In the 1980s, when there were only a few software engineers, landing a software engineering role was relatively more straightforward. Over the years, the number of software engineers has increased significantly, but only a small percentage are considered exceptional talents.

Software engineering interviews are really hard because companies want to hire the best. Companies maintain high interviewing standards with challenging coding tests and rigorous processes. This approach may suit company objectives, but candidates say that the interviews don’t need to be as hard.

In the rest of this article, I will explain what makes software engineering interviews seem hard, what interviewers look for during the hiring process, and how to scale through a seemingly challenging interview process.

Factors That Make Software Engineering Interviews Hard

Software engineering as a career is not so hard. Like any skilled position, it takes hard work to become the talented software engineer most companies look for, which is why the interviews for these jobs are so hard. While you might be a great software engineer, you might struggle with the interview process.

Here are a few factors that contribute to how hard software engineering interviews have become.

Challenging Coding Tests

Most software engineering interview processes include coding tests. These tests usually form the technical aspects of the hiring process, and they help the company filter out candidates who don’t have the required technical skills.

For objectivity, many big tech companies like Facebook, Alphabet, Amazon, Netflix, and Google (FAANG) standardize their coding tests. Usually, the company has a pool of questions that they expect candidates to know well before proceeding to the next stage.

Coding tests for software engineering roles can be intimidating even for experienced and talented candidates, but some candidates strongly argue that the tests are not a reflection of the everyday tasks of a software engineer.

But one thing candidates fail to note is that many interviewers use coding tests to assess a candidate’s problem-solving skills as an engineer. While a level of accuracy is essential, some interviewers are not as concerned about how correct your algorithm is as they are about your approach to the problem.

Little to No Understanding of the Fundamentals

Besides assessing critical thinking and problem-solving skills, interviewers also evaluate a candidate’s knowledge of software engineering fundamentals. If you don’t have a thorough understanding of the elementary aspects of your role, you may struggle with the interview.

These basic concepts include data structure, recursion, permutation, and combination. Many coding problems revolve around these fundamentals.

So, knowing them will help you approach the questions better.

Time Constraints

A coding interview’s timed conditions also contribute to why candidates say the process is complex. One may argue that timed tests shouldn’t be an issue since many candidates may have had formal education where timed exams were the norm.

However, the difference between coding tests and interviews is that the style is often one-on-one, as the candidate is usually the only one in the room with the interviewer.

In addition, this assessment style can make even the most prepared candidate nervous.

No Understanding of the Interviewer’s Objectives

Often, an interviewer aims to collect data points and signals from a candidate’s responses and behavior during an interview. A candidate may struggle with a software engineering interview because they don’t know what the interviewer wants.

If you know what an interviewer wants to hear from you, you can prepare better and answer questions confidently.

What Interviewers Assess During Software Engineering Interviews

Software engineering interviews help interviewers determine the right candidate for their organization. So, the hiring process is usually rigorous and lengthy. Interviewers tend to focus on technical skills, analytical abilities, and your ability to fit into the organization.

Here are some of the major skills and traits that interviewers assess during a software engineering interview.

Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving Skills

As I mentioned earlier, one of the major skills that interviewers look for is problem-solving. They often want to know how well you understand the problem and how you will approach it in real-life situations. In addition, the timed nature of such tests also gives them a sense of how well you can cope under pressure.

Interviewers also assess critical thinking skills. So, when they give you questions that you are seeing for the first time, they also want to know how you will approach a problem you have never seen before.

Communication Skills

Interviewers also assess your communication skills and want to know how well you can communicate technical issues to technical and non-technical audiences.

In addition, an interviewer would want to know how you provide and receive feedback. The self-questions they use to evaluate you include:

  • Do you communicate setbacks and constraints to your project manager on time?
  • How do you handle negative peer reviews?

Time Management

Hiring managers appreciate candidates who can manage their time without needing anyone to hold their hands. When it comes to software engineering projects, time is a great resource.

As an interviewee, you should be able to demonstrate how well you can prioritize tasks and manage your time. Often, hiring managers will gather this information from your coding test and one-on-one interview.

Technical Skills

A candidate’s technical skills can tell a hiring manager how much experience they have and if they are the right fit for the role. For many interviewers, it is not enough to say that you have a particular skill.

They will ask you specific questions, and your answers will help them determine if you indeed have the talent.

Some of the technical skills that an interviewer may assess during a software engineering interview include computer programming, software testing and debugging, and software development. The hiring manager would usually assess these skills after your coding interview.

After writing the code, did you test it to see if it works?

Some software engineering roles may also require fluency in specific programming languages like Python, JavaScript, and PHP.

Culture Fit

Beyond having the required technical skills, companies also want to know how well you can fit into their culture. For instance, if a company is big on inclusivity, they may ask you situational questions around the topic to gauge how you may fit into their inclusive work culture.

Also, if the work environment is fast-paced, they will want to know if your energy can match theirs.

So, during your software engineering interview, an interviewer may ask you specific questions to assess how enthusiastic you are about working at the company. Are you eager to work there? Do your goals align with company values?

How To Prepare for Difficult Software Engineering Interviews

Knowing how to prepare for a software engineering interview can help you scale through a lengthy and seemingly challenging interview process. Here are a few tips on how you can scale through hard software engineering interviews.

Don’t Wait Until You Need a Job Before You Apply

Waiting until you need a job before you apply for one can put undue pressure on you. So, if you have a job now and are thinking of switching to a new software engineering role, start applying for such positions now.

Of course, this tip may not be helpful for entry-level engineers and new graduates who may be applying for a role for the first time. But if you are in an internship program with the hopes of getting a full-time position, then you can start applying now.

Applying ahead will allow you to learn more about your target companies’ hiring process and will help you get better at software engineering interviews. You won’t be out of a job and transitioning into the new role will be straightforward.

Don’t Memorize Questions; Understand the Concepts

The internet has several resources to help candidates prepare for interviews. Instead of memorizing the questions, seek to understand the concept behind the questions.

The chances that interviewers will repeat questions during an interview are slim. But even if they do, any slight change to a question you’ve seen before may throw you off if you choose to memorize it instead of understanding the concept.

Be Confident in Your Abilities

If you’ve worked hard to become a sound software engineer, you should be proud of your achievement. While it’s true that some interviewers use the hiring process to display power dynamics, you shouldn’t be intimidated by anyone.

Hiring managers and panelists are not the know-it-all people that you think they are.

So, approach the interview process like you are there to discuss how your experience and skillset can add value to their company. And while you are at it, ensure you bring your A-game.

Have Realistic Expectations

Working at a big tech company is a dream for many people. But the reality is that not everyone will work at one of the big companies. While it is okay to desire to work at Facebook, Alphabet, or Netflix, ensure that you set realistic expectations.

The competition to get into these companies is stiff, and the hiring rate is low.

You don’t have to work at a big tech company to have a successful software engineering program. Consider some other great companies who may not be as popular as the top ones but will offer what you need.

Final Words

Interviewing for a software engineering role that you want is something to be proud of because it means that the company thinks you may be the right candidate. However, these interviews are becoming more complex these days.

Software engineering interviews have become hard because companies make their hiring process competitive and thorough to ensure that they don’t hire the wrong candidate.

As an applicant, it is helpful to learn about the companies you are applying to and how their hiring process is structured. This knowledge will help you scale through difficult interviews to get the roles you want.

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