Survey: What Worries You Most About the Tech Interview Process?

The tech interview process is typically long and arduous. You’ll likely have to talk to several people throughout the company, and perform some sort of whiteboard or take-home work. Out of all those steps, what’s your biggest concern?

This week, our survey focuses on whatever parts of the tech interview process turn you off the most. Maybe it’s the weeks (or months!) you spend scheduling calls and interviewing with people you don’t know. It can all take hours you can’t recoup.

Or perhaps your chief concern is the dreaded whiteboard. The oft-maligned whiteboard coding interview is among the more dreaded elements of tech job hunting. Though some companies have switched to pair coding or take-home projects as ways to evaluate candidates, the whiteboard is still used by many an interviewer.

Social media could also have you worried. Though we’ve cautioned you to clean up your social media presence before applying for jobs, there’s still some consternation in that arena; what if you tweeted something really stupid, like, four years ago… and the prospective employer digs it up? Worse, what if you do clean up your Facebook or Twitter history, and they see that as a warning sign?

There’s also the danger of being stumped – or more directly, how you deal with being stumped in a tech interview. Sitting in front of a panel of people who have the same idea of how to proceed with a particular problem is daunting when you’re asked to provide your solution.

Then there’s one of the last hurdles: your old (or current) employer. Is your prospective employer going to ask you some “off the record” questions about your old company? Is that really stupid joke you made in a meeting last year going to resurface and cost you a job? Did they manage to chat with that one manager who doesn’t like you for some weird reason? References can be one of the deepest, darkest black holes of any job interview process.

Let us know what the most dreaded part of the tech interview process is for you! We ask that you choose one answer for this quiz before clicking ‘submit’ (we know, it says ‘select all that apply,’ but please ignore that; just pick one answer). As always, we’ll be publishing our findings in a future article, so stay tuned!

7 Responses to “Survey: What Worries You Most About the Tech Interview Process?”

  1. James Igoe

    The problem with this survey is that the options are not varied enough and the format doesn’t allow for multiple choice with weighting or ordering.

    The items that concern me:

    – Social presence

    My facebook profile has been described as being squeaky clean, but my politics show on Twitter or in discussion groups, and it only takes one person to derail my hire. Working in finance, it’s easy to find a belligerent, hardcore Republican.

    – Former employer

    For myself, I just started a new job at a great employer, and my last manager was unhappy with me, but I have a good number of former managers and colleagues who will give me very positive reviews. Does my last exit, bother? Yes. Is it number one? Maybe.

    – Being Stumped: …or not handling it well

    I’ve certainly read many books and articles on CS, as well as some on algorithms, even putting together a blog on the basics, understand their situational value, but my feeling is that they are minimally useful for my work. I’ve created a broad range of applications, and design patterns seem much more important. So too for performance choices, languages features, architectural decisions, UI/UX, etc. I once had an interview that was 90% algorithms, absurd to me, but its what that company wanted. It was not part of the description, but it was certainly something that a Glassdoor search turned up.

    Also, my experience covers ten (10) to fifteen (15) years, and I can often easily pick up old technology I’ve worked with, or even with new technology, but it’s likely I won’t interview well if I need to come across as an expert.

    – Ageism

    This doesn’t scare me much, and maybe should. I’m 58, and although up to date with newer technologies – not the latest, but good enough – have GitHub repos, and display work covering data analysis in R and Python, mathematical work in F#, and other covering basic design patterns and algorithms, one cannot completely free oneself of a sense that there might be some bias against me primarily because of my age. Even the reverse could be a problem, wondering why I still code rather than manage.

  2. Agree with the previous poster… I’m getting up there in age and really looking to make move into management… being in IT for 20+ years means I usually get skipped over, so have to resort to tricks like not having my resume as inclusive or making sure older things are left off.

    Social media is not a problem for me because I keep it private and will not give up the passwords… sorry no, that is personal. You can look at my LinkedIn all you want. If you want to see what I have posted in other areas, you will have to do the work and get your way past the safe guards.

