Technical Interviews: The Ultimate Guide

In this guide, we’ll explore what you can expect in a technical interview and help you prepare for the types of questions you may encounter. If you’ve written a good technical resume and cover letter, applied for lots of tech jobs, and been invited for a programming interview, this guide will help you figure out what to do next.

Technical interview preparation is vital if you want to land a top job in tech. During the interview process, companies use technical interview questions to assess your ability to use the required programming languages or tools. Furthermore, interviews will help identify how you work in different environments.

What Are Technical Interviews?

Two women in an office setting with a notebook and pen in front of them conducting a technical interview .
A technical interview typically involves questions and challenges for you to solve.

A technical interview takes place at the end of the hiring process and involves a series of technical interview questions to assess a potential employee’s skill level and technical ability. During these interviews, you will be asked a series of coding questions and may be presented with critical thinking or problem-solving challenges.

Technical interview preparation is key if you want to impress the interviewer and give yourself the best chance of landing the job. You should research how to answer tech interview questions and use online resources to practice your problem-solving and critical-thinking skills. 

What Is the Purpose of a Tech Interview?

The purpose of a technical job interview is to show a company that you have the technical skills you need to do the job. This is much more important than just telling someone that you have those skills by only including them on your resume. 

The purpose of a technical interview is not to trick you or give you incredibly complex brain teasers or algorithm design challenges to solve. Instead, the interview is designed to see how you solve the types of technical concepts and problems you may encounter on the job. 

For example, if you’re applying for a software engineering position, you’ll get questions about software systems, engineering principles, computer programming, and the software development process. Regardless of the field you choose, you’ll likely encounter questions that test your problem-solving skills.

What Happens in a Technical Interview?

What happens in a technical interview often depends on the company conducting the interview and the position you are applying for. Typically, you should expect to conduct an on-site interview, a technical phone screen, and some sort of test. You may be able to take the test home with you or complete it on-site as part of the interview process.  

Meta, for example, has an initial technical phone screen and then jumps straight into an on-site interview which lasts for one day. Smaller companies, such as tech startups, may skip the test portion of the interview and only conduct one on-site interview if they are trying to hire a lot of people quickly. 

Who Conducts Technical Interviews?

The details of whom you talk with will vary depending on the company, but there are usually two possible scenarios:

  • At a small company: members of the engineering team, or perhaps the CTO will conduct the interview. All interviewers will be part of the product development team and could be your boss if you get hired.
  • At a large company: recruiters, HR representatives, or a technical recruiter conduct the interview. Oftentimes, your interviewer will have little or no prior technical experience, especially if you are at the start of the interview process. You may or may not talk with people who you would be working with if you got the job.

Furthermore, most companies like to get the engineering team involved. They will be the ones working with the new hire. This means that you may have an extra technical interview with the engineering team before they notify you about whether you have the job. 

As part of your technical interview preparation, you should try to research who may be interviewing you by using LinkedIn. This can help reduce some of your pre-interview anxiety and give you an idea of what credentials are held by the person you will be talking to.

What to Know for Your Interview

As part of your technical interview preparation, you should have a good understanding of coding, development, and software terms. Knowing basic coding terminology will ensure you fully understand any coding questions you may be asked. These terms will help you relate to your interviewer and streamline the technical interview process.

Less obvious things to know for a cs technical interview include the company’s dress code and culture. Most tech companies have a casual dress code, but that does not mean you should show up to your interview in jeans and a t-shirt. Rather, you should try to dress above the company’s dress code, but not too much. 

For example, you might want to dress in business casual attire if the company has a very relaxed dress code. If you are unsure about what to wear, research the company online and try to figure out their dress code. You can also ask a recruiter, or if you know anyone who works at the company, you could also ask them directly.

The Stages of a Tech Interview

technical interview phone screening
The Phone Screen helps the interviewer get to know you before the technical interview.

There are three main tech interview stages. Typically, phone screening is the initial step of the technical interview process. The second stage after a technical interview is arranged is a take-home task, such as a problem-solving test. Finally, candidates will sit down and conduct a face-to-face technical interview, possibly including whiteboard questions. 

You must plan on answering technical questions at all stages and project an enthusiastic and cooperative attitude throughout the process. Let’s break these tech interview stages down and discuss them individually.

