“How Would You Test a Toaster?” — Questions and Tips for Developer Interview
To get invited for an interview at your dream IT company, you need to create a perfect resume. To get an offer, you need not only to be a professional but to prepare for all interview stages and successfully pass live coding or a work sample test.
We would like to share interview tips that will help you get hired by an IT startup, technology corporation, product or outsourcing company. Explore the types of interviews in Ukrainian and international companies, learn how to prepare for a technical interview, present your strengths and weaknesses, and discover why the strategy “My key goal is to work only for your company” doesn’t work anymore.
Bonus: at the end of the article, find a checklist for preparing for an online interview. Taking part in it, and finally, accepting an offer!
From a Phone Screening to a Bar Raiser Interview — Stages and Types of Interviews in IT
Interviewing a tech specialist takes on average 2–6 weeks and includes the following steps: reviewing your resume and cover letter by a recruiter, communication with a recruiter by email, phone or messenger, a video interview, work sample test or live coding (used for juniors or in FAANG corporations), a technical interview and Bar Raiser interview. At the end of the recruiting process, the company employees make the final decision based on all data collected.
Recruiter’s Call and HR Screening Interview
At this stage, you will learn more about the position, job tasks and bonuses. Recruiters often check if your resume meets the job requirements. They may ask questions about the technologies you specialize in and your work experience. At the initial HR call, the main topics are the salary range and organizational questions. You may also ask for more details about the interview process: its stages, specifics, and estimated terms. All this will come in handy when preparing for the next “level”.
Work Sample Test
It is one of the additional methods for hiring Trainee or Junior specialists, QA specialists, and designers. For instance, it can be writing a DSA (data structures and algorithms) code or a software project. This test reveals the candidate’s ability to solve a specific problem and typically takes up to four hours to complete. If you’d like to practice before performing the work sample task, check out specialized sites such as LeetCode or HackerRank.
Technical recruiters and IT specialists who are often present at tech interviews use such testing to find out:
- How you understand the problem statement. Make sure you evaluate the data and the expected result correctly. You should identify the area to work with and filter out unnecessary things to solve.
- How you look for solutions, compare options and choose the most suitable one. Coming up with several alternative solutions is the best outcome. Voice them at the interview and present the most suitable one.
- How you implement the solution in your code. While coding, you may find bugs or make mistakes, and this is absolutely okay. This will help you demonstrate skills in finding and fixing bugs.
Designing a system is a typical variation of a work sample test. You’ll be asked to develop an app like Instagram, Reddit, Messenger, or an Amazon-like eCommerce platform. Tasks may differ depending on your specialization (Front-end, Back-end, mobile, and others).
Check out these tips if you’d like to succeed:
- Work through the requirements. Collect the necessary data — functional and non-functional requirements, as well as information that is not included in the task description.
- Design a high-level Architecture (HLD). Develop the data flow using cases or services provided by the system to support requirements.
- Design a low-level architecture (LLD). List the system components, find the connections between them, and describe the details of the module’s implementation.
Cultural Fit Check
A hiring manager will offer you various life scenarios and evaluate whether your principles correspond to the company’s values. They may ask questions like these:
- What is the most difficult task you’ve ever come across at work? How have you solved it? What are the lessons learned?
- What moment in your career are you most proud of?
- How do you respond to negative feedback?
- What are your expectations from the new job?
- What would you do if you were asked to work on several projects simultaneously?
Bonus tip: Explore the company’s values and provide honest answers based on what you’ve read.
Here’s an example — OBRIO IT company shows their key values on the website:
Bar Raiser Interview
Such an interview is one of the last challenges for candidates who are competing for a position at a large technology company. This know-how came to the IT industry from Amazon. A “bar-raiser” evaluates candidates. This person is not part of the hiring team but profoundly knows the company culture and has a good command of the business context. He double-checks the candidate’s qualifications and cultural fit.
80-90% of experts believe that preparation is the key to success. If you apply to an exact company, google for tips on how to pass the interview there. You may also find a lot of advice on the Glassdoor job search platform. Based on data from it, Business Insider has compiled a list of atypical interview questions from recruiters at Apple. Finally, a hiring manager may ask a future software quality control engineer about how they would test a toaster.
During a tech interview, managers ask questions to make sure that your current knowledge is sufficient for the job. Prepare for it and look for articles on the web using the keywords “interview questions for [Android / iOS / Backend / Web / Frontend / Desktop] development”.
What Is Live Coding at a Tech Interview?
Live coding / on-the-fly programming / conversational programming is when a developer writes the code while others watch the process in real-time. Сompany’s staff prepares a task (algorithm) for each level, places it on a live coding service (like Codeinterview or CodePen), and sends it to the candidate.
Companies use live coding for several reasons:
- It takes not much time — an hour or so.
- It allows watching a specialist during the work. Recruiters see whether candidates google answers or not and if they use hotkeys.
- Recruiters can comment on the candidate’s decision and discuss it on the spot.
Standard testing requires more time than live coding. At first, the company’s representatives create it, then a candidate tackles it, and finally, a developer checks the results. In addition, it’s unclear if the candidate performed the test on their own or someone helped them.
Here are some companies that use live coding when hiring — Microsoft, Airbnb, Netflix, Adobe, Innovecs, BetterMe, Luxoft Ukraine.
How to Evaluate Yourself Before an Interview and Talk about Weaknesses
The strategy “My key goal is to work only for your company” doesn’t work anymore. If you are a Junior specialist eager to get hired by a tech giant, you have to make every effort to win the recruiter’s attention. If you are a Middle+ tech specialist, the company has to win your heart. In any case, you have to “sell” yourself to an HR specialist.
