The Power of Practice: Mock Interviews for Software Engineering
By Stefan Mai
Aug 11, 2023
Why mock interviews are essential
Interviewing for a new company can be a stressful and exciting experience. The chance of starting something new (or for the first time!) coupled with the desire to be validated makes interviewing unique. Fortunately, most people aren't interviewing a lot - once you're settled into a job you're optimistically not looking for a new one for more than a year. Yet that infrequency can be a curse as most people are out of practice. It's not strictly enough to be good at your job as interviews are also about how you communicate your skills and experience.
What's the best way to make sure you're successful? Two things: practice and feedback. While simply interviewing a lot can help you get feedback, they're expensive in terms of time and don't offer the feedback you need to succeed. This is why 82% of hiring managers believe that mock interviews are an effective way to prepare for job interviews. Mock interviews give you both: a safe place to remove the rust and hone your skills coupled with directed feedback to continually improve. With a small number of mock interviews, most candidates can be massively more successful.
Practice isn't the thing you do once you're good. It's the thing you do that makes you good.
- Malcolm Gladwell
The benefits of practicing with mock interviews
Imagine stepping into your software engineering interview, cool as a cucumber, knowing you've faced all possible questions. That's the power of mock interviews. They transform anxiety-inducing scenarios into familiar terrains by letting you practice in a safe environment.
Keeps the nerves at bay:
With mock interviews, you can face your fears head-on, soothing those pre-interview jitters. The more you practice, the more comfortable you'll feel when it's showtime.
Develops your answers:
Mock interviews give you the chance to hone your answers. With practice, you can refine your responses, ensuring they're succinct and impactful.
An opportunity to receive feedback:
Feedback is a precious resource. Mock interviews provide this opportunity, allowing you to adjust and improve your performance. Nearly 90% of job seekers who participated in mock interviews found the experience helpful in identifying areas for improvement.
Let's break down the benefits of mock interviews:
|Confidence||By simulating the interview experience, mock interviews help boost your confidence.|
|Preparation||They also allow you to get comfortable with technical questions and problem-solving under pressure.|
|Improved Communication||Through practice, you learn to express your thoughts clearly and concisely, a crucial skill in any software engineering interview.|
|Feedback||By receiving immediate, constructive feedback, you can work on areas of improvement before the actual interview.|
So, whether you're a seasoned engineer or just starting in the field, mock interviews can be your secret weapon to nailing that software engineering interview. After all, practice doesn't just make perfect; it makes permanent. And in the high-stakes world of job interviews, that could make all the difference.
How to find a mock interview partner
The quality of feedback and practice is going to depend in large part on your mock interviewer. The best mock interviewer is someone who is hiring at a company similar to the one that you're interviewing at. They'll have a keen sense of what they are looking for in a candidate and be able to offer you tips on how to communicate your skills and experience. Many professional coaches will offer their services for $200-300 for top companies. Hello Interview coaching is usually drastically less expensive but you'll still need to pay for the time.
You can also use AI to simulate the interview setting and give you feedback and tips. ChatGPT responds well to prompts like "You are an expert software engineering interviewer..." though you'll need to interpret the responses correctly in order to ensure you're getting quality information. As a better alternative, Hello Interview offers AI-guided mocked interviews which are specifically designed to help you improve as a software engineer.
Finally, you can use a friend or a peer. Pramp pairs you with other job-seekers to help simulate the interview experience. This is a great way to feel more confident heading into your interview. If you have a friend who is also interviewing, exchanging mock interviews can help you both be better prepared (and provide some comraderie during the taxing job search!)
Types of mock interview questions you should expect
Embarking on the journey of mock interviews for software engineering positions, it's essential to understand the types of questions you should expect. This knowledge will help you better prepare and perform effectively in your practice sessions.
Typically, the questions in a software engineering mock interview can be broadly categorized into four types. Different companies will lean into different types of questions and your level will dictate their mix:
- Coding Questions: These questions are designed to ensure you're able to code and ready to start producing value for the company. Coding questions are often used to assess not only your coding chops, but also your problem solving, data structures & algorithms, and technical communication.
- Technical Questions: Questions to evaluate your technical proficiency and problem-solving capabilities. Technical questions can range from specialist questions relevant to your area (e.g. describe how useState() works in React) to general technical questions aimed at understanding the breadth of your knowledge (e.g. tell me what happens after you hit enter in a web browser's address bar).
- System Design Questions: Often open-ended and slightly ambiguous, system design questions aim to probe the breadth and depth of your experience. Questions like "design a URL shortener" test your ability to understand a business problem and the full suite of software architecture needed to create a working solution in addition to opportunities to show off your experiences.
