How to prepare for a technical interview

Saffron Wildbore

~ 6min read

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~ 6min read

Got your sights set on a coding job and you’re wondering how to prepare for the technical interview as part of the interview process? Firstly, congratulations on doing your research. The skills the interviewers are looking to assess might surprise you, so preparation is your friend! Read on for all you need to know.

> What is a technical interview?

Technical job interviews take place in disciplines from finance to architecture to landscape gardening. Their purpose? To explore a candidate’s practical approach to solving job-specific problems in a live environment.

You’ll probably be given a coding task or technical problem to work through within a time limit, followed by some discussion. You’ll either use your laptop (make sure you bring it!) or a whiteboard, or both, to work through your answer.

You’ll probably also be asked some verbal questions to test your understanding of certain concepts.

This style of interview is popular with interviewers because they reduce the scope for candidates to “cheat”. As a result, it can feel a bit stressful (understatement of the century).

The good news is: with preparation, you’ll sail through. The even better news? Coming up with all the correct answers isn’t necessarily the most important part.

> 7 steps to success in your technical interview questions in software engineering

1. Review the job description

Sometimes an employer will give you some information in advance about what to expect in your technical interview. But if they don’t, there’s no need to panic. You’ll find clues in the job description. Give it another read to reduce that all-consuming fear of the unknown.

2. Find some technical interview questions – then practice!

Ideally as a mock interview with a friend or family member, so you can apply the principles below regarding talking out loud and engaging with the interviewer. But you can also do this by yourself.

For technical tasks, a good resource to start you off is FullStack Cafe’s coding interview challenges – a load of examples, worked through with code.

For verbal questions about programming concepts, check out SimpliLearn’s top coding interview questions.

3. Pause before you answer

What’s the very first thing you should do when you’re given a coding challenge to solve?


When your interviewer introduces the task, give yourself some space. Nobody expects you to share your solution right away.

If you think it’s an interesting challenge, feel free to tell the interviewer that. Then ask them to please bear with you for a minute while you digest it.

Patrick Morgan, one of our instructors at mthree Academy, advises candidates that this is the key to letting your brain kick into gear. “Stay calm. You shouldn’t respond straight away. It’s fine to let the silence linger in the room for a few moments. It’s also fine to take notes in an interview, just let the interviewer know what you’re doing – whether you’re typing on your laptop or writing on paper.”

4. Narrate your thought processes out loud

Yes, this will feel awkward, but you need to expose that voice inside your head. In a technical interview, the way you get to your solution matters more than achieving the perfect solution.

“Communicating your thoughts clearly is all-important”, says Haythem Balti, another instructor at mthree Academy. “The interviewer wants to understand how you approach solving new problems. In your career, similarly, you’ll be solving complex and critical problems. Interviewers want to get an insight into how you engage in such a process.”

Whenever a question occurs to you, speak it to yourself. I wonder how I should interpret this instruction that’s a bit vague? … I wonder who on the team would know more about that? … I wonder what would happen in these edge cases?

This leads us onto the next piece of advice.

5. Expect ambiguity – you may need to ask for clarification

Read the technical question several times to check that you’re totally clear on the instructions and the situation being described.

“Interviewers will often introduce ambiguity into the problem to see if you notice it”, Haythem goes on to say. “Every word is there for a reason. You should clarify anything unclear with the interviewer and ask as many questions as you need. Once you’ve understood the problem to be solved, start to think about the solution.”

Also, as a sort of insurance, Patrick recommends that you rephrase the question back to the interviewer to confirm that you’re on the same page. “This ensures you understand what they’re looking for, helping you to approach the problem with confidence. Asking good questions is not only beneficial to your problem solving process, it’s also a valuable skill which employers are looking for.”

6. Don’t jump into writing code too quickly

Tempted to just get started and then figure out the solution while you’re coding? This might feel like a smart approach when you’re tight on time, but rushing leads to avoidable mistakes.

Haythem acknowledges that you do need to manage your time accordingly, but you should still always work through each key phase. Understanding the problem, analyzing and defining the requirements, design, testing, and implementation.

“First ask yourself these questions: What’s the input of the problem? What’s the output of the problem? How can you leverage information in the problem definition? Do you need new data structures? What’s the flow of your solution? Then you can start coding. Use your go-to programming language, unless the instructions tell you to use a specific language.”

7. Keep your descriptions simple

Have you heard the golden rule of communication? If you confuse, you lose. Your interviewer might have different technical knowledge or background to you, and they don’t know the ins and outs of past projects you’ve worked on. Try to see the interview from their perspective too.

Sometimes you can’t avoid using detailed technical vocabulary in a coding interview. When this happens, explain the complexity as you go and give extra context. Otherwise, try to be concise.

Pay attention to the interviewer’s facial expression. If their eyes glaze over or their brow is furrowed, it’s a sign that they’re no longer following your train of thought…

As a bonus, you can ask the interviewer if they think you’re going into too much detail or if they want to know more. They’ll appreciate the consideration (another valuable power skill!).

> How to describe a previous coding project in a technical interview

Think about the story of your experience. Your goal is to help your interviewer understand the best bits.

This is why Haythem recommends framing your coding project in terms of its impact on the business. What made the project important? Who benefited from the work?

“You should also explain your contributions”, he says. “What did you do exactly to contribute to the overall success? You can use quantitative measures, such as I used technique X to increase Y.” And explain the technologies and tools you used. Why did you choose them? Invite the interviewer into your thought process.

Lastly, Haythem advises, don’t sweep the tough times under the carpet. “Every project has ups and downs. Describe the lessons you’ve learned, because this will showcase humility and willingness to learn from mistakes.”

> What to say when you lack previous experience

You have more to talk about than you think you do. Really.

Charity Jennings, Director of Curriculum and Learning Strategy at mthree Academy, highlights the value of transferable skills:

“Areas like leadership, collaboration, problem solving and customer service are all incredibly valuable in the world of tech. For example, have you developed customer service skills while working in retail? Software developers engage in a similar type of communication when matching software capabilities to business requirements. This involves the ability to communicate with people, understand what they need, and negotiate a solution.”

How might your experience translate to the technology role you’re applying for? For example, if you led a project at college, you’ve got experience uniting a team around a shared goal. That counts for something.

Similar to Haythem, Charity suggests giving evidence in numbers to help the interviewer to imagine the impact you could make in their team:

“Share a time that you solved a problem that saved money, improved efficiency, or increased revenue. For example, did you suggest ways to improve customer satisfaction which resulted in positive reviews on social media? Share the number of reviews, and any improvement in the average star rating.”

Lastly, she says, have confidence. The interviewer chose to speak with you. They believe you have something to offer!

Are you ready to meet the challenge of a technical interview and unlock your future in software engineering? Embark on your new career with mthree.

Saffron Wildbore is a Senior Marketing Executive at mthree. She has worked in marketing, specialising in creating content for over 4 years. Saffron focuses on writing tips for graduates, Alumni interviews and more!


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