    I hate Dictionary Interviews… with a passion… I’ve been in IT for a long time, I’ve been a Sr Developer for many years, and you’re worried that I know the definition of a particular term or if I am familiar with every technical detail your architect said I should know? How about what have I done or how would I do something?

    I’m finding that the longer I am in IT, the more and more these companies are using pre-written tests and questions and answers than actually doing solid interviews. I’ve been on the other side of the table, and to me, the ability to think and solve problems is much more important than them knowing the syntax of a statement off the top of their head… we have Intellisense and tools available that can help, but having to know every switch option on the git command without googling if needed?


  3. James Igoe

    On the flip side, here is how I handle some of these concerns

    – Social presence

    I use tools, some subscription based, to clean up my profile, i.e., Scrubber, TweetDeleter, and BrandYourself. For choosing the best headshots I use PhotoFeeler.

    – Former employer

    Maintaining good connections with former coworkers and managers, as well as collecting recommendations on LinkedIn. Even if a significant former manager had issues – maybe nothing to do with work, but a job loss as part of a merger or management turnover – there are often other managers from the same employer that can vouch for one.

    – Being Stumped

    This seems more obvious, but keeping current with technology, keeping your skills sharp, and not stretching one’s abilities too far. For a role description, what is the right percentage? I’ve read men opt for 60%, while women more often opt for 100%, and both seem wrong. Overreach is failure and maybe even unethical while opting for 100% makes one overqualified and unlikely to get a call.

    – Ageism

    Some of the bias I believe can be attributed to appearances, overweight and general decline associated with age, so staying fit and maintaining oneself is a strong response, although many are incapable of doing so. As for technology, always learning, honing one’s experience to expertise, and pushing one’s own tech stack forward. Writing. blogging, and contributing to projects is another way to stay relevant.

  4. Greg M. Thompson

    The biggest problem with tech interviews is, in my experience, the interviewers don’t know how to properly interview.

    Don’t get me wrong. I’m certainly no expert on the matter, but I’ve conducted a number of interviews, and I have a fairly good idea on how to suss out the skills and abilities of a candidate, without making the candidate stress out, and / or feel like a dummie.

    The first thing I do, when meeting a candidate, is just have a casual conversation about what projects the candidate has worked on, and what specific problems the candidate has helped to solve. It’s a very light-hearted, almost enjoyable, chatty conversation. My goal is to make the candidate feel comfortable, and allow him / her to think as clearly as possible and display to me their best problem-solving abilities.

    Without even really knowing it, the conversation segues into topics of a more technical nature. I just start off with some easy questions about coding constructs, design patterns, questions about whatever hardware platform the position will involve working with. All of my questions directly pertain to the position that we’re trying to fill. If the position involves working a lot with moble location-tracking on maps, or with fetching data in the background while the app is inactive, then I ask questions having to do with those technologies. I don’t bother with asking how to get O(n) performance on a Selection Sort algorithm, unless we’re interviewing to fill a position that involves designing and implementing a library of collection types.

    If the interview is going well after the easy questions, I might jump into conversations having to do with design and coding. Maybe we might get to writing something on the whiteboard, but in many cases, if the candidate has some publicly assessible code on Github, that he / she has been working on, we will take a look at at, and talk about design and implementation approaches. I want to see the real stuff that the candidate has produced, not some whiteboard crap that the candidate may very well have memorized by using one of those online interview prep courses.

    A lot of times we don’t have time to write code, because as any experienced software dev knows, software creation is at least 50%, if not more, about design, 20% coding, 20% testing, and 10% other stuff. During the interview, we spend most of the time talking about design.

    Sorry to ramble. That’s my 2-cents.

    • James Igoe

      I would agree that most people don’t know how to interview. For myself, I decided to research academic material on interview techniques and the relationship to employee productivity. What I found was that situational interviews and/or questions worked best, nearly as well as standard intelligence tests or measures of conscientiousness. I certainly do not follow an ideal process, as there is still some element of bias and variation, but I do try to be fair, objective, and aim to refine the process over time.

