4 engineers from Google, Netflix, Twitter, and WordPress offer their best tips for nailing a tech job interview — and the questions they faced when applying for their roles
- CNBC Markets noted that Google reportedly pays entry-level engineers around $189,000 in total compensation.
- Business Insider spoke with four engineers who currently work or have worked at major tech companies like Google, Twitter, and Netflix for their best advice for nailing the interview.
- They advised doing your research before walking through the door and preparing to answer questions about your soft and hard skills.
- They also provided two sample questions you may get asked in an interview.
- Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
Tech companies continue to grow increasingly attractive to job seekers because of their competitive salaries, fantastic employee benefit programs, and fun perks.
In 2012, a list compiled by Glassdoor showed that software engineers at most tech companies, including Google, earned just over $100,000 a year on average. Since then, the salary offerings have only increased, with Google reportedly paying entry-level engineers around $189,000 in total compensation, or about $124,000 in salary and $43,000 in stock, according to CNBC Markets.
With that said, it should come as no surprise that getting hired at one of these top-rated tech companies is no easy feat. But if you have managed to get beyond the first hurdle and landed yourself an interview at the company of your dreams, then you'll need to be prepared for what comes next.
And to better help you prep for that upcoming conversation, Business Insider reached out to four software engineers to get their advice for putting your best foot forward — along with a few possible interview questions you could encounter and the best way to approach them.
Do your research before stepping through the door
"Start by researching anything you can find about them, the team you'll be working with, and the product space you'll be in," Rich Smith, a software engineer at Netflix, told Business Insider. "The idea is to get a clear picture of the company and where you might fit so that you can confidently speak on it and ask better questions about it. If they have a technical blog, culture deck, API documentation, etc. — familiarize yourself with it."
Smith said that everything you pick up while doing your research will help you present yourself in a way that helps your interviewers actually see you working alongside them.
"Plus, it shows that you're diligent and well studied," he added.
Before his own interview, Smith said he browsed the LinkedIn profiles of everyone at the company that he had come across, along with other members of the team he'd be working with if he ended up getting the job. By doing this, he said it allowed him to "get a better sense of their backgrounds and experience," which ultimately helped him to better relate to his interviewers and potential team members.
Smith also recommended utilizing your network to find people who work or have worked at the company "in order to gain their perspectives about it based on their experience."
"Gathering information from a variety of sources allows you to make sure you have a broad perspective so you can make the best possible decision for yourself," he said.
Prepare to answer 2 types of questions
Omose Ogala, a software engineer at Twitter who has been supporting the company's revenue-products team for over two years, said that interviewees are likely to encounter questions that highlight both your soft skills and hard skills.
"For soft skills, you'll get asked questions where an interviewer will want to know your communication and leadership style," he said. For hard skills, he added, they'll want to understand your foundational skill set in engineering and ability to apply those skills while problem solving.
Smith went on to break down his own interviewing process while evaluating front-end engineers at Twitter.
For culture or team fit, Smith likes to ask about difficult, confusing, or challenging situations candidates have been in but had minimal control over and how they navigated them.
"Being able to work effectively with your team as well as any cross-functional partners (especially product managers and designers) and set expectations with them is a key skill to have to be successful on any team," he said. "However, how proficient you are expected to be will depend on the level and amount of experience the candidate has and/or the role they are applying for."
On teams where there are more senior engineers who have the bandwidth to train someone more junior, he expects engineers to pick up many skills on the job. But if a candidate will be one of the first engineers on a team, "you'd need to be more capable of giving order to nebulous asks and engaging with partners to drive efforts," he said.
Example questions you're likely to face in an engineering job interview, and how to answer them
Jesse Newman, a software engineer who worked at Google for five and a half years, offers this one "example of a question similar to those that might be asked" during an interview at Google, based on her own experience: "Given a tree of nodes, and two nodes, find the least common ancestor of those two nodes."
"With that problem, the first thing I would do is ask clarifying questions," Newman said. For example, you could ask: Do the nodes have parent pointers? Could you pass in two of the same node, and what should I do in that case? Could you pass in a node that is not in the tree?
She advised that candidates talk through different solutions and the tradeoffs of the different algorithms.
"Once I have an algorithm I'm confident in, I'll start coding," she said. "Depending on the complexity of the algorithm, I may use pseudocode first to make sure I don't forget anything."
While coding, she'll talk through her code and why she's doing things a certain way, as well as what other options exist.
"For example, I may discuss how my helper function is slightly less inefficient in some way, but I believe it makes the code more readable, which makes it less prone to errors by other people who work on the code in the future," she said.
Joel Dean, a recently hired software engineer at WordPress, said he was asked about his previous roles when interviewing for his current job — and he made sure to play up the roles where he made the biggest impact and the roles that, "were relevant to the position so that the interviewer was able to see that I was experienced in my craft and I had been at it for a long time," he said.
"Along with that, I also ensured that I expressed in detail how my abilities impacted the business itself," he said. "That's a very important thing to note, as being good at coding isn't the only requirement. They like to see that you are good at solving business problems, and one of the best things to highlight that is to showcase the impact in numbers. For example, I stated that I created a testing suite that made sure the app was stable before being deployed to 500,000 users."
One question Dean has encountered in job interviews is: "What's one of the hardest problems you ever worked on, and how did you solve it?"
"For this question, I ensured that I spoke at length about a problem that was impacting the business and users and also a problem that was technically challenging so that I could give details from both standpoints," Dean said. With this, he stated the problem, the solution, and the key takeaways, and ensured that the problem was actually relatable to the role he was interviewing for.
During his interview at WordPress, Dean said he highlighted a poorly performing component in an app at his last job. The component was a signature-based screen which allowed users to sign a document or image, but Dean noticed that the screen became slow and users were facing difficulties logging in because of severe lags. Since this was such an important feature for the app, Dean said a solution had to be created immediately to address it.
"This is where I was able to utilize my knowledge of analyzing memory management and its connection to the app performance, and that allowed me to trace the issue down and create an improvement that got the feature working smoothly," he said.
By choosing to highlight this issue, Dean said it showcased that he "understood how to trace down issues that are in production apps" and "was able to create a solution that would improve the experience for the user."
Be honest if you're interviewing elsewhere
"It's okay to share any other companies you're interviewing with, and the stage of the interview process you are at with them" if you're asked, Smith said. Doing so lets them know that you're actively looking and that you have the potential to receive multiple offers.
"And if they happen to be excited about meeting with you, it could help to expedite the process so they have a chance to evaluate you before potentially losing you," he added. "Interviewing is an expensive and time-consuming process for companies, so if they are giving you a chance, they're hoping for you to succeed."
This article was originally published December 16, 2019.
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Disclosure: Mathias Döpfner, CEO of Business Insider’s parent company, Axel Springer, is a Netflix board member.
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