Carefully Examine the Details About the Company and Vacancy
Check out the company’s website and socials. Find employees on LinkedIn and discover their responsibilities and achievements. Carefully read every line of the vacancy to see what kind of professional the employer is looking for and decide how to present your strengths and experience.
Tell Recruiters About Your Experience
Use the “present — past — future” formula. Start with your current responsibilities and mention hobbies if they fit the company’s corporate culture. For example, Amazon has 14 principles of leadership, and it’s essential that the candidate’s approach to work and life is consistent with them. If pets are allowed in the office, mention that you have a dog.
Next, tell recruiters the story of your career growth. Focus on education, past career experience, and participation in volunteer projects or internships. Finally, share your plans for the future.
Highlight only relevant skills that match the job description. Talk about measurable results and specific cases — for example, your team and you developed a mobile app that was installed by 13 million users and received a 4.8 rating in the App Store and Google Play. Tell recruiters and HRs about your personal contribution to the project.
You can also use the STAR model to describe your professional experience:
- S (Situation). What was the situation when you started working for the company?
- T (Task/Target). What tasks and targets did you tackle?
- A (Action Taken). What actions did you take to achieve your goals?
- R (Results Achieved). What results have you finally achieved?
Start with your recent experience and tell the company’s hiring employees about your latest tasks.
Not recommended: any kind of lies. Checking the information about a candidate’s professional experience is a piece of cake for an experienced recruiter. Even if you receive a job offer, every lie will be exposed eventually. For example, the shocking dismissal of the Yahoo! CEO proves that false information in the resume only harms.
Highlight Your Strengths
Look at the vacancy description and pick the requirements you meet. For instance, it can be relevant educational background, strong hard and soft skills, and professional experience. List several strengths and think about how you have applied each of them at work.
Reveal Only Weaknesses That Matter
Mention only the important ones. If you consider a low level of English a disadvantage but Pre-Intermediate (A2) or Intermediate (B1) levels are enough for the job, do not mention that at all.
Any disadvantage can be turned into a strength, for example:
- Tell your interlocutor about what qualities you are enhancing now. Let’s say, public speaking is your worst fear but you have completed a course just a month ago, so you can present a project to potential customers.
- Talk about one of your weaknesses from the best side. For example, you are bad at multitasking, which allows you to better concentrate on tasks.
Outline the Desired Salary Range Beforehand
The approaches “I’ll wait until the recruiter suggests something” or “I don’t want to make a bad bargain, so I’ll just keep silence” are wrong. Evaluate your skills, experience, and expertise to determine the range. Look through similar vacancies and calculate the average salary, or use the calculator like on the Djinni platform.
If the position implies more complex tasks than your former job did, add 15–30% to your previous salary. In case of a career transition — for example, you were Middle QA but apply for an Assistant Business Analyst — prepare for a downgrade.
Be flexible! A lower salary can be compensated by a social package, bonuses and perks. Discuss a salary increase in 3–6 months, as your career progresses. Also, make sure you are on the same page with the recruiter about the net salary (after taxes).
Videoconferencing has become the main communication channel for many companies due to the Covid quarantine. In Ukraine, this trend has only strengthened since February 24. Online interviews have many advantages — you save plenty of time without commuting. According to statistics, 47% of respondents prefer to use video when talking to an HR specialist. However, this doesn’t mean that you should meet a recruiter in pajamas and with your cat in the background.
Here are tips on how to pass an online interview and what to check before accepting an offer.
- Research company information. One can find reviews on international platforms like Glassdoor, Indeed, Vault, and CareerBliss. In Ukraine, DOU is the most popular platform for that.
- Prepare for an online meeting just like you would do for a regular one. Your key task is to successfully pass the interview. Unfortunately, no one wants to waste time on your children, handmade charlotte, or cat.
- Set the right background. Sit closer to the wall. Put things in order if the whole room behind you is visible — nothing should distract interlocutors from the conversation. A bookcase, diplomas and certificates in the background are great for self-presentation, but it’s essential that you are in focus.
- Check the connection quality. The interview may fail due to unpaid Internet or its poor speed, so better double-check that. If there is a high risk of network glitches at home, find a co-working space with a stable Internet connection and a separate meeting room.
- Turn on the camera for a video interview. Speaking to someone without their picture while your camera is on can provoke a feeling of insecurity. Agree in advance on the camera usage. If you have no chance to take part in a video interview on the appointed day, reschedule the meeting or explain the reason why you can’t join with the video.
The reasons why recruiters ask to turn on the camera:
Recruiters shared real stories about tech specialists who successfully passed online interviews without the video. On the final offline meeting, candidates couldn’t answer even the simplest questions, and it turned out that more experienced friends talked to recruiters instead.
- Use a tripod if you’re joining via phone. Otherwise, you may shake the device due to emotions, and everyone will feel like on a roller coaster.
- Turn off notifications on all your devices. Sounds and vibrations will distract everyone. Additionally, don’t forget to close compromising tabs when sharing your screen.
- Make sure the sound is clear. Use a headset or headphones with a microphone to avoid echo and background noise. Close windows and turn off noisy home appliances.
- Tell your interlocutors about the connection troubles. Let them know that you haven’t heard a couple of words or phrases. It’s crucial that you and the recruiter can be seen and heard well during the call. It is the guarantee that you present yourself in a favorable light while the company’s staff collects all the necessary data from you.
And finally: Is it okay to wear pajama pants at an online interview? Spoiler: Yes, it is. However, if your computer mouse or an AirPod falls down and you pick it up, the recruiter will also see your pajama bottoms. What’s more, one of the latest research by Yale University reveals that clothing affects our behavior and self-esteem. A formal look sets you up for productive work and adds to your overall confidence.