How I bombed my technical interview in 4 easy steps

Hi everyone, I am a student at Launch School. I recently crashed and burned in my 149 live coding assessment and I wanted to share my experience.

Here are the 4 things that I did that I believe led to my tragic result.

  1. I failed to prepare, AKA prepared to fail.

I had spent the last couple days and the hours leading up to the assessment just coding instead of reviewing concepts. I should have been doing both, but I overestimated my ability to articulate the theory smoothly. I might have been able to squeak by, had my discomfort not snowballed, eventually paralyzing me to the point that I couldn’t even perform basic coding procedures that I do everyday without trouble. Ultimately, I’m glad I wasn’t able to squeak by because…

2. I understood the concepts, but not enough to explain them well.

Understanding the concepts isn’t enough; you have to be ready to communicate them with the proper terminology and with confidence and ease. If you have to access your deep memory for half of the questions, you are going to feel the pressure and likely leave your happy place. If you are anything like me, when you leave your happy place, you also leave your ability to think creatively, and eventually, your ability to think at all.

3. I rushed.

One of the first concepts that I had to demonstrate was inheritance. This should have been effortless, which is why I should have taken my time. Instead, I frantically banged out the code so fast that I didn’t even use indentation. I didn’t even realize it until my interviewer, Chris told me that I had made his “eyes hurt.”

I never write code like this, even for drafts. What was happening? I was nervous and not being mindful, that’s what was happening.

4. I locked up.

Stress begets more stress begets an avalanche of stress.

After several missteps, I was asked to demonstrate a concept that I have been using in my code all month long. I was doing it for fun the night before on a side project. But at this point, I actually felt scared to modify the code in front of me. As a survival instinct, my brain attached to a random and distant example that I could neither fully remember nor stop thinking about.

Systems-lockup, deer in the headlights, infinite loop.

It got so bad, I could just barely remember how to type “def initialize”. The final straw was just straight-up forgetting an edge-case of variable assignment that had been repeatedly drilled into us in the OOP curriculum and in the previous exam. I was done.

The aftermath:

After the assessment, Chris questioned my study habits. I know, it looks bad. It didn’t make any sense to me at first. I must be a horrible student. I had read all of the materials, coded all the examples by hand and played around with them. I passed the previous tests and I had even completed every single exercise and weekly challenge easy through advanced, before scheduling this assessment. Why didn’t my brain work??? What I realize now is that all of that experience coding couldn’t prepare me to explain those very concepts to another human being under pressure.

Conclusion:

If you haven’t done it before, failing an interview is crushing. And because it is so devastating, it is a great opportunity to learn about yourself. A couple of personal takeaways:

-I don’t do well under stress. My best bet of avoiding stress is to be hyper prepared. In order to prepare well I need to…

-Be wary of my self assessment. It’s intrinsically hard to hold yourself accountable in any online program. It’s easy to say, “I understand that pretty well” and get back to coding.

Thankfully, Launch School isn’t just preparing us to sit by ourselves in our rooms and code. We’re preparing for the real world. We are going to be interviewing for jobs and working on teams. We are going to need to have exceptional confidence both in our ability to communicate and in our understanding of how our tools work. I’m looking forward to this week of preparation, to make sure that I have both of those things in spades.

Thanks for reading and good luck!