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  • NACE Community: Preparing Students for Technical Interviews

    December 11, 2017 | By NACE Staff

    Best Practices
    An adviser helps a student with a technical interview.

    TAGS: STEM, best practices, interviewing, nace insights, students

    Spotlight for Career Services Professionals

    How can career services practitioners with nontechnical backgrounds give students preparing for technical interviews the best possible guidance and feedback? That was a question recently asked by a career counselor to members of the NACE Community.

    A NACE Community member explains that a normal technical interview consists of two parts:

    • Whiteboarding or coding—In this portion, the candidate is given a problem for which he or she has to whiteboard or code a solution in real time.
    • Knowledge-based Q&A—During this part, interviewers ask the candidate questions about different theories and more so they can dig deeper into the candidate’s knowledge.

    A recruiter offers the several general tips to use when helping students prepare for technical interviews:

    • The student should know the job for which his or she is applying—For example, if the job stipulates the candidate needs to know JavaScript, the student should not talk about Python. It seems simple, but students should be prepared.
    • It’s okay for the students to say they don’t know something—Interview teams know that students are still in school and learning so they don't expect students to have all the answers. A student saying he or she doesn’t know something also allows the hiring team to focus on what the student does know.
    • The student should be prepared to whiteboard and explain—This is required during the overwhelming majority of technical interviews.

    To prepare, he recommends using such books as Cracking the Coding Interview by Gayle Laakmann McDowell and Programming Interviews Exposed by John Mongan, Eric Giguere, and Noah Kindler.

    “Lots of companies use these books as their guide for interviewing, so they are highly recommended,” he says. “I would suggest a session where you can pick a question out of these books and solve it with the student. Whiteboard the solution as given in the book or ask Q&A.”

    Practice interview sites—including some free services, where students can be paired with a peer or with an employer—are also excellent tools to help students prepare. Other sites provide questions that have been asked at particular companies or questions for particular fields.

    To help increase knowledge in this area, one career services practitioner suggests viewing Google webinars on this subject; these can be found on YouTube under “Google Student” or “Google University.”

    “If you have students who are interested in interning or working at Google, they need to sign in and watch these webinars, as Google has said that [the organization checks] to see if applicants have interacted with them in this way,” she notes. “The live webinars have also been very helpful. All the information can be helpful not just for Google, but for all interviews, resumes, and applications for other companies.”

    Another approach is to tap into the expertise of others. One university brings in engineering managers for employer-led workshops. Local alumni with hiring experience have been a valuable resource.

    “We also have a number of professors with industry experience who have conducted coding interview workshops,” the STEM graduate career counselor says. “If you have a student organization [linked with a relevant professional association], I recommend partnering with [the organization] to bring in a speaker to talk on the subject.”

    He says that, from doing these sessions, he’s learned that students should be studying data structures and algorithms as a number of coding interviews focus their questions in those domains.

    “Additionally, it helps if [students] are testing their code when they are studying,” he says. “Practicing on a whiteboard or paper is the best way to prepare...Students should also be prepared to not just complete questions and provide a solution, but to verbalize the ‘why’ and [explain] how they arrived at their answer.”

    Another career services office holds small-group practice sessions, during which a volunteer student facilitator leads questions and discussion. These groups typically consist of three student interviewees and one student facilitator. Each student takes a turn answering a technical question; group members can see how others approach technical problems.

    “I coordinate the program logistics, and a core group of second-year master's students conduct the sessions,” the career services practitioner says. “The second-year students can share what they have seen in technical interviews before, and the group setting allows them to work collaboratively to find a solution to the problem.”  

    Join the discussion about preparing for technical interviews in the NACE Community