- Behavioral Questions: These questions seek to surface concrete examples from your experience aligned with skills and/or behaviors necessary for the job. Behavioral questions focus on how you've handled certain situations in the past. The way you've approached problems, managed teams, or navigated challenges all come under scrutiny. Your responses will provide insights into your problem-solving skills, team interaction, leadership abilities, and overall adaptability, all of which are crucial for a successful career in software engineering.
Tips on giving and receiving feedback during mock interviews
Just like a well-crafted piece of software, your interview skills need debugging, refining, and continuous deployment. During a mock interview, you're essentially beta-testing your personal brand presentation. So, what kind of feedback should you aim to get? Let's delve into the essential points.
- Technical Proficiency: Did you answer the technical questions correctly? Were you able to explain your thought process? Did you show a solid grasp of coding principles and practices? This is the core of any software engineering interview, and it's crucial to know where you stand.
- Problem-Solving Skills: Beyond the code, how did you approach problem-solving? Were you able to break down complex problems into manageable parts? Did you think creatively and show initiative?
- Communication: How clear and concise were you in your explanations? Were you able to articulate your thoughts well? Good communication is vital in every professional setting, software engineering is no exception.
- Behavioral and Cultural Fit: Lastly, how did you handle behavioral questions? Did you display the qualities that align with the company's culture and values?
In the tech industry, your ability to learn and adapt is just as important as what you already know. So, take every piece of feedback as an opportunity to learn and grow. Remember, a mock interview is a safe space to make mistakes, learn from them, and improve. Don't shy away from asking for this crucial feedback.
How mock interviews boost your confidence for the real interview
Mock interviews are super powerful in removing two layers of doubt which often plague candidates: the inexperience of having never done them before and the uncertainty of not knowing what the other person is thinking. After having participated in a few mock interviews, you'll know what to expect and have practiced major parts of the interview before you're in the thick of it. Having an open channel of feedback also alleviates this question of what the other person is thinking. A mock interviewer will be free to share their undistorted thoughts on your performance, giving you the opportunity to make course corrections or know in advance where your weaknesses lie.
Mock interviews aren't panacea — the real thing will still be stressful and you won't be able to anticipate every question or situation that will come up. Still, 80% of job seekers who participated in mock interviews reported feeling more confident during their actual interviews and the additional preparation can do wonders in ensuring you perform your best the day of.
Frequently asked questions about mock interviews for software engineering
Mock interviews, particularly for software engineering roles, are an incredibly valuable tool that can dramatically increase your chances of landing your dream job. Let's delve deeper into some of the frequently asked questions about mock interviews for software engineering.
What is a mock interview for software engineering?
A mock interview for software engineering is a simulation of an actual job interview. It's designed to provide you with a safe space to practice your interviewing skills, get familiar with typical interview questions, and receive constructive feedback. The aim is to reduce interview anxiety, enhance your confidence, and improve your overall performance for the real thing.
Why are mock interviews important?
Mock interviews are important for several reasons:
- Preparation: They help you prepare for the types of questions you might face in an actual interview.
- Feedback: They provide immediate feedback on your performance, allowing you to identify and address weaknesses.
- Confidence: They help to boost your confidence by providing a realistic simulation of the interview environment.
What type of questions are asked in a mock interview?
Mock interviews for software engineering may cover questions relating to various aspects such as:
- Technical competencies like coding, algorithms, and data structures
- Behavioral questions that aim to understand your problem-solving skills, teamwork, and communication abilities
- Situational questions that reflect on your real-world experience in handling specific scenarios in software development
How should I prepare for a mock interview?
Just like with a real interview, preparation for a mock interview involves several steps:
- Research: Understand the role you're applying for and the common interview questions for such positions.
- Practice: Work on your coding skills, problem-solving abilities, and theoretical knowledge.
- Self-Reflection: Think about your strengths, weaknesses, and past experiences that highlight your suitability for the role.
- Anecdote Generation: Recall stories from your past which help to demonstrate your skills and experience. Hello Interviews' AI behavioral mock interviews are a great way to build a list you're not spending any time in the interview digging in your distant memories.
- Mock Interview: Finally, schedule a mock interview to put your preparation to the test.
Where can I find mock interviews for software engineering?
There are numerous online platforms that offer mock interviews for software engineering, including Hello Interview's AI-guided mocked interviews and coaching and peer-powered Pramp. You can also request a mentor, a friend in the industry, or a career counselor to conduct a mock interview. Remember, the goal is to simulate a real interview scenario as closely as possible.
Note: While mock interviews are incredibly useful, they are not a guarantee of success in a real interview. They are a tool for preparation and improvement, but the outcome of the actual interview depends on various factors, such as your performance on the day, the competition, and the requirements of the role.
Stefan is one of the co-founders of HelloInterview, a platform to help software engineers and other tech professionals to prepare for their dream roles. He's conducted 1,000+ interviews and hired dozens of individuals at big companies and small startups.
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