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Online Interview Preparations

Simon Woo

 on August 12, 2020 at 10:58 PM


We work hard to attract and retain top talent for each job opening. It makes the day-to-day operations of the company function efficiently. A great staff brings the talent and creativity that fuels growth, which benefits everyone.

The interview also provides the candidate an opportunity to get to know the company, its culture, and job requirements to make an informed decision when accepting an offer.

Preparing for Online Interviews

Note that while the current social distancing requirements exist, all interviews at SimonComputing will be performed remotely. Even without social distancing, there has been an ongoing trend towards remote work and the use of online video conferencing tools has become critical for business.

When performing an online interview, make sure you have a distraction free conversation without having to worry about technology.

Here are some tips to make that possible and they equally apply to remote meetings:

  1. Test your computer setup. When you get an invite for a video conference call, the call will be supported by one of many different video conference vendors. The invite typically includes instructions on how to test your camera and sound before the call. You should test it right away to make sure you install any software that is needed to support the call. You may have to update security settings to provide access to the camera and microphone.

  2. Perform a camera check. In the absence of an in-person interview, being able to see as well as hear the other person is the next best thing. It makes the interaction more personal. It also allows you to catch visual cues such as misunderstandings that you correct quickly. Make sure you have good lighting so you can be seen. Take a look at what is in your background and make sure it is clean and does not distract attention from the interview.

  3. Check the ability to be heard using a video conference tool with a friend. Poor sound quality is a common problem in interviews and conference calls, and it puts you at a significant disadvantage if you cannot be heard. If your friends or co-workers cannot hear you clearly, make sure you don't have equipment problems. If you know you have a poor quality microphone on your computer, do yourself a favor and purchase a dedicated headset or earphones with a microphone. If there is nothing wrong with your equipment, you should figure out if you need to get closer to the microphone or enunciate better when you speak. This is a very small investment of time and money that can vastly improve the quality of your communications, enhancing your employment and career prospects.

  4. Make sure you are not producing an echo. If you have external speakers and/or microphone, it can delay and cause an echo to occur.

  5. Setup a Gmail account if you don't already have one. Most positions will involve some sharing of documents as part of the interview, so if you don't happen to have a Google account, create one ahead of your interview.

  6. Create a distraction free environment for your interview. If you are at home with other family members or roommates, let them know when you are having a meeting so that they know not to disturb you or make noise near you while you are having your interview.

General Interview Questions

We ask questions to get to know you as a person. What career paths interest you? What do you like to do? How do you handle certain situations that often occur in the workplace? There are a couple of points to make here.

  1. Be true to yourself. Don't pretend to be someone you're not simply to ace the interview. The worst thing you can do is try to anticipate what the interviewer wants to hear and give that answer even if it's not you. You could certainly get the job, but you'll get assignments for the mythical ideal candidate you've created, not you. To get the ideal job for you, you want to be accepted based on who you really are and what you enjoy doing.

  2. Don't exaggerate or lie. Misrepresenting yourself is the quickest way to get out of the running. An example is lying about a college degree you don't have, or putting down the degree on your resume making it seem like you graduted when you didn't. If you claim to be a wiz at some technology, you should be ready to back it up. In general, be straight forward.

  3. Don't give standard responses. If you are coached on the most common questions, and you give the same answer that everyone else gives, you have lost an opportunity to differentiate yourself from the crowd. Take time to think of your own personal response that best reflects you, not what other people say you should be. Why let someone else author the story of your life? Be your own author.

Technical Challenge Questions

Candidates for software development and DevSecOps are typically given a technical challenge during the course of the interview process. Technical challenge interviews are very popular with technology companies. The purpose of our challenge questions are to determine if you have the ability to put logic together. This does not require a difficult problem and we do not present trick questions. However, It does require practice either through work experience or specific practice sessions for solving problems. There is no way around it, you have to put in the time coding to be comfortable with this. There are many sites that provide coding challenges.

When you are presented with a technical challenge questions, you should go through the following steps:

  1. Listen carefully to the entire problem statement and take notes.
  2. Restate the problem back to the interviewer so that both of you have a common understanding of what the problem is. You don't want to go off on a tangent because you misunderstood the problem. This gives the interviewer a chance to correct any misunderstandings before you invest too much time into the solving the wrong problem.
  3. If you encounter a problem you can't immediately see a solution for, start drawing it out. This often helps you visualize a problem. It often helps to talk out loud as well. Most interviewers want you to succeed and if you're headed in the wrong direction, they may give you a nudge in the right direction.
  4. If you can't think of the most efficient way to solve the problem, solve the problem with a brute force method first. As you work through and get familiar with the problem, other ideas will likely come to mind.

Should I think out loud? It is not required and it is ok to organize your thoughts before thinking out loud. Generally, it is to your advantage to verbalize your thoughts as you work through the problem. This let's the interviewer know how you go about analyzing a problem. It also let's them know if you are going in the wrong direction and they will often give you some hints to put you back on track. You would not get that support if you work silently.

Should I write in pseudocode? In most cases where you are being hired to code, we want to see real code. A big part of your evaluation will be dependent on the quality of code you produce. Syntax errors, etc. are OK. The key thing is that you can put together logic and that you show a level of mastery that is commensurate to the experience you're claiming.

You can get more in-depth suggestions from an older post dedicated to The Technical Interview

Written Challenge Questions

At SimonComputing, a written challenge is typically given to non-technical staff where writing is a significant job requirement. In a typical writing challenge, you'll be given a scenario, such as a role you will be playing. For example, as a business analyst your role is to elicit requirements from a client. The interviewer plays the role of a client and describes the requirement. You will then summarize those requirements.

Some tips to help make this easier:

  1. You should write notes and capture important details.
  2. Typically, you are given a chance to ask questions as you would in a real working environment. Take advantage of this! Ask any clarifying questions you need to capture information accurately.
  3. If there are unfamiliar phrases or acronyms, ask questions about them.
  4. Correct spelling is important and it is especially important to accurately record names of people, companies and project names. When you work with clients, spelling these items correctly is a matter of respect.
  5. Summarize your notes into clear and concise statements. Do your best to accurately portray what was described. Some reordering of information may be needed to make the content follow a logical flow.

The actual writing challenge will vary somewhat, but it follows this general pattern.

What if I don't get the job?

First of all, the fact that you didn't get the job doesn't mean that you are unqualified or bad in some way. It's pretty common to have multiple very good candidates and the company simply has to choose and you were unlucky.

Neither does it automatically mean the company was bad for not hiring you. Each candidate and each company typically go through many interviews before a hire occurs. This is the process to making sure that both parties get a good match. It's not too different from getting married - you'll be spending a lot of time together and it is important to make the right choice.

Be prepared to do multiple interviews and use each interview as a practice session to perform better in the next interview. This will put you in a positive and healthy mindset during your job search.

Final Thoughts

Preparation is key to your success. It starts with an honest assessment of who you are and want to be.

  1. What are you good at?
  2. What do you need training on?
  3. What career path would be most satisfying to you while creating value for the teams you work with?
  4. What are important aspects for your next job? (Team environment, new technologies, training, etc.)

That should guide your decision on what jobs to pursue. Focusing your attention on jobs that fit you will make you much more interested and engaged, which will help you through the preparation and interview process.

Good luck on your journey to a new work life!