Interview Prep Questions

Published on Saturday, January 18, 2020

New decade, new job. At the end of last year, I started looking for a new job, something I hadn’t done in almost five years. I’d been very involved with my company’s hiring process, helping design our technical interviews and running dozens of interviews for engineering and product team candidates at every level and role, so I thought was ready to be on the other side of the table.

Welp, to no one’s surprise, turns out I was super rusty. After floundering through my first couple behavioral interviews, I realized I couldn’t go into these things cold. I needed to put some work in.

To prep, I put together two lists of questions – one for my interviewer and one for me – and kept both lists in front of me to reference as needed during interviews. I wrote out short answers to all the “Questions for you” in advance, prepping a couple different anecdotes for each, so I could choose one in the moment best suited for the role/team. I also made of a copy of the “Questions for them” for each company and took notes on their answers during the interview. Keeping track of all the different responses not only made it easier to compare and contrast these opportunities later, but also provide direct, specific feedback afterwards, including thank you notes ✨

I ended up putting more work into these questions than more purely technical prep (memorizing algorithms, etc), but it unquestionably paid off. Having this Q&A at the ready enabled me to get the information I needed from each interviewer and actually have a lively, fun conversation while doing so (minus all the long, awkward pauses and filler phrases like “Oh, what a good question, let me think about that…” I was using before properly prepping 🤦‍♀️). By the time I had a couple offers in hand, it was easy to compare notes and say yes to the right team.

Below are both lists. I hope they’re as helpful for you as they were for me.

QUESTIONS FOR THEM

Opportunities

What does this team need and how can you help them?

  1. What’s the story for this team in the coming year?

  2. Building - how much is maintenance vs new features?

  3. What are you working on now that you’re most excited about?

  4. What’s broken right now that you want to fix?

  5. What separates someone who does good work in this role from someone who does great work in this role?

  6. What are some of the skills you’ve learned on the job so far?

  7. What are the tasks I would do on a usual day?

Process

Just as important as what the team works on is how the team works.

  1. Can you walk me through your team’s development process, from planning to shipping?

  2. During your team on the team, what processes have you seen break down? How have you adjusted?

  3. What does your onboarding process look like?

  4. Does your team have a standard dev environment? Does everyone use it?

  5. How quickly can you setup a new test environment for the product? (mins / hours / days)

  6. What’s your team’s approach to pair programming?

  7. What does your deployment process look like?

Communication

Suss out how this team communicates. Does it match your style?

  1. Talk about about how you accept/deliver feedback to/from team members.

  2. How are differences of opinions resolved?

  3. What tools do you use for remote teammates?

  4. Who maintains documentation?

Team Logistics

Fact check your understanding of the team’s structure.

  1. How much specialization in roles?

  2. What’s the junior/senior balance of the team?

  3. Talk about your manager.

  4. What’s the composition of a project team? Are there stakeholders embedded? Dedicated product/design people? Dedicated QA engineers?

Company

Don’t miss the opportunity to get an inside perspective on the company itself.

  1. What do you like about COMPANY in comparison to other companies you’ve worked at?

  2. What are some of the biggest challenges facing COMPANY right now? // What problems are you trying to solve right now?

  3. How does the engineering culture differ from the overall company culture?

QUESTIONS FOR YOU

Company

Show them you’ve done your research.

  1. Why COMPANY?

  2. List company values. Prep an example for each one.

  3. What do you think your potential impact at this company could be?

  4. What do you think the impact of this company could be?

  5. What would make you choose our company over others?

  6. If you come in, what will your first order of business be?

Fit

Find out if this role matches up with what you’re looking for.

  1. Why do you want to leave your current job?

  2. What would motivate you to make a move from your current role?

  3. What are you looking for in your next role?

  4. What’s important to you in a team?

  5. What are the three things that are most important to you in a job?

  6. What is the role you tend to fill when in a team? (Workhorse/Execution, Leader, Morale, Communicator, Builder, etc. - don’t lead, let use own descriptors)

  7. Talk about about a time in the last week/month/year when you’ve been satisfied, energized, and productive at work. What were you doing?

Communication

Arguably the most important skills for every role.

  1. Talk about about how you collaborate with people of different backgrounds.

  2. Talk about about your code review process and how you accept/deliver feedback to/from team members.

  3. Talk about about a time when you were communicating with someone and they did not understand you. What did you do?

  4. Describe a situation where you needed to persuade someone to see things your way. What steps did you take? What were the results?

  5. Talk about about the toughest decision you had to make in the last six months. Have you ever had to “sell” an idea to your coworkers or group? How did you do it? What were the results?

Dealing with conflict

How do you handle tough situations?

  1. Give an example of when you had to work with someone who was difficult to get along with. How did you handle interactions with that person?

