Engineering Interviews: Two Perspectives
A year and a half ago, I shut myself in a room for 3 days. No, I was neither under depression nor had a break-up. I had, in fact, received my first interview call!
Congratulations! You crossed the first step in getting a job! 🎓
After applying to every job opening that suits your qualifications and never hearing back about any of them, getting an interview call feels like a big deal.
Well, okay, I will be honest: I did hear back from some of them with the words that no job applicant wants to read:
“Thank you for your application as XYZ at ABC. As you can imagine, we received a large number of applications. We have decided not to move forward with your application.”
We are not moving ahead with your application and have selected the candidate whom we believe most closely matches the job requirements of the position.
I appreciated those organizations getting back to me (not all companies give you a decision one way or the other). But finally, I had received an interview call after a long wait. I wanted to be prepared in all possible ways and give my 100%. Consequently, I shut myself in a room with all the resources I thought was required to succeed in the interview. Now that I look back, I wouldn’t suggest anyone doing what I did!
Lights. Camera. Action.
Interview preparation was in full swing. I scheduled three mock interviews, one for each day before the actual interview. I took out my notes that I had prepared for the last 5-6 months and revised every section:
- Data Structures ✅
- Algorithms ✅
- Design questions🤓
- Questions to ask at the end of the interview ✅
- Research the organization ✅
- Behavioral questions ✅
- Attire ✅
- Flight and hotel bookings ✅
- Self-confidence ✅
First Interview Experience
The onsite interview day had arrived: I had 4 interviews scheduled from 8:00 am through noon. Though I usually eat breakfast every morning, anxiety decided to rear its head, and had prevented me from having an appetite that morning. I reached the venue and so did several other candidates. As the hour hand of the clock struck 8, several people came out from different directions and called out candidates’ names. It was a chaos! Which candidate is going with which interviewer? You have to be on a super alert mode to ensure you do not miss your name. I didn’t wanted to miss my name accidentally and seem like an inattentive candidate to the interviewer. 😨 After all, first impression matters! (and the first interview went well…phew!)
Go Nisha, you are doing great!
Without notice, my second interviewer arrived to the interview 7 minutes late. We were forced to skip the first 7 minutes of the second interview which is typically the time for behavioral questions.
Could my interview have gone better had we not skipped those 7 minutes? Could my interviewer get a better sense of me as an engineer had we chatted for those 7 minutes?
Brushing aside those thoughts, I went ahead and began to solve the technical question. It was a dynamic programming question, which I admit was not my strongest area. I was standing near the whiteboard, trying to ensure I understood the question correctly while thinking aloud…
Yes, you are supposed to think aloud in an engineering interview.
I turned to the interviewer only to see him working on his laptop. I could barely see his face. He wasn’t paying attention to the problem I was solving on the board. Although the interviewer wasn’t paying attention, I continued solving the problem as much as I could. I struggled to convey my ideas and solutions accurately. After 40 minutes of solving the problem with no feedback, the interviewer came to the whiteboard, looked at the solution, and said: “Do you have any questions for me?”
No discussion about the solution? No discussion about the approach? What about time and space complexity? How will he assess my problem-solving skills if there is no discussion about these topics?
Once again, brushing the thoughts aside, I went ahead and asked interviewer the questions I had prepared.
After this experience, I felt that the second interview did not go well; I did, however, still have two more interviews to prove myself. The third interview was a design question interview where I think I did fairly well.
Time for the last and final interview!
The question was theoretically interesting, but I had a difficult time understanding it to a level where I could begin formulating possible solutions. Apparently, as per the interviewer, asking clarifying questions was deviating from the essence of the question.
How could I solve a problem if I don’t understand it correctly?
The interviewer himself was unsure about the details (as he disclosed to me). It appeared to me that he read the question somewhere and then asked it in the interview? Very confusing…
The long day ended and I returned home. In thinking about a future at this company, I was not comfortable thinking about the fact that those interviewers could be my colleagues with whom I would work on a daily basis. Based on the disengagement of the interviewers during my interviews, I felt my abilities were not assessed fairly. By and large, I was just one among several other candidates interviewing for the same position. I had somewhat made up my mind to not accept the offer, even if I had received one. Two days later, I received an email and the choice was easy. :)
Back to square one
Fortunately, a few days later, I received another interview call. The interview preparation had already started — besides the fact that I had to research a different organization this time.
