9 Tips to Impress During a Coding Interview

If you’ve ever written a resume or filed a cover letter, you already know that applying for jobs is not easy. It doesn’t matter whether you’re vying for a summer gig scooping ice cream or applying for a full-time job in rocket science — the process can be stressful, challenging, and time-consuming. 

Software developers feel the weight of this struggle more than most, however. While other professionals might only need to persist through a few verbal interviews, developers need to pass several coding exams, behavioral interviews, and whiteboard tests just to get an initial offer. It’s no wonder that newbie programmers are continually seeking out coding interview tips!

In this article, we’ll walk you through the basics of what you can expect from the job hunt process and how to practice for a coding interview. 

Let’s get started. First: What does a coding interview entail, exactly?

While every company will have its own procedure for screening coding candidates, most follow the same general structure. 

  1. Resume Selection: First, a company reviews all of the resumes submitted for an open role and identifies candidates they want to interview.
  2. Phone Interview: In this step, the company schedules a brief phone interview to get a better sense of a candidate’s qualifications, interest in the role, and cultural fit.
  3. Remote Coding Assignment: It’s intuitive — what better way is there to test an applicant’s qualifications than by giving them a literal test? At this stage, an employer may choose to assign this challenge over a videoconferencing platform such as Zoom or Skype, or ask the candidate to complete the assignment independently by a pre-established day or time.
  4. Onsite Whiteboard Challenge: At this point, the company believes that a candidate could be a good fit for their operation but wants to further examine their coding abilities. During a whiteboard test, applicants are typically asked to solve a problem, write their solution in code on a whiteboard, and then explain their problem-solving process in real-time to an interviewer. 

These interviews are usually designed to assess several relevant areas of training, including: 

  • Coding skills
  • Analytical problem-solving
  • Communication and collaboration skills
  • Ability to take feedback and criticism
  • Cultural fit

Interestingly, despite the profession’s reputation for introversion, most developers are more concerned with proving their technical capabilities than charming their interviewers. According to data from Hired, nearly half (42 percent) of developers point to coding exams as “the most stressful part of the interview process,” and 38 percent say the same about whiteboard sessions. 

A chart that shows the most stressful part of the coding interview process

There’s no doubt that the screening process is stressful and challenging — but with enough practice and preparation, you will be able to land your dream coding job. Read on for a few of our best coding interview tips!

Tip #1: Research the Company You’re Applying To

Think you can sail through an application using a generic cover letter and swapping in your target company’s name last-minute? Think again! If you’re wondering how to practice for a coding interview, your first step might be to do some Googling. 

The truth is, it’s painfully easy to tell when an applicant hasn’t bothered to do their due diligence and doesn’t care about their prospective employer’s mission or ethos. Interviewers respect candidates who have taken the initiative to go the extra mile and show interest in a company’s work — so don’t flake on your research!

Coding Interview Tips:

  • Take the time to read through a company’s website, blog, and social profiles. This will help you get a sense of the business’s work and culture. 
  • Make a note of any current or ongoing projects that the company has publicized. Asking questions about these will demonstrate your interest in the company and show that you’ve done your research.
  • Come up with a few company-specific questions to ask in the interview. 
  • If you know anyone who already works at the company, ask them about which languages they use to code most often. 

Additional Resources:

Tip #2: Review Potential Questions 

Of all the coding interview tips, this one is a no-brainer: Taking the time to work through popular coding interview questions at home will leave you better prepared to solve similar challenges during the actual interview. 

According to data published by freeCodeCamp, interviewees who had encountered specific questions before their interview were 16.6 percent more likely to “be considered hirable by their interviewer.” 

A chart that shows the interview benefits of having seen coding questions before

If you take the time to review potential coding challenges and professional questions before your interview, you may find it easier — not to mention less stressful! — to navigate your interview. 

Coding Interview Tips:

  • Take practice interview tests to familiarize yourself with common coding challenges.
  • Brainstorm questions that you could imagine interviewers asking you about your qualifications and skills, and answer them.
  • Ask a friend to stage a mock interview to help you practice.

Additional Resources:

Tip #3: Go Back to the Basics

No one wants to go back to CompSci 101 after entering the job pool. But what if a trip to your past (classes) could potentially help you land your dream job? 

