Technical Interviews, Explained

For anyone who’s interested in the interview process for an engineering position, this is a synopsis of the patterns that have emerged from my experiences:

  1. Initial Phone Screen: This where you’ll get a briefing on a company, a recruiter will layout the process and answer any initial questions at a high level, it’s usually 30 minutes.
  2. Technical Phone Screen: Here, you meet with an engineer or in some cases a recruiter who’s been taught to ask technical question. In the meeting you’ll answer technical hypothetical questions that related to computer science fundamentals or common engineering problems. Usually about an hour. The best in my opinion are usually conversations about things you’re learning or just had done, but it’s rarely up to the candidate what goes during this interview.
  3. Homework Assignment: This is a take home project with a fixed amount of time to build a thing. Most times this is a week long thing with preset amounts of time asked to be spent on it ranging from 3 to 12 hours.
  4. On-site Technical Interview: This is the troupe, the one where you’re standing in front of a whiteboard solving more complex questions than a technical phone screen with an emphasis on how you’re solving and why you’re solve it the way you are, this is referred to as “whiteboarding” or a “whiteboard interview”. The questions are usually highly arbitrary but involve computer science principles or common interviewing questions. Usually, this is a part of an on-site interview loop, this portion tends to run about 90 minutes to 2 hours.
  5. On-site Behavioral Interview: This meeting is more of what people think of when they say interview, it’s talking about your background, experience, what you bring to the table, but you’re under immense scrutiny being ranked with a rubric of qualities that are highly volatile and subject to change.

Not every company follows this formula, it’s usually a mix and match situation of all of these steps. But usually, if you’re not just going through this process with one company at a time, it’s likely you’re doing this at a half a dozen companies. I talked to one friend and they went on something like 30 interviews in two months, on top of their full-time job.

There are lot of different things to say about this process, it’s not always fair, it’s often demanding, but it’s the pattern of what I’ve experienced, having been through dozens of interview processes.