Guide to Acing Your Interviews

Impress your future employer

Acing Your Interview

Interviews are the gateway to your next job. Preparation, strategic responses and appropriate follow-up give you an edge. Below, we outline guidelines for success.

Before the Interview: Take Time to Prepare

1. (Pre-Work) Confirm that you are interested in working for the company.

Don’t waste your time or the company’s time interviewing when you are not interested.  Be sure to verify that what you can learn about the company (without interviewing) matches your needs regarding culture, location, salary, role.

2. Research.

Research the company and be sure you understand its mission and product. Hopefully this is a continuation of the research you did before you applied! The company wants to know you are engaged with them and are interested in working with them (plus, doing your research also leads to better, deeper conversations in interviews). 

When researching a company, learn about the company’s mission, product, and team. There are four ways to do this:

  1. Basic - read the company website

  2. Better - above + read company’s Twitter, blog, etc.

  3. Best - above + read staff linkedin profiles, Glassdoor

  4. Go above and beyond (if available) - review and/or contribute to product code

Ideally, the research process will leave you with ideas for how to improve the product, compliments on what you really liked, and questions about the product for your interviewers.

3.  Prepare.

Before your interview, review your resume, LinkedIn profile, and portfolio. Make sure you know the things you claim to know! Be prepared to talk about the scope of your projects (goals, users, accomplishments, complexity), your technical skills used (gathered customer requirements, designed, programmed, tested), and technical tools used (languages, frameworks, APIs). Additionally, you may want to practice explaining one of your projects to your family or friends to ensure your grasp of the material at its most basic level and ensure ease of communication with an interviewer.

Other ways to prepare:

  1. Prepare questions for your interviewers.
    Great list: http://jvns.ca/blog/2013/12/30/questions-im-asking-in-interviews/

  2. Review the job description.
    And if you can, get more details from the recruiter or hiring manager, as well as the internet: Glassdoor and Quora are both places you can look!

  3. Plan an outfit, pack your bag and plan your commute.
    Minimize your day of stress by planning in advance! If you’re unsure about what to wear, ask the recruiter for advice. We also recommend packing your bag and planning your commute in advance.

4.   Practice.

Interviews can cause anxiety, nerves, and stress – especially being in a position where you may not know an answer (right away). Practicing will give you experience feeling those emotions and coping with them so that you’re not surprised by them in an interview.

Practice both general and technical interviewing questions. Find questions on the internet or through Udacity. Write out answers, say answers out loud (even record yourself with your computer/phone), practice with friends/family. Review answers from others to compare and contrast and learn how you can improve your answer.

For technical interview practice, try actually writing code with pen and paper. It will probably feel awkward at first, but better to get over this feeling before it's time for the real interview.

When you are preparing for the interview, remember that the company’s goal is not only to assess what you know and what skills you have but also to see how well you work in a team. Asking questions and communicating while you’re problem-solving are positive signals!

For examples of Technical Interview Questions - check out the links below:

General Tech: Interview Cake offers free weekly practice problems. It is a good overview of preparing for a tech interview.

General Tech: Cracking the Coding Interview is a book that provides interview preparation for top software developer jobs. (Much of the material can also be found for free on the internet.)

Data Science: This post from the Udacity Blog discussions questions you should know when preparing for a Data Science interview.

Data Science: This Data Science Interview Guide provides 120 Data Science interview questions and interview protips. 

5. Example Questions & Strategies for how to Respond:

General Interview Questions:

  • “Tell me about yourself.”

    Translation: “Tell me why you’re the right fit for this job.”

    Your response should be a concise, powerful statement about your passions, skills, achievements AND how your strengths fit the company’s needs.

  • “Describe a time when...”

    Try to identify why the interviewer is asking the question so you can choose the best anecdote to meet the need.

    For incidental questions, use the STAR method. S= Situation; T= Task; A= Action; R= Results.

  • “Describe an example when you had a disagreement with your coworker/manager. What happened? How did you handle it?”

    Your interviewer is looking to get a sense of how you handle conflict.

    Disagreements in and of themselves are not a problem. In fact, they are bound to happen, so it’s all about how you react.

    Again, use the STAR method here. Focus on how you resolved the situation professionally and productively, and choose a situation in which the disagreement was resolved with a happy ending.

  • “Do you have any questions for me?”