Phone Screening Interview

If a recruiter likes your resume and cover letter, and they are interested in talking with you, you will participate in a technical phone interview. During this technical screening interview, you will talk directly with a recruiter or another member of the company’s staff. 

Technical phone interview questions allow the recruiter to get to know you better. They won’t expect you to answer any highly-technical questions but instead will focus on finding out about your interest in the job and your soft skills. In preparation for a phone screen, you can research technical screening questions and make a tech phone interview cheat sheet.

During your phone screening interview, you should tailor all of your answers to the company that is interviewing you. If you are asked why you want to work for the company, don’t give them a generic answer. Use a specific answer to show that you have thought about the company and how you can contribute to their organization specifically. 

Tips for Phone Screening Interview

Here are a few technical phone interview tips to help with your preparation:

  • Be honest. Tell the interviewer about your interests, what projects you would like to work on, and what skills you have. It’s better to be honest and upfront so you don’t get caught off-guard later in the face-to-face interview.
  • Show, don’t tell. If you are asked any questions about your skills or characteristics, show them. If you’re passionate, make sure you sound passionate in your interview. If you have a lot of technical experience, tell them to check out your portfolio. If they ask about a project you have worked on, show them how you were involved.
  • Tailor your answers to the interviewer. Make sure you know who you are talking to in your interview and tailor your answers to them. If you’re talking with a software engineer, use the correct tech terminology. If you’re talking with a non-technical recruiter, talk more about your soft skills. 
  • Don’t assume the interviewer knows about you. You may be asked to talk briefly about a past coding project you have worked on. You shouldn’t expect the interviewer to know the ins and outs of the project. Even if they have read over your portfolio thoroughly, it’s unlikely they’ll remember every detail about your work. 
  • Research common questions. Research common technical phone interview questions such as “Why should we hire you?”. It is important to prepare an answer to this question before the interview for the best possible result.
  • Be clear. You should be clear with what you are talking about, and make sure the interviewer is clear on what you are discussing. Regularly stop to ensure your interviewer is still following along and show an interest in making sure the interviewer understands what you are talking about.

Technical Test

If you have completed the phone screen, you may be asked to complete a technical test for your interview. This is often a simple challenge designed to assess your technical skills before you come in for an in-person interview. The technical skills test for interview candidates may take up a few hours of your time and require your undivided attention. 

Some companies will give you a tool, such as CoderPad, and a programming challenge to solve in real time. You may do this challenge over a video interview and be expected to justify your decisions by using certain techniques during the interview. Other companies may ask you to complete a challenge within a certain time period, typically a few days. 

If you have been given a take-home coding assignment with a time limit, you should take the time to plan out what you are going to code before you start working. In addition, you should re-read the instructions until you fully understand them. As you make progress in your program, ensure you are still working within the parameters of the assignment.

If you are doing a real-time coding challenge, you need to be precise. Real-time challenges are usually not timed. This allows you to take some time to think about how you are going to solve the challenge and write out a short plan. Make sure that you don’t rush into things. Take it slow, and be careful.

Tips for Technical Tests:

Here are a few other things you can do to set yourself apart from other candidates at this point in the interview process:

  • This interview is about testing your coding skills. You should prepare for this interview by doing a few basic practices in whatever programming language you’ll be using in your interview. For instance, if JS is the focus, you can find excellent JavaScript coding challenges online to practice. Don’t spend too much time preparing for interview questions for the technical test as it’s mainly about your coding skills.
  • Do more than the minimum. Sometimes coding challenges, especially take-home ones, will have an extra task that you can complete. To set yourself apart from other candidates, do that challenge as well. This shows you are passionate about the job.

Technical Interview 

The final step is a face-to-face technical interview. This is perhaps the most intimidating component of the whole tech hiring process. You should be as prepared for the technical coding interview as you can. While the exact format will vary depending on the company size, there are a few key things you should know about any tech interview.

There are three types of technical interview questions you can expect during your interview. These questions are technical, behavioral, and design-based. Thorough technical interview preparation is key for acing this final part of the application process. Let’s explore each type in-depth.

Two women conducting a technical interview at a table with a notepad, pens, and a pair of glasses in front of them.
 Detailed technical interview preparation will help you answer the most difficult questions.

