perform the interview any time (during a certain window) in a convenient location and the employer can review the interview when they have time. In other words, it isn’t a hard fast, set-in-stone kind of deal like you find with traditional interviews. Second, it is fair and impartial — every candidate is getting the same questions for the same position. Finally, they are, in a sense, reusable — one person at the company can share it with a search committee fairly easily and get the necessary input.

After doing my research, I figured I was ready to go and logged on to the company’s interview website. Going in to the interview, I thought it would just be a few video recorded questions and I would be on my way. But I was wrong. The Digital Interview involves many different types of questions — video recording, written response, and even coding challenges. I’m going to break down what I learned from each and share some tips and tricks that I hope are of some use.

Video Recording

If you’ve ever done a Skype or Google Hangout interview, you know how awkward a video of yourself can be. It can be even more awkward knowing that it is just you there, recording a video that someone will view later. A few tips to help get past that awkwardness and crush the video recordings:

  1. Practice! The software I was using allowed candidates to take a practice recording and watch it back to see where they could improve. That was incredibly helpful because it not only got me in the interview mood, but I was able to see where I was looking, how my posture was, etc.
  2. Don’t look at yourself. Weird, I know. But if you’ve practiced, you should know how you look and looking right in to the camera is more helpful on the employer side because it makes it seem as though the candidate is talking directly to them.
  3. Use the prep time. All of the video questions I had gave me a 30 second prep time before answering, which is incredibly helpful in that in allows you to formulate an answer, even if it is just bullet points in your head.
  4. Observe the time limit. The questions I had were all around 3 minutes or so in terms of time limit. The time limit can be a little tricky — you don’t want to go too long and get cut off but you don’t want to only speak for 10 seconds either. Find a happy medium and don’t feel like you have to fill the entire time. I found myself rambling at certain points just because I thought I should fill more time. The best answers are quality answers.

Written Response

A few of the questions I had required a decent amount of writing. Below are some tips to help you out when you see the big blank text field:

  1. Don’t be thrown off by the character limit. The questions I had ranged from 3,000–4,000 character limits and I’ll admit that I panicked because, similar to the video recordings, I thought I had to fill all of the space provided. In reality, employers are looking for quality answers to the question, not how much you can write.
  2. Answer as though someone asked you the question in person. I admit, this is not something I did! But looking back, it certainly would have been helpful for me because when someone asks me a question in person, my mind gives me an answer as a jumping off point. If you can get all of your initial thoughts down, you’ll have time to add more to it as you go.
  3. Don’t rush. There were definitely questions that I rushed through and don’t think I provided as complete responses as I could have. A lot of that was nerves and wanting the interview to go as fast as possible. But just take your time and make sure you have a well formulated, complete answer.
  4. Proofread! Again, something I was guilty of not doing thanks to feeling like I had to rush through it. Nothing is more embarrassing than having a typo or incorrect grammar in your response so make sure you have read over everything once or twice.

Coding Challenge

The coding challenge is a classic interview staple for a job in tech and they have the unique quality of being both exciting and terrifying! My challenge was, given the coins 1, 3, and 5, calculate the minimum number of coins necessary to reach the given number. So if the number was 11, the minimum number of coins would be 3 (5+5+1) and if it was 20, the minimum number would be 4 (5+5+5+5). The solution that was submitted (I ran out of time) was absolutely not my best and to be honest, it didn’t even solve the challenge. After looking back, here are some tips to help you through it:

  1. Use the practice time! I cannot stress this enough. The environment you are using is more than likely not something you are used to. For me, I was used to Xcode with its nice syntax highlighting and autocomplete — the environment for the coding challenge did not have that. But it did allow me to practice to get used to things. As I mentioned above, however, I was rushing things and only spent a few minutes practicing before moving on to the real thing. Turns out, I still wasn’t fully comfortable with the coding environment and spent at least 5 minutes of the 20 minute time limit practicing and getting down what I was doing. If I could do it over again, I would have definitely stayed in the practice mode until I fully understood the environment.
  2. Comment, comment, comment. Again, something I didn’t do but that certainly would have been helpful. In an in-person coding challenge or whiteboarding session, you’re supposed to talk through the code out loud so that the employer can see your thought process. Many times, it isn’t if you can solve the problem, but how you think through it. With the Digital Interview, that is a little tougher. Adding comments to the code can help an employer see your thought process and how you work through the problem.
  3. Go until you got it. But wait, isn’t there a time limit? There sure is but that doesn’t mean you can’t go home and figure it out. The fact that I didn’t solve my coding challenge during the interview ate at me the entire way home and I couldn’t stop thinking about what I should have done. So when I got home, I opened my laptop and had a solution written in five minutes. This is beneficial not only because it allows you to finally relax about it but it shows you have what it takes to solve the problem. If I didn’t solve the problem, I wouldn’t have learned!
Why couldn’t I have done this DURING the interview?!

4. Reduce to previously solved problems. The coding challenge I had was, well, challenging but I knew I could break it down enough to get through it and eventually, I did.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the Digital Interview is on the rise and something you may very well encounter soon. Just remember to relax, be confident in your abilities, and follow the tips above. Hopefully, it results in a positive response from the company!

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