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Lusen Mendel and Portia Kibble Smith answer remote technical interview and recruiting questions from NSBE software engineers
As organizations reevaluate hiring plans for the COVID-19 world, many job candidates are being left without resources. To support job seekers, the National Society of Black Engineers will be taking their annual career fair virtual for the first time next week, providing a vital lifeline for both software engineers seeking jobs, and for tech companies seeking candidates. But even with support from great organizations like NSBE, candidates are facing a dramatic shift in the way they need to prepare for things like job prospecting and nailing a remote technical interview.
Earlier this week, my colleague, Portia Kibble Smith, and I joined hundreds of NSBE software engineers for a webinar to share our candidate tips for remote technical interviews. I’m blown away and so appreciative of the time they took out of their evening to learn with us, so we’re following up with a mini-AMA blog edition to address the questions that we weren’t able to answer on the webinar. We’re also thrilled to be joined by Akissi C. Lewis, NSBE National Professionals Talent Development Chair, who helped answer the NSBE-specific questions we received.
I’ve included timestamp links to specific questions in the responses below, and we’re happy to respond to any additional questions in comments should they arise.
We talked about how important it is to spend time researching companies before your interview on the webinar. This is most relevant once you’ve narrowed down your search to the interview phase because it can help guide how you prepare ahead of technical interviews or phone screens.
With respect to career fairs, I recommend talking to as many companies and people as you can, especially if you are early in your career. You can make decisions later about who to invest time and research in once you see how many callbacks you get.
Both your resume and the impression you make talking with the recruiter will contribute to whether you get a follow-up to enter the candidate pipeline. (It doesn’t hurt to also apply online and follow-up with the recruiter on LinkedIn, just in case your resume gets lost in the pile).
Career fair conversations tend to be short. My main tip is to make it a conversation:
With incomplete solutions, it’s even more important to communicate your thoughts:
The interviewer may see what you’re missing and, if you’re stuck, provide hints to help you make progress and demonstrate more skills.
Depending on the job requirements, the interviewer might look favorably on a candidate who can work with an interviewer to make progress. Or they might want candidates who can solve problems like these on their own. Different companies have different work processes, and different roles require different skills — and it’s really hard to know as a candidate what they’re looking for! You can only do your best, and keep learning and practicing for future interviews.
Q: If you really messed up a technical interview does it ruin your chances with the company in the future?
The big, well-known companies, prevent candidates from re-applying too quickly (often once a year), largely because they are inundated with applications and have a very high bar.
However, there are plenty of other companies who don’t have rules like that, and in fact look favorably on candidates who (1) really want to work at their company, as shown by the motivated to try again, and (2) improve their skills, which demonstrates not only that they are qualified, but also that they are hard workers on an upward trajectory.
Here’s how I think about it: if you don’t solve a coding question in one interview (or assignment), and then you try again later and solve multiple problems, your abilities are not an average of the two performances: they’re the maximum!
Even great engineers get stuck sometimes, and of course, great engineers started out as beginners and got better with experience. Recruiters rejoice when candidates improve, so don’t be afraid to re-apply.
That said: it takes a lot of work to improve. At Karat we offer candidates the chance to redo an interview if they feel that they didn’t do their best. Most of the time, the outcome doesn’t change. Sometimes it does, and that is a wonderful thing that makes our redo very worthwhile. However, if the problem wasn’t a brain-freeze, but rather a mismatch of skills, a redo is not enough.
If you’re still reading, I know you’re committed to doing better. Here are the three things I want you to do after every coding interview:
Note: I shared the programming-specific steps this question references in the webinar.
My first 8 tips are to practice, do more practice, and then practice some more. Every time you solve problems, you strengthen your problem-solving muscles so that you can solve more problems correctly and quickly.
Ideally, you will also get feedback and insights into how to solve problems better. This could be something like recognizing when a problem might have an elegant recursive solution and then applying the recursive solution template of identifying base cases and inductive steps. Keep learning new things, but know that until you practice that knowledge a dozen times, you haven’t finished learning.
But for more immediate and actionable advice you can use right now for reducing nerves in a remote interview:
Usually, there is only time for you to ask one or two questions at the end of an interview, or maybe even none at all. Remember, your primary goal is still to impress the interviewer. Until you have an offer, you’re not making a decision, they are. Once you have an offer, then you’ll have time to ask important questions.
That said, it’s still ok to have a list of 10 questions. Maybe you have different questions for different people or depending on what you learn in the interview.
If an interviewer made that comment to me, I’d laugh along with them: “Heh, I like to be prepared! Ok here’s the one question I’d like to ask you…”
Thanks! Solution linked here. ?
Yes, people love talking about themselves. Just keep it professional. More details in the webinar.
Multiple tips from Portia and Lusen here.
In addition to the technical interview questions, we also received a number of questions about job seeking and recruiting that Portia took some time to address.
Absolutely! You have experience being on teams in school, sports teams, at church, and in your community. Using some of those examples of leadership are perfectly fine.
It shouldn’t be the responsibility of job seekers to fix systemic bias. It’s something we are constantly working to improve with Karat technical interviews. But bias does exist. You can prepare yourself for the realities of an interview by reviewing company feedback on places like Glassdoor or Blind.
Once you’ve done your research and have an idea of what you’re getting yourself into, focus on selling yourself for the job. Highlight what you can do to add value to the team. That is what’s going to help you land a position. And if they are not interested in you because of your race, sexuality or age, I say move on…there are too many firms that will want you just the way you are!
Answer their questions politely, and hope that someone in the interview link will be great at conversations. Remember, not everyone who interviews you is good at interviewing.
I like to ask about sponsorship upfront. Check with your recruiter before you spend too much time in the interview process.
That way you don’t spin your wheels thinking there’s an opportunity when there isn’t. Feel free to ask them, “if you don’t accept international students, do you know which of your competitors or colleagues do?”
There are many international companies that are open to sponsoring you. No reason to waste your time with an organization that isn’t!
If you find an interviewer/company who is not open to English being your second language, they probably are only fluent in English! Time to move on to a more international or forward-thinking company that values having bilingual employees. There are plenty of them out there!
Absolutely! You will need an internship whether it’s this summer, fall, or next summer. Getting the experience of attending career fairs is priceless especially early in your career. The more you do, the better you get! Test the water – you may surprise yourself!
Here’s a link that will help you outline and develop your Chalk Talk for the interview: https://blog.addgene.org/designing-your-chalk-talk-for-the-academic-job-interview
Thank you again to everyone who participated. And as Lus mentioned up above, we’re happy to respond to any follow-up questions as needed. Good luck with the job hunts!
Veru useful for Cracking the Coding Interview
This Post is very useful for those who want to crack technical interviews. Thank you for this information.
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