What every software engineer should do to stand out in an onsite interview loop
Karat co-founder Jeffrey Spector sat down with Business Insider to share key learnings from tens of thousands of interviews
Most software engineers are familiar with the typical hiring process: A phone screen or technical interview leads to an onsite interview loop and — if all goes well — an offer. At Karat, we conduct first-round technical interviews on behalf of companies and work with them to make their hiring process predictive, fair, and enjoyable. Along the way we’ve seen tens of thousands of interview loops and have observed what often sets candidates apart in the onsite interview.
Karat co-founder Jeffrey Spector sat down with Business Insider to share advice for software engineers looking to stand out in their next onsite interview loop. Here are his top takeaways.
Research the company and put yourself in the hiring manager’s shoes
Think deeply about and research the company’s core business and mission. Feedback notes from candidates’ onsite interviews sometimes state that they were knocked out of the process because they hadn’t thought about the product or the scale on which the company was operating.
“Understand who you’re interviewing with and what problems they’re solving on a daily basis. Ask questions about their job,” Spector advised. “For example, if you are interviewing with an engineering leader you might ask them about hiring goals, prioritization methodologies, and the team’s skill gaps. Most candidates won’t ask these questions, but they demonstrate an interest in the manager’s responsibilities and show that you may have management potential.”
Use a familiar coding language and talk through your thought process when solving a problem
Before getting to the onsite interview, candidates should brush up on core algorithms. During the interview, they should be sure to use the coding language they’re most familiar with. Often, candidates fall down because they choose a challenging language that they don’t know very well.
Spector also advises that while solving a problem in an interview, candidates “should communicate openly about what their thought process is and how they go about problem- solving.” This will help in two ways: first, interviewers may more quickly point out if you are heading down the wrong path, helping you to course-correct. Second, if they know where you are headed, they may give you credit for a partially implemented solution. “100% completeness isn’t usually the goal. What’s more important is that you articulate the remaining steps in your solution and the difficulties you would anticipate.”
He stresses that asking clarifying questions can actually help you. “Interviewers at tech companies often deliberately hold back information to see if you can effectively scope problems.” Some candidates begin to solve problems without clarifying what they’ve been asked, which wastes valuable time. However, that is not Karat’s practice. “Interview Engineers at Karat are very transparent with candidates about what they are expected to demonstrate when solving a problem in the technical interview.”
If at first you don’t succeed, try again
Leading tech companies are building communities of talent and innovating on how to build long-term relationships in a market where there isn’t enough talent. Just because you may not ace this onsite interview, doesn’t mean you should give up on the company all together. Citrix, Pinterest, and Google are three companies that have implemented this practice — Citrix even fills 15% of their non-referral roles with candidates who weren’t ready at the time, but are ready now.
Spector’s final piece of encouragement for candidates is that “every interview, regardless of the outcome, is a learning opportunity. If you are asking for feedback, listening loudly, and reflecting on your performance, each interview should bring you closer to your ideal job.”