Software Engineers: Tips for Preparing for Video Interviews

Software Engineers: Tips for Preparing for Video Interviews

The coronavirus outbreak is having a massive impact on how software engineers work today. Leading tech companies across the globe are doing their part to mitigate the spread by requesting or requiring their employees work from home and canceling in-person interviews in favor of virtual & video meetings. We’re seeing it at big companies (Facebook, Amazon, Google) and small. 

Interviewing is already challenging: having to do so over video is an entirely new challenge, and candidates are wondering how they can make a great impression and show their best work in an unfamiliar way. We wrote about being prepared for remote interviews a few years ago, and that need has grown exponentially.

Rooster Park is now doing all of our interviews and tech screenings virtually, as are all of our clients – and we have a few expert tips for preparing for video interviews on how you can put your best foot forward, even from behind a computer screen. (We’re using Zoom; that’s the most common – others are using WebEx and Bluejeans most often.)

Download all necessary programs ahead of time

  • Just like during an in-person interview, being prompt and prepared is critical for your virtual technical screen. Waiting to open the meeting link until 2 minutes before your interview is scheduled will only contribute to your nerves – especially if you’re prompted to download programs. If it’s new software for you, give yourself at least an hour to download the app, test the video and audio functionality – almost all of them have a way to test the microphone and audio. Test the link to the meeting well ahead of time, even though it may not work.
  • If you expect a shared coding component to the interview, you’ll most likely be provided with a link or coding platform, in addition to a web / video conference link, so make sure to test that out and set them up ahead of time. If you know that it’s coming but you didn’t receive it, connect with the interview coordinator or recruiter ahead of time to ensure you have the right programs downloaded to your computer before your interview.

Practice the technical screening with a friend or your recruiter 

  • After you’ve downloaded everything you need, run through sample coding challenges via video with a friend or a recruiter. Just pick a problem that requires some coding. This is less about preparing for specific questions for the hiring manager – it’s the best way to get yourself comfortable using the programs and to identify any potential technical obstacles you might face during the day of your interview. Because every program is different, it’s imperative you practice on the actual programs that you’ll be asked to use.
  • Practice real time, live coding via online tools and services such as https://leetcode.com/, https://www.codewars.com/, and https://coderpad.io/ (which is our normal choice, and which offers a free candidate plan). 

Inject extra personality into the conversation 

  • This part is where a lot of engineers feel the most uneasy. While virtual-first impressions are admittedly challenging (for both parties), the same tried and true advice remains. For one, eye contact is just as important during a virtual interview – when you’re not coding, ensure you’re looking straight into the camera and not at yourself or somewhere else on the screen. Again, this is something to practice ahead of time – it’s easy to ask your friend or recruiter if you look clear, if the eye contact looks right, etc.
  • To further demonstrate confidence, make sure you speak clearly with conviction. And we can’t stress this point enough to engineers – show your personality! Just because it’s virtual doesn’t mean you have to get straight to business – they’re hiring a person, not a robot. Don’t forget to ask the same great questions you would in person. Maintain a light-hearted demeanor throughout the interview and don’t be afraid to have fun – after all, you’ll hopefully be part of their team soon!

Smile, you’re on camera!

  • Don’t forget you’re on camera. When you get into the flow during the interview, it can be easy to forget there is someone on the other end watching you – don’t do anything you wouldn’t do if you were interviewing in person.
  • Make sure you can always see the interviewer in a window on your screen – don’t let it fall behind all of your other screens. Then you can be aware and mindful of visual or verbal cues from your interviewers that they may be ready to move on to the next question, or would like to add something to the technical interview portion. Don’t just look at your keyboard!
  • Eye contact is hugely important in nonverbal communication, but it is different in a video meeting. In person, you would look directly at someone’s eyes. In a video meeting, you maintain eye contact by looking into the camera: a good idea is to lower the monitor camera a little so that you don’t have to tilt your head back to gaze up at it. If you can’t help looking at someone’s face on the screen instead of their camera, it helps to move the video window to the part of the screen nearest to the camera so at least you’re looking at approximately the right place when you’re looking at their face. 
  • In your practice run, you should check camera angle, lighting, the background that’s visible in your camera view (it doesn’t have to be pristine, but don’t have something you wouldn’t want an interviewer to see), sound quality, and potential distractions that could cause interruptions or you to lose your focus. Silence devices and notifications, and make family members aware you’ll need a quiet space for a specific amount of time. And if your phone rings, that’s real life – just move along.
  • Since we interpret what people say to us only partially from the words they use, we get most of the message (and all of the emotional nuance behind the words) from vocal tone, pacing, facial expressions and other nonverbal cues. Body language savvy can be the key to developing positive business relationships and presenting your ideas with more impact when you’re in a video meeting.

Always have a backup plan 

  • As a tech professional, you’re likely well aware of all of the different variables that could go awry during a technical interview – your WiFi cuts out, the microphone doesn’t work, your screen-share freezes, and other snafus that can send your nerves sky-high. So, plan for them. If your connection is notoriously spotty, ask a friend or family member if you can take the interview from their place. Unless you need it, turn off VPNs. Be prepared to use your cell phone as a mobile hotspot or backup to your internet connection. Never take an interview in a coffee shop or similar environment if you can help it – all of that background noise will distract you and the interviewer.
  • At Rooster Park, we always equip our engineers with a backup link. That way, if there is a problem with the client’s link, they’re already prepared with one that they can shoot over – if possible, equip yourself with a backup link, too. 

Stay safe out there 

While we’re fortunate to live in a time that enables us to limit the spread through virtual work and education, our hearts go out to the individuals, families, and communities that have been impacted by COVID-19. As the number of cases continues to rise in our home state, Rooster Park and our people will remain vigilant to ensure we’re doing our part to limit the spread. Right now, that means abiding by all social-distancing recommendations while continuing to serve our clients, consultants, and candidates. 

To learn more about how Rooster Park is working during the Coronavirus outbreak, send us a message. If you’re a Seattle-based engineer looking for a great opportunity – you’re in the right place! View our openings here.