Technical Interview Questions

Technical job interview questions will be focused on a specific technology. For example, specific coding questions will focus on language, framework, or a general programming concept, depending on the role you are applying for. For example, if you’re interviewing for an iOS mobile app developer position, you can expect to be asked about Swift or UIKit.

Before you start the interview, you should use platforms such as HackerRank and Codewars to refine your programming knowledge and prepare for tricky technology interview questions. These platforms don’t just allow you to refine your technical skills in a specific technology, they can also help you review the basics, such as algorithms and data structures, and will help you answer common technical interview questions.

Technical interview questions can take two forms. You could either be expected to provide an oral answer or use a whiteboard. Oral questions will require a well-thought-out verbal answer, whereas whiteboard questions will usually involve solving a particular problem. You should practice technical interview questions that cover both of these possibilities. 

These interviews will usually last around an hour, with most of that time being spent on technical interview questions and answers. Before you go into an interview, make sure you have practiced answering technical job interview questions and challenges for this long period of time to build up your stamina. 

Technical Behavioral Interview Questions

A technical interview isn’t just about coding. Employers are interested in getting to know you as a person, as well, so they can figure out whether you’ll fit in with their culture. Therefore, in a coding interview, you can expect to be asked tech behavioral interview questions such as “Why did you apply for this position?”

It is important you practice these types of questions as well. Tech behavioral interview questions can sometimes be the toughest you’ll encounter, so you can use the following examples to help you with your technical interview preparation:

  • Talk about a time you failed and how you handled that failure.
  • Which of our company’s values is your greatest strength?
  • Tell us about a time when you solved a conflict at work.
  • Talk about your approach to solving difficult problems.
  • Give an example of how you set goals, and how you achieve those goals.
  • Tell us about a time you went above and beyond expectations.
  • What do you do if you disagree with your manager?
  • Who has influenced you the most in your career?
  • How do you stay organized?
  • Talk about a time you had to make a decision with a lot of ambiguity.

Tips for Technical Behavioral Interview Questions

When you are answering behavioral interview questions, there are a few tips you should keep in mind:

  • Be specific. Include statistics, context, technologies, examples, and anything else you think is relevant when you answer a question. The more specific you are, the easier it will be for an interviewer to get to know you.
  • Avoid negative language. Talk about the great work you have done. Even when you’re talking about a challenge you have encountered, try to use positive language. Avoid words that sound like you have failed such as “did not meet expectations” and instead focus on what you would do differently next time.
  • Stay focused on the question. Make sure your answers pertain to the exact question you are answering. Also, make sure your answers are concise. There will be a lot of questions the interviewer will want to get through in a short period of time.

Design Interview Questions

Design questions are very similar to technical questions and will relate to your technical skills. However, these questions are often more logical and require big-picture thinking. For example, in a backend web developer interview, you may get a question about how you would structure an API.

The goal of this question isn’t to have you draw up a perfect diagram of a system structure. Rather, it is to get an insight into your way of thinking about systems. These questions allow you to show how you would respond to bigger problems and how you would go about solving them. 

Tips for a Successful Technical Interview

person thinking out loud in a tech interview

1. Speak Clearly

You need to make sure you are being clear and specific when answering questions. If you get distracted or trail off in your answer, the interviewer may leave confused. Although you may think a coding interview is all about technical skills, interviewers are also evaluating your social skills.

Can you communicate well? Can you work well under pressure? And so on. Make sure you speak clearly while giving your answers, and if an interviewer looks confused, feel free to elaborate and break your answer down.

2. Think Out Loud

When you’re coding at home, you don’t have to talk out loud to explain your process to anyone else. But when it comes to a tech interview environment, one of the top technical interview tips is to talk through your code. This ensures the interviewer knows what your thought processes are.

Explain why you’re using a certain approach to solve a problem. This allows the interviewer to evaluate more than just your final answer. They want to know about the route you took to get there and how you work. This shows that you can talk about your thoughts while writing out code and provide clear responses when justifying coding decisions.

3. Make Sure You Understand the Question

Employers have several goals in mind when they ask you technical interview questions. Before you answer, take some time to think about the question. If you need any clarifications, ask the interviewer to repeat the question or clarify something you didn’t understand.