What was different about this interview? I knew the names of the engineers who would be interviewing me! I could look at their LinkedIn profiles, read about their work, and have more specific questions to ask rather than the go-to generic ones.
Four technical interviews were scheduled in addition to a meeting with and Engineering VP and a “brand ambassador” presentation, which did not count toward the final decision. Before arriving at the office, I had a proper breakfast this time. :) A recruiter greeted me and guided me to the room which read, “Welcome, Nisha!”
Whoa…I felt so special!
They must be interviewing several candidates per day and each of us is given individual attention. I thought. Hmmm, these small details definitely speak of organization’s culture and the fact that they care about the candidate!
You got this!
The first interviewer came and greeted me. We had an initial “get-to-know-you” conversation, and after which, we started the technical round. I was stumped by the very first question.
What! Really? This is just the first interview!
I was staring at the whiteboard trying to find a solution. Noticing that I had been struggling a bit, the interviewer encouraged to talk through what I was thinking. The encouragement from the interviewer motivated me to speak about the approach, and ultimately (to my surprise), the talking aloud guided me to a solution! The interview felt more of a pairing exercise than an interviewer-candidate experience; it was like trying to solve a problem with a teammate. The first interview had gone well, and so did all the other interviews. It did not take long to notice a pattern: all the interviewers were friendly and interested in my success. The friendly attitude helped me ease into the process, which ultimately led to better performance.
These people are so passionate about their work. I would love to be a part of their team!
Oh, and one final thing. At this particular company, the “Brand Ambassador” presentation/meeting happened over the lunch. A Brand Ambassador, for this company, is someone who knows the organization inside and out, reflects its culture, and answers any questions the candidate has about the organization.
Though I knew I was not being assessed during this meeting (and the ambassador was welcoming), I could not take more than 2 bites from my lunch.
Should I talk? Should I eat? Am I chewing loudly?
Avoiding to eat seemed like a safe option. The conversation with the ambassador went well, and therefore I was pleased.
Only a few days later, I got an offer call. I accepted the offer happily and was all ready to start my career. If you have not already guessed by now, the company in question was Appian! :)
Candidate experience matters
We, at Appian, value every candidate’s experience.
…people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.— Maya Angelou
Here at Appian, we truly believe in and practice the aforementioned quote. A Candidate Experience speaks about a company’s culture. This, however, did not happen overnight. We have put efforts into making ourselves better at refining our Candidate Experience. Here are few things we do to ensure the candidate has a great experience interviewing at Appian:
- Interview Guild: The Interview Guild is a group of engineers and recruiters who want to equip developers to ensure a fair and consistent engineering interview process. As both the engineers and recruiters are part of the guild, we get to see two sides of the story: interviewer and interviewee. Engineers conduct the technical interviewers and the recruiters get feedback from the interviewees. We have a consistent feedback loop and are constantly working on improving the process.
- Developer Interview Workshop: We believe conducting a good interview requires practice and effort. We train our engineers before they become interviewers. This ensures a fair and consistent process. The developer interview workshop is focused towards technical aspects of an interview. During this workshop, we cover topics along the lines of:
What constitutes a good and bad technical interview questions?
How to create good interview questions?
How to adjust question based on type of interview and level of experience of the candidate?
How to evaluate fairly?
We encourage aspiring interviewers to practice their question with a colleague and fine-tune it based on the feedback. Aspiring interviewers are also encouraged to shadow other experienced interviewers so that they can learn from them.
- Behavioral Interviewer workshop — No matter how good a candidate is in the technical aspect of the interview, at the end of the day, we want to have a positive and innovative work environment. This workshop is focused on the human aspect of an interview.
Behavior style questions
How to gather concrete, relevant information using STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Result) format
(We also send personalized Thank You cards TO candidates after their interviews…)
To all the interviewers and to my future self:
Practice being an interviewer just as you practiced being an interviewee. Being a good interviewer requires effort and dedication. You have the responsibility to access a candidate’s ability to succeed at the job . Maximize the time you have during an interview to learn about the candidate and evaluate fairly. Interviewing is like any other art: the more you do it, the better you get at it. Happy interviewing!📚📝