Above all else, interviewers want to know that you have a solid grasp of the fundamentals, regardless of whether you acquired your knowledge through a degree program, a coding bootcamp, or some other way. Sure, it’s a nice bonus if an applicant can write in a flashy new language; but generally, employers just want to know that the people they hire can problem-solve and write good code. Rather than trying to cram in a few impressive new skills on the day before your interview, set aside some time to brush up on your foundation and work through practice problems. 

A few essential skills to focus on include:

  • Data structures
  • Arrays
  • Hash tables
  • Heaps
  • Search algorithms
  • Dynamic programming
  • Trees

Coding Interview Tips:

  • Before you start applying to jobs, dedicate two to three hours per week to reviewing foundational skills.
  • Find and solve practice problems.
  • Go over old notes that you might have from previous lessons. 

Additional Resources:

Tip #4: Choose Your Interview Language Wisely

If you’re wondering how to practice for a coding interview, you may want to first turn to a different query — which coding language will you use during your assessment?

It’s a trickier question than it might seem at first. The most obvious choice would be to pick the language you feel the most comfortable with or one that the company has stated it uses frequently. But in many cases, interviewees choose misguided boastfulness over practicality. 

“One of the most common mistakes we’ve observed qualitatively is people choosing languages they’re not comfortable in and then messing up basic stuff like array length lookup, iterating over an array, instantiating a hash table, and so on,” researcher Aline Lerner explained in an article for freeCodeCamp. “This is especially mortifying when interviewees purposely pick a fancy-sounding language to impress their interviewer.” 

Our advice? Choose a language that you’re comfortable working in, and stick with it

If you’re applying at a company that specializes in a specific language — say, Ruby or Python — you may want to conduct your interview in that language to prove your competency. However, keep in mind that your interviewer may be more critical of your work because they already know the language’s ins and outs! Only take this route if you are confident in your skills. 

Coding Interview Tips:

  • Find out which languages are used often at the company you’re applying to. 
  • Assess your skills — which languages are you most proficient in?
  • Run a few mock coding tests in your chosen language for practice. 

Additional Resources:

Tip #5: Protect Yourself Against Performance Anxiety

Ask any veteran software engineer, and they’ll tell you — whiteboard exercises and practical coding tests are stressful. Not everyone works well under pressure, and there are few scenarios more anxiety-inducing than needing to explain your analytical process in real-time while solving a timed coding challenge. 

Interestingly, researchers recently found that conventional technical interviews are often better at assessing applicant stress than talent.

In the study, half of the participating coders were given a conventional technical interview and placed under the watch of supervising interviewers. The other half were allowed to solve their problem on a whiteboard in a private room and were not required to explain their thinking out loud. The researchers then assessed the accuracy and efficiency of all solutions provided. Ultimately, they found that those who took the traditional interview performed half as well as those in private rooms. 

“In short,” the study’s authors wrote, “findings suggest that companies are missing out on really good programmers because those programmers aren’t good at writing on a whiteboard and explaining their work out loud while coding.”

Over time, this study could prove to be a game-changer for future applicants. Companies may eventually choose to eschew traditional interviews in favor of less-stressful tests — but for now, applicants need to prepare themselves to work under pressure and in front of an audience. 

As you prepare for your coding interview, you need to stress-test yourself. Think of it as exposure therapy; if you can put yourself in environments that subject you to a similar level of anxiety-inducing oversight, you can acclimate yourself to the stress. Over time, your capacity for coding under stressful circumstances may expand, thereby allowing you to perform better during whiteboard challenges. 

Coding Interview Tips:

  • Run mock whiteboard challenges and try explaining your processes to a friend (or even a pet).
  • Don’t panic if you get stuck on a problem. Instead, make a habit of demonstrating your thought process and working toward a solution. Employers will give you credit for giving the challenge an honest try. 
  • Be humble, and don’t try to bluster your way through problems.
  • Practice coding by hand at home; invest in a whiteboard or tack pieces of white paper to your wall. 

Additional Resources:

Tip #6: Memorize a Quick “Sales Pitch” On Yourself

At the end of the day, an interview is about selling your skills to an employer. You need a polished, brief, and memorable pitch that explains who you are and why a company should hire you. 

