Communication During the Interview
This is extremely important
Communicating well during an interview is a skill that will set you apart from many other candidates. As we interview prep, we tend to get into a few erroneous mindsets:
- I must know everything
- I must get the most efficient solution
- I must not make any mistakes
But we're forgetting what companies and interviewers are actually looking for at the end of the day: they are trying to see what kind of employee/colleague you'll be. The best colleagues I've ever had haven't met any of the three criteria mentioned above.
In my experience, a more accurate list of competencies interviewers generally look for are as follows:
- Candidate can get to a good solution on technical challenges and can communicate how and why they arrived at this solution
- Candidate asks the right questions to resolve ambiguous requirements
- Candidate demonstrates the ability to handle challenging technical and interpersonal situations
- Candidate is relatively friendly/agreeable (or at least not a jerk)
THERE ARE ALWAYS EXCEPTIONS
I'm sure there are companies out there that need you to get the most efficient solution or they'll fail you. My experience is this is more the exception than the norm.
Things you should do during interviews
Here is a non-exhaustive list of communication tips when you interview.
- Ask clarifying question. I would pretty much never go straight into solving a question unless it's very, very clear. Otherwise, asking questions shows you are discerning and exacting about requirements. You can also demonstrate your knowledge of the domain: a question such as "should I be concerned about [some real-world consideration] when I answer this question?" demonstrates that you understand real-world nuances.
- Over-communicate about your thought process. One of the biggest mistakes candiates make time and time again is being silent while they try to figure out, or solve, a problem. Interviewers can't read your mind, so the only way for them to get positive signals, aside from a correct answer, is to hear how you think. This also has additional benefits—if you're going down a bad path, the interviewer may stop and redirect you!
- Ask genuine questions about the company or job. During most interviews, you're given the chance to ask the interviewer questions about the company or job. In fact, this is often at the end of the interview and will be the interviewer's last impression of you. It's a low pressure way to demonstrate that you're interested in the job! Use this to your advantage.
- Be friendly. Interviewing is really stressful and stress can make us act in suboptimal ways. Try to remember the human element: you probably like working with friendly people and your interviewer does too.
- Be optimistic. I have passed interviews that I was sure I was failing during the interview. Do not trust your panicky interview brain. Assume that you always still have a shot to pass the interviewer and act accordingly.
Communicating when you're stuck
It's pretty common to get stuck during coding challenges. At this point you might be panicking and your brain is churning through everything you studied. It's really important, however, to not clam up in this moment because your interviewer has no idea what you're thinking. I recommend the following when you're stuck:
- Try to discuss your thought process. This is ideal but not always possible. For example, if you're stuck on a Leetcode-style problem you could say something like "I'm not quite sure what the solution is yet, but I'm noticing the elements in this array are sorted, so I suspect a good solution would involve binary search." Anything you can communicate demonstrates you're not just sitting there but rather than you're doing some analysis.
- Mention that you're taking some time to think. It's not always possible to give a play-by-play of what you're thinking, especially if you're deep in thought. In that case, mention to your interviewer that you're going to take a minute or two to think. This at least gives them a hint that you're not just frozen but rather are working out a solution.
- Subtly ask for a hint. If you've been stuck for a bit, asking for a hint is often the best way to go (solving with a hint is generally better than not being close without a hint). Rather than saying "can you give me a hint," which I think is a bit too pointed, I prefer something like "hmm, I'm a bit stuck on how to do [X]. Do you have any suggestions for me to consider?"
The "good colleague" lens
I always try to approach communication with prospective employers with the "good colleague" lens. How can I behave and communicate such that this person will want me as a colleague?
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