How To Prepare for Your Coding Interview in 10 Steps
Updated December 12, 2022
Employers perform coding interviews to determine your fluency and technical understanding of the coding languages they use. During a coding interview, you highlight your skills and capabilities in computer programming and training in information technology. Knowing what to expect in a coding interview helps you prepare to answer questions successfully and effectively.
In this article, we explain the purpose of a coding interview and show you how to prepare for one in 10 steps.
What is a coding interview?
A coding interview provides you with a chance to demonstrate your technical skills in a practical environment. The interviewer gives you a problem to solve and asks you to write working code to solve that problem. The interviewer may ask questions as you are coding about your thought processes.
In addition to the hands-on portion of the interview, you also answer questions about your experience and training, and you may also answer behavioral questions. Depending on where the interview takes place, you could complete the coding portion on your own computer at home or at the job site. Sometimes, the hiring manager may send the coding test before inviting you in for an interview. Other times, you may only see the test once you’ve begun the interview.
How to prepare for a coding interview
Consider the following steps when preparing for a coding interview:
1. Review common technical terms
Coding encompasses a wide variety of programming languages, and each has its own set of terms and processes. Hiring managers expect you to be comfortable with the coding languages their company uses, so it's ideal to familiarize yourself with various concepts that they may ask about. It is also a good idea to establish which of the programming languages you might use if you get the job.
Consider rereading past course materials and researching the subject online to remind yourself of standard technical terms and programming processes. Review college and training textbooks to test yourself on technical concepts. You can also create notecards to memorize terms and their definitions. Remember, it is also important to know how to apply these terms, so make sure you are comfortable putting them into context by using the concepts they represent in real equations.
2. Research the company
Before you have your coding interview, research the company to learn more about the work they do. Gain an understanding of what systems they use, the languages they prefer to work in and other aspects of their coding preferences. This is often important to know as you begin your live coding challenge. Some companies may let you program in a language of your choosing.
Researching the company gives you excellent foundational knowledge about the opportunity and gives you a better understanding of how you would fit into the company and its culture. You might find further information online about how the company conducts its coding interviews, which can help with your preparation.
3. Prepare to share your projects
A great way for the company to learn more about you is to hear about your previous projects. When the hiring manager asks you about specific work, share details about your particular tasks and outstanding accomplishments. Mention projects that show you have relevant and transferable skills that the company needs.
When explaining past projects, give the interviewers several details that elaborate on your project's scope and purpose. You can also provide the documentation for the projects so the hiring manager can see and follow your process. If you have an online portfolio, add the link to your resume so employers can review your work.
4. Have a mock interview
Practicing answers to common interview questions with a friend or family member is a great way to prepare for your next coding interview. During your mock interview, consider going through the whole interview scenario from start to finish. For example, practice your introduction and the question portion of the interview to feel confident about the entire process.
At the end of your mock interview, discuss what you can improve on and what you did well. If possible, find someone knowledgeable about coding to conduct your mock interview to receive more specific feedback.
5. Explain concepts out loud
Coding concepts are challenging to explain, especially when speaking to someone unfamiliar with the field. When a hiring manager wants to learn about your thought process, they might ask you to explain concepts. Before your interview, explain complex coding topics out loud to a friend. This type of practice makes it easier to recognize how well you understand a topic and what areas you should review. Explaining concepts ahead of time also helps improve your confidence, as you are identifying gaps in your knowledge and correcting them.
6. Ask others about their experiences
A helpful way to prepare for your interview is to ask your colleagues and other programming professionals about their coding interview experiences. Asking others about their experiences is especially useful if you speak to someone who has interviewed at the same company. Inquire about the nature of the questions and the interview process to learn more about what to expect. When you ask others about their experiences, think about what challenges you might face, and prepare for those obstacles accordingly. You may be able to find prior interviewees through social media.
7. Know your type of coding interview
Coding interviews could take many forms. For example, your interview might focus on answering questions or using a whiteboard to write information down for the hiring manager. In other cases, you may have completed a coding test before the interview, allowing the hiring manager to focus more on your work process and ability to fit in with the company culture. You may also code through a problem in real time with managers asking you questions to get you to explain your logic and intent.
Find out what interview type you'll have before you begin practicing to divide your time wisely. Consider contacting the company directly and asking them what kind of interview to expect to gain an understanding of how to prepare.
8. Practice algorithm questions
Algorithm questions are common in a coding interview because they assist hiring managers in checking your foundational knowledge. The hiring manager may ask algorithm questions to see how easily you evaluate and solve an equation. Review algorithm questions beforehand by solving various equations on your computer. You may find sample test problems from colleagues or on the internet, so it may be useful to practice going through those. Some common algorithm questions include binary searches, binary trees and arrays.
9. Review common interview questions
In addition to specific technical questions, hiring managers ask common interview questions to ensure you're the right candidate for the job. Many of these questions focus on your strengths, weaknesses and overall qualifications. Other questions focus on your job application, resume and cover letter. Common interview questions are not necessarily related to coding but rather evaluate your overall competency and professional attitude.
You can practice your responses to basic interview questions ahead of time and modify them during the interview based on context, such as how the interviewer phrases the question. For example, instead of asking about your weaknesses directly, an interviewer may ask, “What are your biggest areas in need of growth?” If you have planned an answer to address your weaknesses, you can modify this to address the actual interview question.
10. Know CS fundamentals
CS fundamentals are quick questions your interviewer asks to determine whether you have basic computer science skills. Some standard CS fundamentals questions include listing out the components of a computer system and explaining the types of computer processors. As a coding candidate, it’s good to be very familiar with CS fundamentals such as data structure, because of your past work experience and coding education.
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