This is especially important when you’re asked unfamiliar or highly-involved technical questions. If you need to, ask them to repeat any part of the question you didn’t get the first time. If you ask questions, you can make sure you know exactly what they expect of you, and you can show the interviewer that you value clarity.

4. Don’t Panic

If you get stuck, don’t panic. Instead, you should think about your ideas out loud, and try out new ideas if what you are doing isn’t working. If you are unsure about the answer to a question, don’t immediately start worrying. You should instead take a moment to think about potential answers.

This technical interview tip is harder to put into practice than it sounds. But the one thing you should remember is that this interview is your chance to showcase your potential. It’s not the end of the world if you get stuck.

If you don’t know the answer to a question, tell the interviewer that. If you can’t come up with a complete answer, show your work anyway on the whiteboard. You may get some credit for trying a problem, especially if it was intentionally complex.

5. Keep Your Solutions Clear

In addition to speaking clearly, you should also keep your solutions to whiteboard questions clear and simple. You don’t get bonus points for writing a lot of code. On the contrary, the more efficient you can make a program, the more likely you are to advance to the next stage of the hiring process.

When you are designing your solutions, you should also make sure your variable names are clear. Don’t use names only you understand. Instead, make them clear and state their purpose in the variable name.

The more confused an interviewer is when they are reviewing your code, the less likely they are to reach out to advance the hiring process. Feel free to add comments if they will help you think through a problem or provide clarity for the interviewer.

Ask the Interviewer Questions

At the end of the interview, you will have an opportunity to ask the interviewer a few questions. Knowing what questions to ask in a technical interview is a great way to set yourself apart from other candidates and show that you have thought about the company. When you know what technical questions to ask an interviewer, it makes them feel as if a discussion is going on. This allows them to get to know you on a personal level.

When it comes to what technical interview questions to ask, you should have two or three good ideas in mind before the interview even starts. Here are a few example questions to ask in a tech interview:

  • What is your company’s tech stack?
  • Does your company offer any training opportunities?
  • What does the team culture look like at the company?

How to Prepare for a Technical Interview

Technical interviews are a daunting task. There’s a lot that you will need to prepare for. Whether it be working on a whiteboard or answering the types of questions that will come up in the interview, proper technical interview prep will help you succeed and increase the chances that you get the job.

In the following section, we provide you with tips on how to prepare for a technical interview. This includes studying fundamental tech principles, mock interviews, and researching the company you are interviewing for, to name a few.

Study the Basics of Computer Science

Technical positions such as data scientists, web developers, and Android developers require a good knowledge of CS fundamentals, such as data structures and algorithms. Make sure you are familiar with the basics of computer science as part of your technical interview prep. Here are a few common CS concepts you should be familiar with if you get some specific computer science interview questions:

  • Arrays
  • Data structures
  • Trees
  • Sorting algorithms
  • Hash tables

Think About Past Projects

During the interview, you might have to talk about a project you have worked on in the past. You should make sure that before you start your interview, you have a few specific projects in mind that you can talk about in-depth. These projects should be relevant to the position you are applying for, and demonstrate your hard and soft skills in action.

For example, you may talk about a time when you built a challenging full stack web application and discuss how you overcame the major challenges associated with the project. If you don’t have a track record of working on professional projects, build a programming portfolio of side projects which showcase your skills. 

Do Dry-Runs

There is no better way to prepare for a tech interview than to do a mock interview with real questions. Interviewing is a skill, and you can improve with practice. Mock interviews allow you to simulate the interview environment. They also prepare you mentally for what you can expect. This will also make you feel more confident about going into the interview room.

Refine Your Elevator Pitch

Like founders pitching their company, you should have a short elevator pitch that features your job history, past projects, and anything else that might be relevant. This pitch should be around one minute long and tell the interviewer the main things they need to know about you.

By preparing an elevator pitch, you’ll be able to effectively answer the dreaded “tell me about yourself,” question, which often feels unnatural to answer. Think about your main accomplishments and figure out how you can articulate them in a short and concise manner.

Know the Company

Do some research on the company. Find out what their long-term ambitions are and who they work with. It is a good idea to find out what their products are. You should also research if they are a direct-to-consumer or business-to-business company to prepare you for the end of the interview when you can showcase your interest in the company by asking questions.