    Of course you do! Send the signal that you were paying attention and are engaged.

    If you immediately have questions for the person interviewing you, ask!

    Bring out the list of questions you prepared and choose questions which match the interviewer’s experience and your conversation so far. (“How does internal communication work?”; “What’s the single biggest issue or problem facing the team/department/company?”)

  • Common General Interview Pitfalls
    • Not taking time to think about the problem
    • Not asking clarifying questions
    • Not being specific enough in your answers
    • Not answering the questions
    • Assuming that one or two answers are enough for open-ended questions. (The interviewer will cut you off if necessary.)

Technical Interview Questions:

  • “Explain to your grandfather how the internet/database/browser/email (basically any technology that the person is working with) works? Almost zero technical terms, analogy of the real world, and easy to understand example.”

    This question is gauging empathy, creativity, and communication. Pretty loaded! It’s also a great skill for an employee to have since very few roles will be purely technical.

  • “Describe a project you worked on that you really enjoyed. What made it enjoyable? ”

    This question gives you an opportunity to share your enthusiasm for your work in addition to showing off your portfolio. Share technical details, what you learned, and, if you worked in a team, emphasize how you worked together.

  • Common Coding Interview PItfalls:
    • Not describing the solution while you are writing it
    • Being silent if you are stuck: try instead describing to the interviewer your thought process, and asking more questions or for a hint if needed
    • Not making sure your solution works correctly

During the Interview

1. General Interview

We’re all nervous going into interviews! Despite this, do your best to prepare and be calm, as it will allow you to be your best self. Practice is the best remedy. Don’t forget to smile and make eye contact. It will help set you and the interviewer at ease! *If you have issues with nerves or anxiety, email us at career-support@udacity.com and we’ll be happy to help with mock interviews and other techniques.

The structure of interviews is different for every company. However, it often looks like this:

  • 4 people, 4 interviews.
  • Each interview is 45 minutes long.
  • 3 of 4 interviews are primarily technical.
  • Every interview is different. You may or may not be able to predict and prepare for every situation. This is OK!

2. Technical Interview
During this portion of the interview, be sure to:

  • Clarify the prompt.
    Ensure that you understand what you are being asked by repeating back the goal to your interviewer. Ask any questions.
  • Organize your answer.
    Solve the general problem.
    When the problem is solved, go back and look for syntax or inefficiencies.
    At the end, look for corner cases (which may be missed by your general solution), identify what you might improve with more time, etc.
  • Communicate clearly.
    Remember that throughout, communicate what you are doing and why. Silent problem solving = bad.

If you get stuck, remember to:

  • Ask questions - clarify if there is anything unclear about the problem you are trying to solve.
  • Break a problem into simpler subproblems.
  • Draw a picture! Play with sample input!
  • Remove a requirement, solve the problem, then try to adapt the solution to handle the requirement.
  • Re-phrase/reduce the problem.
  • Wait for a hint or ask for a hint.

Different technical interview types:

  • Whiteboarding
  • Pair Programming
  • Verbal Technical Problem Solving

After the Interview

1. Reflect.

Interviewing is hard and no one aces *every* interview. After your interview, be sure to reflect! What went well, and what didn’t? We recommend you write this reflection down quickly after the interview while it’s still fresh in your mind. If something didn’t go well, think about what can you learn or practice to improve for the next interview.

2. Send Thanks!

Within 24 hours, send a thank you email to the individual who interviewed you. Keep the email short, but reference any key points from the interview and positive traits you’d like to stress.

3. Timeline.

Ideally, the recruiter you are working with will have given you a timeline by which you should hear back. If you aren’t offered a timeline, don’t hesitate to ask for one!

4. Prep for Future Interviews.

Second or third interviews? Most people do not have the luxury of only doing one interview. Be prepared to rinse and repeat for each company you are applying for. It is a lot to prepare for each one, but it is worth it! To help you prepare, use checklists or templates for your research and learn from each interview to increase your chances of success in future interviews!

Acing Your Interview

Hosted by Katie Malone, Research Data Scientist at Civis Analytics and Udacity Instructor, and Art Gillespie, Web & Mobile Engineer at Udacity (formerly Google and Nest), this workshop will include tips for interview preparation, personal anecdotes, guidelines for staying confident, and an in-depth Q&A with Udacity students.