As you cycle through interviewers, you’re probably going to need to explain your qualifications and intent multiple times — so it will help to have some talking points in mind! This speech might include non-coding details such as your past employment history, soft skills, goals, and independent projects. 

Coding Interview Tips:

  • Take some time to brainstorm your pitch before an interview. It may help to write out talking points!
  • Try to memorize what you can. You should have your pitch down pat so that you don’t fumble or leave out important information during the interview.
  • Workshop your pitch with a friend to ensure that you’re striking the right tone as you introduce yourself.

Additional Resources:

Tip #7: Stay Optimistic, But Prepare for Challenges

If you’re the luckiest developer on the planet, you might be able to sail through your first interview and land a job right away — but for most people, the process takes a bit longer. 

According to Hired’s research, candidates with four to six years of experience field an average of 7.7 interview requests before landing a job. For some, it can take even longer; a cursory internet search reveals countless stories of beleaguered coders who interviewed at 30 or even 40 companies before eventually getting a job. 

Getting turned down for a job can feel demoralizing. However, you should try to stay as positive as possible because every interview offers a learning experience.  

As Quora software engineer Udayan Banerji once shared in an article for Forbes, “There is no shortage of amazing companies[…] So don’t lose hope. No matter who rejects you, walk in to the next one better prepared. If it takes 10, 20 or 40 rejections, so be it. Every interview you lose will teach you something. Take notes after each, improve on those. Rejections are not personal, not in the tech world anyway. And eventually when you get the job you want, these 1–2 years of rejections won’t matter. You won’t even remember it.” 

Coding Interview Tips:

  • Take time to reflect on each interview you have. What did you do well? What could you have done better?
  • If a company turns you down, give yourself time to process the rejection — but set a strict time for when you’ll pick yourself up and keep trying. 
  • Verbally validate yourself and your skills regularly. You’ll be surprised at how much a little positivity can lift your spirits!

Additional Resources:

Tip #8: Clean Up Your Social Media Presence

Did you know that 70 percent of employers use social media to screen potential candidates — and out of those, 57 percent have found content that compelled them not to hire a candidate? It’s no joke; a tasteless comment or unprofessional picture could derail your chances of landing your dream job!

If you want to optimize your chances of making an excellent first (digital) impression on your interviewer, you should take some time to clean up your online presence. 

Coding Interview Tips:

  • Search your name on Google to see which profiles will be easily visible to interviewers.
  • Do an audit of your social profiles to remove any pictures, posts, or conversations that might come off as a red flag to interviewers.
  • Make a habit of creating and posting content online that relates to your industry. 

Additional Resources:

Tip #9: Don’t Forget to Make Small Talk

Yes, the focus of a coding interview is on a candidate’s programming savvy — but the conversation will drive quite a bit of an interviewer’s impression. 

Interviewers are as human as the rest of us. They laugh, they share experiences, and they think highly of the people they like. When you’re in the interview room, you should make an effort to push aside your nerves and make a connection with the person on the other side of the table. 

Chris Lee might have put the matter best in an article for Learn to Code With Me. “An interview is not just about answering questions correctly, but also about a conversation. Ask good questions. Laugh and make jokes at appropriate junctures. At the end of the interview, even if you missed a few questions, the overall feeling the interviewer has about you should be positive. If you know that you are not a great conversationalist, make sure to focus on improving this.”

Interpersonal interaction matters — so don’t let small talk fall to the wayside!

Coding Interview Tips:

  • Come up with a few good questions to ask your interviewer about their experience with the company.
  • Make a few jokes (if and when appropriate!).
  • Make small talk. 

Additional Resources:

The Final Takeaway: 

You might not land a job on your first interview attempt, or even the third — but with enough practice and persistence, you can absolutely build a career in the industry. 

We hope that after reading this article, you have a better sense of how to practice for a coding interview. If you take just one point away from this read, let it be this: 

Take care of yourself

Yes, you should study; yes, you should take on coding challenges and practice your self-sales pitch. But set aside some time for yourself, too. The night before the interview, have a good meal, pick out your interview clothes, go to bed early, and relax.

Your career can’t move forward without you — so, remember to keep your wellbeing in mind!

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