You can find out more information about the company you are interviewing for on platforms such as LinkedIn or Glassdoor. These sites often feature reviews of larger companies’ cultures and hiring processes. 

Understand Your Field

You’d be surprised how often interviewers ask basic questions. You may think that a programming interview will include complex challenges, but some questions are simple. You should know the basics of whatever technologies you claim to know, just in case they ask you any basic questions.

Go over the basics and make sure you know them inside out. You may also receive open-ended questions that allow the interviewer to assess your grasp of the fundamentals. These types of questions also help the interviewer to understand your technical mindset in more depth, as there is no specific right answer.

Learn How to Manage Your Time

Your interview will only last an hour or so, and you should know how to use that time effectively. Set a timer when you’re doing practice questions and mock interviews. This will help you prepare for the actual interview where the interviewer will have a list of things they want to cover in a short period of time.

What to Avoid in a Technical Interview

During an interview, getting a technical question wrong can feel like your chances of employment are done. However, it is important not to panic and walk out of the interview. There are a few other pitfalls to avoid during a technical interview. Let’s break these down so you know what not to do.

Failing to Prepare

Spend as much time as possible preparing for your interview. You’d be surprised how many people don’t. Adequate technical interview preparation can easily set you ahead of everyone else. Don’t think that you will just figure it out in the room. Don’t forget, if you fail to prepare, you are preparing to fail.

Being Impersonal

During an interview, it can be tempting to solely focus on your technical skills. But the interviewer wants to get to know you as a person too. Therefore, you need to show your personality in your interview. Try to make conversation and most importantly, be yourself.

Laugh at any jokes if it is appropriate. When you walk into the interview, be polite and personable. If the interviewer leaves thinking that you are great at working with others, they are more likely to offer you the job.

Rushing for an Answer

You only have a limited amount of time in which to answer questions. Therefore, it is easy to rush an answer so you can make your way through the interview quicker. Before answering technical interview questions, make a plan in your head and keep a clear sense of direction when working. This will reduce the chance that you make basic mistakes in your interview.

What to Do After the Interview

Once your interview is over, you must wait to hear back from the company about the next steps. However, there are a few things you can do after your technical interview to improve your chances of being successful.

Firstly, you should remember that this job is not the only one out there. It can feel bad to be rejected, but there are always other jobs you can apply for. Don’t tell yourself that you are going to get the job, as that can make you feel worse if you don’t. If you don’t get the job, think about the interview as practice for the future.

You may consider sending a thank-you email after your technical interview. This shows that you appreciate the time the company has invested in screening you and that you value the company. Sending a follow-up email after technical interviews is a great way to stand out from everyone else as most people will not go to this effort.

Conclusion: Get Your Dream Job in Tech

A technical interview may seem intimidating, but you should think of it as your best opportunity to show off your skills to someone new. Furthermore, with all the tips we have covered in this article, you should feel adequately prepared when walking into the interview room.

Technical interview preparation can make or break the job search, so it’s vital to practice as much as possible. With the help of these technical interview questions and answers, you can advance through the hiring process with confidence. In the end, keep practicing, revising, and learning. The more you practice, the better your chances are of getting your dream job.

Technical Interview FAQs

How hard is an Amazon technical interview?

An Amazon technical interview is difficult. Amazon technical interview questions assess every skill a candidate has, such as communication, technical knowledge, common sense, and confidence. Furthermore, a technical interview at Amazon consists of three rounds.

What are some software engineer technical interview questions?

Software engineer technical interview questions will focus on specific aspects of software engineering such as software development, user interface design, information system life cycle, database application, and coupling and cohesion. Furthermore, software engineering terminology is key for technical interview questions regarding software engineering.

What should I wear to a technical interview?

What to wear to a technical interview depends on the company you are interviewing for. A good rule of thumb is to wear an outfit that is one level higher than the company’s dress code. For example, if the company allows employees to wear jeans or shorts, come to the interview in business casual dress.  

How long does it take to hear back after a technical interview?

It typically takes about five working days to hear back after a technical interview. You may have to wait longer if there is a long list of candidates to interview and get through. If you are waiting more than a week to hear back, you can consider sending a follow-up email to the company.

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