      My interviews are typically for either of two roles, project manager or software developer. For each, I developed a standard list of question domains and criteria:

      – Coding/Tools/Processes – Do they use and/or have depth in what we need, and do they practice good code hygiene?

      – Domains (Business/Technical) – How well experience covers expectations, and whom they’ve interacted with?

      – Behavioral/Situational – What are their best and wost work examples, how have they handled conflict, and how do they handle deliverables/stress?

      – Personal – How well can they communicate, what tools do they use, how conscientious are they, and what is their general cognitive ability? Obviously, some individuals, particularly introverts might not shine in some regards, being slower to process, and I do take that into account.

      In addition, some other team members have added work product to the mix, looking at the result, as well as discussing it with the person to get a better sense of their abilities.

  5. cynicalOldBat

    Agree with the person who hates the dictionary interview. I’ve worked for myself for years and done hiring both for me and for previous jobs. There are a few syntax questions that I’d expect anyone to know off the top of their head, but I don’t even care about those. I want to see that someone has an understanding, not the ability to parrot something basic – and I’m totally uninterested in their knowing obscure syntax because I want someone who knows how to look up and understand information when they encounter something new. If someone has memorized, say, Java backwards and forwards down to the smallest detail, then they probably haven’t been doing anything else for years (and some of their details are or will be obsolete soon) or they crammed, like for a test, to get that; it makes me uncertain that they would have a good ability or interest if the project were not using that language.

    As far as tech screenings, they’re both meaningless and insulting. If I’ve been working for years and have a good track record (I’ve even taught various languages at college level), then telling me the tech screen is required of all applicants says they have a low level of skill or don’t need thinking programmers. It says they’re weeding out rather than inspecting applicants. They’re also trying to decipher written resumes. You won’t believe the times I’ve caught fake college degrees or diploma mills because the school is something I’ve never heard of, but no one else caught it – so in other words, I’m being interviewed by people who won’t do a basic Google search.

    As far as the person saying agism is about appearance – right, because they know I look bad (I don’t) from my resume. I’m in my 50s, but I don’t have gray hair yet (naturally). I’m more fit than many younger people (I walk several miles every day, work with light weights, do my own yard work, with a manual lawn mower, and house remodeling). I can more than keep up in either a tech or social conversation and my resume is current (dumped all the old tech buzzwords). When people see female + graduated in 1980s, they see grandma. They assume I’ve had a “decline associated with age.” Grandma can’t do tech because they do everything on Facebook. Grandma is a drain on the group because no one is comfortable around them. She won’t work long hours because everything is family, for which they leave early. As far as leaving off dates, well, that is an automatic flag that the person is old. I’ve had places tell me that they don’t look at resumes without dates, and, of course, online forms often require inputting dates.

    Don’t put the assumption on the applicant that they’ve let themselves go or haven’t done the basic things you suggest. “Incapable of doing so?” How old are we talking about? Or is this a personal failing from weak people? Perhaps when their minds go, they get slack and goofy about appearance (oh, that kitty cat sweat shirt is perfect for work because it goes with my “hang in there!” poster). The only other meaning of “incapable” I can think of is that a person is disabled, and that’s really low to say someone who is disabled should be judged on fitness or appearance. Nice. Hope I don’t ever bid on a project with a group that has this mentality.

    • James Igoe

      Cynical* –

      Pardon if I offended. I was not aiming to, and I see how it might have been interpreted.

      I do think appearance is part of the bias, and even if one does maintain oneself – it seems you do and so do I – that many people are incapable of changing their behavior to get fitter. It wasn’t a judgment. For myself, getting fit in my 20’s came about because I had reached the bottom, at least for myself, and needed to change. It was an extreme moment. I do not assume the kind of changes I’ve made in my life and the same that others can make. When I found fitness and changed my life in a number of ways, I was evangelical about it, but realized later that my style could not help others – I am too fact and information-driven – and that most people are incapable of that kind of change.