  2. Talk about about a time when you were frustrated at work and how you dealt with it.

  3. Everybody has off days. How do you handle those?

  4. What do you do if a team member is having an off-day?

  5. Do you have an example of how you have boosted morale in your previous role?

  6. What do you do when you don’t see eye-to-eye with a team member? How do you move forward with a project?

  7. Talk about about a time you had a disagreement with a coworker. How did you resolve it?

  8. How much do you stick to your guns / stay flexible if your manager doesn’t agree?

  9. Talk about about a time when you had to admit you were wrong. What did you learn?

  10. Describe a time when you felt stressed or overwhelmed. How did you handle it?

  11. Describe a people process challenge.

Dealing with change

Change is scary. How do you handle it?

  1. Can you share an experience where a project dramatically shifted directions at the last minute? What did you do?

  2. Talk about about the last time something significant didn’t go according to plan at work. What was your role? What was the outcome?

  3. Talk about about the biggest change that you have had to deal with. How did you adapt to that change?

  4. Talk about about a time when you had to adjust to a colleague’s working style in order to complete a project or achieve your objectives.

  5. Describe a skill you had to acquire on-the-job to accomplish something you needed to do?

  6. Describe a situation in which you embraced a new system, process, technology, or idea at work that was a major departure from the old way of doing things.

  7. Talk about about a time when you were asked to do something you had never done before. How did you react? What did you learn?

  8. Recall a time when you were assigned a task outside of your job description. How did you handle the situation? What was the outcome?

Learning / Growth

Learning new things is one of the most important skills for an engineer. How do you like to learn?

  1. What are some things you want to learn more about?

  2. What do you read to stay up-to-date?

  3. What are some professional development areas that you’re interested in?

  4. What was the best new thing you learned in the last year?

  5. Describe a time when you volunteered to expand your knowledge at work, as opposed to being directed to do so.

  6. What do you do in your job that’s not in your job description? How did you identify those opportunities?

Feedback

An important subclass of communication.

  1. What’s one critical piece of feedback you’ve received that was really difficult to hear? Why was it difficult and what did you do with that information? What did you learn about yourself?

  2. What is some constructive criticism that you got at your current job, and how have you tried to address it?

  3. What say do you think devs have in team processes versus the manager? How might you bring about change for policies you disagree with?

  4. How do you raise issues when you observe them?

  5. When was the last time you asked for direct feedback from a superior? Why?

Planning / Time Management

Time: one of the two hardest things in programming (behind naming).

  1. Imagine you are starting a new project (pick a sample project related to the role) - take me through your initial planning process?

  2. Talk about about a project that you planned. How did you organize and schedule the tasks?

  3. Talk about about a time when you had to juggle several projects at the same time. How did you organize your time? What was the result?

  4. Give an example of a time when you delegated an important task successfully.

  5. How do you determine what amount of time is reasonable for a task?

  6. Talk about about a time you set difficult goals. What did you do to achieve them? Walk me through the process and purpose.

  7. When it’s crunch time, how do you handle a big volume of work?

  8. How does your workflow change when you have a generous deadline vs. a tight deadline?

  9. How do you balance getting your work done versus being available to help teammates or chip in on team tasks like bug reports or out of process tasks that pop-up?

  10. What are some tools/skills you use to work with your team & manage priorities?

Leadership

What kind of leader are you? What kind of leader do you want to work with?

  1. Give an example of a time when you felt you led by example. What did you do and how did others react?

  2. Describe the best partner or supervisor with whom you’ve worked. What part of their managing style appealed to you?

  3. Recall a time when your manager was unavailable when a problem arose. How did you handle the situation? With whom did you consult?

Accomplishments

Go ahead, get your brag on.

  1. Talk about about a time when you built an app (web, mobile, etc). What inspired the idea? What determined what features you built and didn’t build?

  2. Discuss a project or two that you’re very proud of.

  3. What’s the biggest career goal you’ve ever achieved?

  4. Talk about about one of your favorite experiences working with a team and your contribution.

Expertise

Demonstrate your smarts.

  1. Give two scenarios where you would and wouldn’t use LANGUAGE (ex. Ruby, Elixir, Go, etc).

  2. Give two scenarios where you would and wouldn’t use FRAMEWORK (ex. React, Node, etc).

  3. Talk about about a recent project and what you(r team) could have done better.

  4. What are some of your coding pet peeves or issues that you make your mission to correct?

  5. What are some of your favorite tools to work with? What are the tools you’re most comfortable with? Which aren’t you comfortable with?

  6. What are some strategies you use to navigate ambiguity in the workplace? e.g. strategy, job responsibilities/roles

Non-work life

Don’t forget about sharing a little bit about you, as a person.

  1. What does work/life balance look like in your life?

  2. What do you do for fun?

  3. What’s the most interesting thing about you that’s not on your resume?

  4. What’s the biggest misconception your coworkers have about you and why do they think that?

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