How to Level Up in Interviews

Julianna Roen
Dec 8, 2020 · 3 min read
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Image source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dh-ULbQmmF8

When you think of the word “interview”, what comes to mind? Do you imagine a simple encounter between two people exchanging questions and answers? One in which all is well and professional? And everything seems to be running smoothly?

As a software engineer, I’ve interviewed close to hundreds of prospective candidates both in a technical and cultural capacity. The format consists of 45–60 minutes of either solving a technical challenge or asking questions that reveal if they’d be a good fit for the company.

As straightforward as the process may seem, I’ve had my fair share of incredibly awkward experiences which has revealed to me the messiness of the practice.

I’ve asked questions such as “What’s some feedback you’ve received?” with answers of “My coworkers told me to find better pajamas”. I’ve heard of interviewees accidentally pasting porn links into CoderPad sessions.

Bizarre stories such as these can be fun to reminisce on, but the sadder side of interviews I’ve encountered is when interviewees exhibit extreme self-doubt.

“Wow, I’m so bad at this” one candidate said to me in multiple forms during an interview. It was a situation where I wanted to say “No, you’re not!” and ease their stress but I also couldn’t deny their self-fulfilling prophecy.

“I’m pretty nervous” another candidate said early on in the interview. “That’s fine, it’s totally normal,” I responded. “I’m not sure if I’m doing this right…” the candidate continued to express consistently throughout the scheduled hour.

In my experience, all interviewees that partook in this behavior were non-male identifying. And the most frustrating part is that these candidates actually did quite well from a tactical standpoint. They managed to check off the boxes in the criteria we were looking for for that interview type despite their lack of self-assurance.

This brings me to the TLDR of this article: always project confidence in interviews. Even if you’ve messed up, don’t know if you’re doing things correctly, or generally feel lost, keep calm and carry on.

Interviews are often designed to be ambiguous and test how someone deals with uncharted waters. Being able to answer every question perfectly is unlikely and isn’t expected. A more attractive quality than perfect performance is resilience. Being able to pick yourself up if you’ve made a mistake and approach a challenging question with curiosity shows an important trait of being able to deal with unpredictability.

If you think this attitude would be challenging to adopt, fear not, I’ve had a long journey of overcoming imposter syndrome myself. Self-deprecation used to be my first instinct until I realized that I couldn’t carry on with that attitude in order to achieve big things. I started to shift my mindset towards believing in myself and from there have much less anxiety around putting my best foot forward in interviews. There have been many times where I’ve come out of an interview feeling like I completely blew it, and yet, I ended up receiving an offer. I’d bet part of the reason why was because on top of trying my best, I showed friendliness and an easygoing attitude towards messing up.

So if you have an interview coming up and are freaking out, take a deep breath and know that it’s okay to make a mistake. There’s a good chance you will, and that’s perfectly normal and human.

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