About the author: This guest post was written by Kenzie Academy, a tech and coding school with headquarters in Indianapolis, Ind. Kenzie prepares people for the future of work with tech certificates, especially students who have been underserved by traditional higher education. Kenzie offers online and in-person certification courses in software engineering and UX design. The school believes in providing an outcomes-focused and affordable tech education so students graduate career-ready. Check out our article with whiteboard interview tips and tricks.
Whiteboard interviews are often a key part of the job interview process for roles involving computer programming. While these types of interviews can be nerve-wracking, you can (and will) get through them with a little practice, forethought, and self-care. Here’s how you can ace your software engineering whiteboard interview.
What is a whiteboard interview?
Similar to a UX design whiteboard interview, a software engineering whiteboard interview is a technical interview designed to evaluate a candidate’s technical and problem-solving skills. These interviews focus on algorithm and coding knowledge, as well as other computer science fundamentals. Interviewers use them to evaluate your skill and knowledge of sorting algorithms, data structures, time/space complexity analysis, recursion, and recognition of patterns and edge cases.
During whiteboard coding interviews, the hiring manager will present you with a coding problem. Interviewees usually have around an hour to solve the problem. At the end, you’ll discuss your problem-solving process and any solutions you’ve come up with.
You could also be given an architecture design challenge where you’ll be asked to use your whiteboard to design a system like a search engine, chat application, or web crawler. This kind of interview will mostly be a conversation, so you won’t have to stress about drawing code. But you may use the whiteboard to illustrate your points.
How do virtual whiteboard interviews work?
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, chances are your next whiteboard interview will be virtual. How does this work exactly? Thanks to the work of some very talented developers, companies are relying on virtual whiteboard software like that of HankerRank’s CodePair*, which uses Excalidraw, an open source whiteboard tool, to create a seamless virtual whiteboard interview process.
Fortunately, you won’t have to worry about clumsily trying to draw with your keypad as these tools will allow you to use your keyboard and mouse to “draw” or type on the whiteboard. They also provide quick draw tools to help you create things like charts and shapes. Check with your interviewer ahead of time to find out what their process is for conducting virtual whiteboard interviews and what software they typically use. That way, you can practice ahead of time using that software so you are confident in your session.
How do I prepare for a whiteboard interview?
There are several steps you can take to prepare yourself for technical interviews. Taking time to research the company, practicing mock interview questions, and taking care of yourself can help you get prepped.
Do your research
Getting nervous before a big interview is totally normal. One way to calm your nerves is to research the company ahead of time. You can read up on the company, search for potential interview questions, or connect with people in your network who have previously worked there. All of these things can help you gain better insight into what your potential employer’s version of a whiteboard interview could look like.
Practice, practice, practice
Once you’ve done adequate research on the company, get to work! Buy a whiteboard of your own and work on solving different algorithms and problems as your interview date approaches. This will help you get more comfortable with the idea of solving coding problems through whiteboarding.
If you’ll be interviewing with a large company like Facebook or Google, you may be able to find the whiteboard questions the company typically uses online. Here’s an example from Facebook. Google also has a few interview example videos you can peruse on their YouTube channel Life at Google including this video in which 2 Google employees conduct a mock interview. In the example, an engineer is given a collection of numbers and a sum. The engineer is then tasked with finding a matching pair that’s equal to the sum.
If you want more questions to practice, check out this list of 93 software engineering interview questions from top tech companies.
Engage in self-care activities
It’s easy to get carried away with all of your practice and research. Turns out, you can have too much of a good thing. To alleviate any anxiety you may be feeling ahead of your whiteboard interview, be sure to engage in quality self-care activities. Be sure to eat nourishing foods, drink plenty of water, spend time away from screens, and get a good night’s sleep. These things will help you perform your best once you actually step up to the whiteboard.
How can I ace my whiteboard interview?
It’s the big day! You’ve practiced and gotten a good night’s sleep. You’re ready to take on your whiteboard interview. Use these tips to impress your interviewers and land the job.
Take time to digest the question
Oftentimes, when we’re asked an interview question, our first instinct is to get on with answering it right away. But, this strategy may not serve you well in a whiteboard interview where precision is key. So, you’ll want to buy yourself some time to more fully digest the question. You can do this by repeating the question out loud. This will not only help you confirm with the interviewer that you have a proper understanding of what was asked, but you’ll also feel more confident and comfortable answering it.
Don’t be afraid to clarify
While you’re taking time to digest the questions, don’t be afraid to ask questions you might have. The interviewer likely wants to see you do well and will be happy to serve as a resource as you go through the process of completing the coding questions.
Hiring managers want to see that you can articulate your thoughts and work process clearly and effectively. So, be communicative throughout the process. What solutions have you discovered? Why did you choose to take specific actions? Don’t wait until the end to show off your answers and thought process — speak through your process over the course of the interview. Speaking through the process can also keep you on track and help you spot issues and avoid mistakes.
Types of software engineering interviews
Of course, interviews are a process and most likely your whiteboard interview won’t be the end-all be-all. At Kenzie, we prepare graduates for the various types of interviews they may encounter as they apply for software engineering and UX design roles. Here are few types of software engineering interviews, you may go through on your job search.
In a behavioral interview, the interviewer will get to know the applicant and see how they might perform as an employee. Behavioral interview questions provide insight into factors like company culture and how you’d fit in as an employee. You’ll be asked questions about your background so the interviewer can see how your skills line up with those needed for the open role. If you want additional guidance on these sessions, check out this guide on behavioral interview prep. And remember, these interviews also give you a chance to interview your potential employer. This is a great time to make sure you want to work for them. Stumped on what questions to ask? Use this list to get some ideas.
Technical interviews can encompass a variety of sub-interview types like algorithm/coding and domain-specific. Algorithm and coding interviews are often given in the form of whiteboard interviews. These may also be referred to as computer science fundamentals interviews. Like we mentioned above, usually you’ll be asked to solve a problem on a whiteboard in a certain time frame.
Other kinds of technical interviews exist beyond whiteboards. For example, domain-specific interviews cover more specific coding languages and skills needed for a more specialized job. So, if you’ve applied for a Java-heavy role, you guessed it… you’ll be tested on Java. If that is the case for you, check out this list of 133 Java interview questions to help you practice. These interviews may come in the form of a take-home test and the interviewer will likely want to discuss your past projects.
Don’t forget that interviews are also a time for you to ask questions about the company – it’s a two-way street. Behavioral interviews are a great space to ask questions about life at the company, but technical interviews also expose you to different people on staff. These interviews can help you get acquainted with potential colleagues and give you a sneak peek into what working at the company could be like.
Looking for more resources to prep for your job interview? Check out these blog posts:
- How to Land a Tech Job in a Pandemic: Zoom Interview Tips & More
- How to Deal with Stress During a Job Hunt
If you are looking for additional help with your job search, Pathrise is an online mentorship program that works with people on all components of their job search. If you are interested in working with our mentors 1-on-1, become a Pathrise fellow.