technical interview myths

The top 11 technical interview myths

There are tons of interview myths floating around about the technical hiring process, mostly because it’s usually a black box for candidates. The inherent stress, inexperienced interviewers, tiring challenges, and unresponsive companies are valid reasons for candidates to have a negative view of hiring. Some of these myths work against a good interview experience and the candidates’ chances to get hired, so I’d like to call them out and refute them.

About me

I’ve interviewed a few hundred software engineering candidates in the past 10+ years and designed hiring processes. I’ve been supporting software engineers for 6+ years, working with ~40 engineers as their engineering manager. My experience is limited to startups and mid-sized companies, so take everything you read here with that in mind.

Now let’s see the myths and misconceptions.

You can never be late.

Without question, do your best to be at your interview on time and plan things accordingly, but don’t worry, we know sh*it happens. If you can please let us know you’ll be late or you’d like to reschedule the interview, I promise you it’ll be fine. Nobody in their right mind would try to relate whether you were punctual or not on a single occasion to your future job performance.

Don’t do research ahead of time because the interviewer will tell you everything you need to know.

False, for two reasons. While your interviewer will do their best to give you all the information they think is essential for you, there’s no way of exactly knowing what that is! The other reason is that if you don’t know anything about the company and the role, you’ll seem like someone who doesn’t care where they work and what they do. You probably don’t want that. You don’t need to overdo it and spend hours looking up who the founders’ grandparents were. Just make sure you understand the company’s market, look at the product(s) we offer (if you have time and you’re interested, even try them – we all love feedback!), and read the job description.

They are looking for the perfect candidate.

No, we aren’t. We’re looking for a reasonably competent candidate with the right mindset who’s willing to take this journey of constant growth with us.

It’s not OK to send a follow-up email after my interview.

Sure it is! I even tell candidates explicitly to feel free to reach out to me if they have further questions or feedback! I really do value when folks reach out. I don’t mean “thank you” emails, but actual questions or feedback. Please, no brown-nosing, though – that’s really awkward for both of us and won’t get you anywhere.

They make candidates wait a lot so they can weigh them against each other.

Hell, no we don’t! One quality of a good hiring process is that it should be able to help us decide whether we want to hire that specific candidate independently of others or not. As a hiring manager, I always do the interviews with my mind being set on that if we’re a good match, an offer is going out (unless, of course, headcounts changed in the meantime, but then we communicate that). If you’re waiting too long for us to come back to you, please, by all means, ping us! We might have dropped the ball somewhere – maybe someone is out sick and didn’t have time to ask others to help out, or we simply forgot something. It happens and we’re sorry – don’t assume malice, ask us, please. We should be proactively telling you when you can expect to hear from us and about the next steps, by the way! We do our best to keep those promises.

Recruiters ghost me because I performed badly in the interview.

While I can’t speak on behalf of all recruiters, in my experience, this is not the case! It should not happen. Sure, mistakes happen (recruiters are, believe it or not, humans, too), but the norm is that you get a timely answer whatever the interview outcome was. If you’re not getting that, ping them. Or ping the hiring manager. Probably someone dropped the ball on something. It happens. Ideally, we should be telling you when to expect us to come back to you, so you can know if we’re late or you’re just impatient 😉 – if you’re not getting that information from us, just ask at the end of the interview.

If my interviewer is having a bad day, I will probably fail the interview.

Hopefully not. Sure, we are all humans, and our mood influences how we think and act, but a well-designed hiring process should protect against this. Unless I’m actively malicious (and why would I be?! I WANT to hire engineers!), my bias will be called out by other interviewers in the same step or another step, and I’ll need to argue for not hiring you. Honestly, even a good scorecard (the thing we fill out with some standard, guiding questions after the interview) will make me realize I’m just in a bad mood and then I can deal with it. If you only meet 1-2 interviewers during your process, the risk of bias is much higher. While you have no control over who interviews you, you can take a hint from this. While the scene might not yet be 100% rosy, companies are trying their best to stay competitive in the job market, and more and more realize that structured, unbiased, and humane interviews are one key to this.

Smaller companies blindly copy FAANG hiring methods.

Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, Google have some (in)famous hiring methods. While some companies probably blindly copy those, most don’t. It’d be stupid. They play on a different field with different goals and have a much higher volume of candidate influx. One example is focusing on algorithm and data structure knowledge – most FAANG technical interviews test this. It probably makes sense for them while it doesn’t make much sense for most other companies. Not only that, but it can have a negative effect (other than scaring away good candidates) – being biased towards two kinds of applicants: engineers who are working a lot with algorithms and data structures and fresh graduates, who still have muscle memory of this.

Culture fit == we want people exactly like us.

When we say “cultural fit”, we mean “value/principle fit”. I try to say that, by default, but industry terms die hard. We’re looking for teammates who believe in most of the same basic principles as we do, that’s all. Some examples of these principles are (for us, here at Contentful): transparency, growth mindset, customer focus and teamwork. I can reason why these are important and how they also relate to job performance and how they lead to a happy and scalable organization. It’s not fluffy stuff.

My resume is really important.

Yes and no – yes, to get your foot in the door. It’s also a conversation starter but I’ll be interested in your stories instead when we talk. I look at resumes of candidates already in the loop only to find more information about them – things to talk about, to get some context. One thing about your resume though – it is also a piece of work from you, a signal for me. If it is seriously lacking in some aspect (eg it has serious spelling mistakes), I may see it as a sign of you not paying attention to your work’s quality or not asking for feedback (for someone to review it). By the way, there’s an excellent new book from Gergely Orosz in town about engineering resumes that can help you stand out to the next recruiter or hiring manager – The Tech Resume Inside Out. If you don’t have too much time for this, just update your LinkedIn profile (a good move anyway!) and export your CV from LinkedIn – it is going to be much better than if you try to put it together in one evening alone.

Telling the recruiter I’m also in the process elsewhere is a bad move.

You might think we’ll feel you’re not dedicated to us – but why would you be?! We just started talking 🙂 Nobody’s expecting you to focus on one company! On the other hand, if we really like you and you signal urgency we’ll have the chance to speed things up or even be more generous with our offer to convince you to join us 😉

Some truths about the technical interview

Your interviewer is also stressed and they want to do a good job.

Yup, after a few hundred interview sessions I still practice conversations in my head, I still worry I’ll make a bad impression and that I’ll mess things up. Many other people you will meet are doing much fewer interviews than me. I’m representing both myself and my company in each and every interview. I feel personally responsible for providing a good experience for you and I want you to remember the interview as “Well that was surprisingly good!”.

Not getting hired is not a failure.

Nobody in the hiring process will think of you like that! Trust me on this one. And yes, please do try again! The fact that you made it to the Nth step this time means that we see potential in you. If you reach out I’m more than happy to give tips and advice on where and how to grow.

We are matchmakers, not judges.

My goal is to find a good match between the role I’m hiring for and the candidate applying. This truly goes both ways. I do my best to make sure the candidates would be successful and happy if we hired them.

Read my article with tips on how to ace your technical interview

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