How to Prepare for Software Engineer Interview Questions and Coding Tests

Janey Zitomer
December 6, 2019

Demonstrating proficiency in computer science core strategy requires more preparation than script mastery. This means walking into a software engineering interview knowing what code editor you’ll be working with and the type of problems you might be solving. 

Before an interview, NYC engineer Sasha Tailor once let her potential employer know that she didn’t have experience in a framework she’d be tested on. After managing expectations, she researched common practice problems on CodeAcademy. With this preparation in her back pocket, she was able to direct the interview toward her strengths and outline her thought process during the coding test. 

Below, Tailor and engineer Christie Ramsaran explain why transparency and planning are crucial to feeling confident for software engineering interviews.

 

Ribbon employees
ribbon

Sasha Tailor, software engineer at Ribbon, has found that the most helpful thing you can do before and during an interview is to ask questions. If you’re not comfortable going directly to your interviewer, make use of the ample resources available online. This includes working through practice problems and having a prior understanding of everything from question layout to dress code. The fewer surprises you have going in, the more you can focus on showing off your skill set, Tailor said. 

 

You’ve found a posting for your dream job and landed an interview. What steps would you take to prepare for the coding test?

If you’re using a headhunter, ask them about previous applicants’ interviews and see if there is any information about the process on Glassdoor. Most companies are fairly open about their interviewing processes and will give you information about the type of coding challenge you’re going to get, as well as whether you will be coding in a Google doc, screen share or something like CodePen. I’ve found that almost every company has been willing to give more detailed information when asked. 

Use resources such as Hackerrank, CTCI and GeeksforGeeks for practice problems and become familiar with whichever code editor you will be using in the interview, including how to debug, compile and run test cases. 

Use resources such as Hackerrank, CTCI and GeeksforGeeks for practice problems.’’

What are the toughest or most challenging interview questions that you’ve been asked, and how did you respond? 

I had an in-person interview scheduled and not a lot of prep time, and there was going to be a refactoring exercise in a language and framework that I had no experience in. To prepare, I practiced using CodeAcademy and I researched common refactoring problems and best practices. It was clear from my resume that I didn’t know this language. But to manage expectations, I also let them know ahead of time by email, and brought it up in person to my interviewer. I wasn’t able to do the exercise as quickly as I would have liked, but I was able to clearly talk through my thought process and show understanding of the framework. It showed I could communicate and had a steep learning curve, which are valuable assets in an employee.

 

 

theSkimm
theskimm

In previous interviews, Software Engineer Christie Ramsaran said she focuses on not allowing the stressful environment to distract her from gathering the information she needs to generate thoughtful responses. Taking your time to provide informed, insightful answers, theSkimm coder said, is not only perfectly acceptable. It’s responsible. 

 

You’ve found a posting for your dream job and landed an interview. What steps would you take to prepare for the coding test?

I always start by researching the company to better understand the interview process. Every company approaches coding interviews in a different way. The recruiter is a great resource. I ask if I’ll be whiteboarding or using a laptop, and whether I’ll be pairing with a developer at the company. I also ask if the recruiter can share a list of common topics. From there, I study any topics that feel particularly rusty and reread “Cracking the Coding Interview” by Gayle Laakmann McDowell. 

Finally, practice questions. I usually source questions from the same book or one of the many online coding challenges banks. I recommend finding a buddy to simulate an interview.  

I study any topics that feel particularly rusty and reread ‘Cracking the Coding Interview’ by Gayle Laakmann McDowell.’’ 

What are the toughest or most challenging interview questions that you’ve been asked, and how did you respond?

I often find vague interview questions the most challenging. For example, I was once asked how I would replicate a feature from the interviewer’s code editor. Unfamiliar with the feature, I struggled to find an answer. I asked clarifying questions and ultimately responded with the data structure that would best suit the task. In hindsight, I should have spent more time understanding the problem before diving into a response.

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