Get a Job in Tech: Interview Process and Prep

Exponent TeamExponent TeamLast updated

Top tech companies are known for their thorough and difficult interview processes.

Whether you're interviewing for a multinational organization with tens of thousands of employees or a local startup, below we explain what to expect in most tech interviews and how to prepare.

What is the tech interview process?

Tech companies often have a multi-stage interview process that can span several weeks.

Here's what to generally expect:

Step 1: Application

The application is the first step in landing a job in tech.

Whether you connect over LinkedIn or submit a formal application, here’s how you can make your application stand out:

Craft your resume.

Your resume is your first impression, so make it count.

Highlight your technical skills, relevant work or educational experience, and any significant work or research projects. Use quantifiable achievements to demonstrate your impact for each bullet point.

For example, instead of saying "Worked on a team project," say "Led a team of 5 to develop a web application that increased student engagement by 20%."

While cover letters are becoming less common, some smaller companies still request them.

In 3-5 sentences, explain your background, interest in the position, and key achievements that make you a perfect fit.

Submit your application.

Most large tech companies use Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) to pre-screen resumes. Follow the application instructions to a tee.

Check that your resume uses keywords from the job description.

Mentioning coding languages, projects, and job-specific skills can help you clear these automated screenings and increase your chances of a call-back.

Gather additional materials.

For roles that require a portfolio or coding samples, choose 2-3 samples of your best work that showcase your most relevant skills.

For coding samples, select projects that highlight your problem-solving abilities and technical expertise.

Network and get referrals.

Leverage your network to get your application noticed. Reach out to current or former employees of the company on LinkedIn for advice or referrals.

Work with your alumni network to find connections to the company you’re applying to.

A referral from an insider can significantly boost your chances of getting an interview.

Follow up.

Consider sending a follow-up email to the recruiter or hiring manager after you submit your application.

Express your enthusiasm for the role and make a direct connection with the recruiter.

Step 2: Recruiter Screening Call

If your application is successful, a recruiter will reach out to schedule a 30-45 minute call.

The recruiter's job is to assess whether you'd be a good fit for the role and to share information about the full interview process.

During this call, the recruiter will focus on:

  • Reviewing your resume for the right qualifications.
  • Asking basic behavioral questions about your working style.
  • Discussing your background and interest in the position.

For technical roles, expect some preliminary questions to weed out candidates who aren't a good technical fit.

Common questions include:

  • Tell me about your technical skills.
  • Tell me about a past technical project.
  • Why are you interested in this technical team?

Step 3: Hiring Manager Screening Call

If your call with the recruiter goes well, your application will be passed to a hiring manager, who will become your main point of contact for the rest of the interview process.

This screening call, lasting between 30 and 60 minutes, will delve into your past experiences and cultural fit.

In some cases, you’ll also face more technical questions about your experience or field.

Some companies bundle hiring manager calls and technical screening calls into one interview, while others have dedicated technical screens.

Sample questions may include:

  • Tell me about yourself.
  • Where do you see yourself in five years?
  • Tell me about a past project similar to this role.
  • How would you improve your favorite product?

Step 4: Technical Interview Screening Call

For technical roles, you'll also have a technical interview that lasts about an hour. This is where you'll dive into a technical topic and showcase your skills.

In some cases, the hiring manager screening call serves as a substitute for this portion.

For software engineering and technical roles, expect coding exercises, system design questions, and general technical problem-solving questions.

For larger companies, product managers and business-oriented roles will have a dedicated "technical" round involving product design, business problem analysis, or bringing a product to market.

Expect questions on:

  • Data structures (arrays, linked lists, trees, graphs).
  • Algorithms (sorting, searching, dynamic programming).
  • System design (distributed systems, service-oriented architecture).

For machine learning, data science, and analytics roles, you'll be asked about analyzing data, deploying models, and communicating findings.

Sample questions include:

  • Tell me about a time you solved a complex machine learning or data problem.
  • How do you use data to improve outcomes?
  • How do you create and maintain a clean dataset?

Step 5: Onsite Interviews

The bulk of your tech interviews will be the onsite interview portion.

Onsite interviews used to mean traveling to the company’s campus, but they are now almost entirely virtual.

These interviews typically consist of 4-6 individual interviews, each lasting between 45 minutes and 1 hour, conducted by senior managers and team members.

These onsite interviews mix technical, behavioral, and domain-specific questions.

Expect these interviews to last all day, with a lunch break for casual conversations with potential teammates.

Behavioral Questions

Behavioral questions assess your soft skills, cultural fit, and past experiences.

Common questions include:

  • Tell me about yourself.
  • Tell me about a time you resolved a conflict.
  • What do you do if your team is blocking you?
  • Why do you want to work here?
  • Describe a time when your project failed.

Technical and Coding Questions

For technical roles, you'll be tested on your knowledge of data structures, algorithms, and problem-solving with code.

You'll be judged on your ability to:

  • Analyze and understand technical problems,
  • Implement and execute clean code,
  • Communicate and collaborate on technical feedback.

Common questions include:

  • Find the maximum product of two integers in an array.
  • Write a pair of functions to serialize a list of strings.
  • Maximize the profit of a stock sale after n days.
  • Given the root of a binary tree, return the length of the diameter of the tree.
  • Find the longest substring without repeating characters.
  • Find the number of rotations in a circularly sorted array.

To solve technical problems:

  1. Clarify the question and identify necessary inputs and outputs.
  2. Think about edge cases.
  3. Build a brute force solution, then optimize for bottlenecks or unnecessary code.
  4. Test and code your final solution.
  5. Explain your answer.

Clearly explain your thought process and problem-solving approach. Engage in dialogue with the interviewer, especially in a virtual interview.

Don't stay silent while solving the problem. Discuss the pros and cons of various solutions with the interviewer.

You're not ready to write code until you know your input and output.

If you're stuck, start with a simple solution and then progress to a more complex one. A great engineer knows a little about a lot and a lot about a little.

A top-tier candidate discusses nuances in design, data structures, and algorithms. Try to offer a variety of alternatives for different situations.

System Design Questions

The system design interview assesses your ability to tackle complex engineering problems. You may be asked to design a system from scratch or discuss technical requirements in real-world scenarios.

You'll be judged on your ability to:

  • Understand and dissect technical problems,
  • Sketch blueprints,
  • Engage in discussions about system requirements and tradeoffs,
  • And create working solutions.

Common questions include:

  • Design TikTok.
  • Design TinyURL.
  • Design WhatsApp.
  • Design a web crawler.
  • Design Uber.
  • Design Dropbox.

Machine Learning Questions

For machine learning roles, expect to be tested on ML concepts, system design, and model evaluation.

Questions may include:

  • Design a Spotify recommendation system.
  • Design a landmark recognition system.
  • Design an ETA system for Maps.
  • Describe linear regression.
  • Explain the bias-variance tradeoff.
  • Explain classification vs. regression.
  • Implement the KNN algorithm.
  • Implement a 2D convolutional filter.
  • Implement K-means clustering.

Product Management Questions

Product management interviews focus on your ability to design, strategize, and manage products effectively.

Common questions include:

  • What’s your favorite product and why?
  • How would you improve our product?
  • Should Apple build a video game console?
  • How would you increase the number of Instagram users?
  • Define a single north star metric for Netflix.
  • Create an A/B test to improve Google Maps.
  • How would you reduce fake news on social media?

Data Science Questions

Data science interviews test your analytical skills, statistical knowledge, and ability to work with data. Questions include:

  • How would you investigate a sudden drop in daily users?
  • What is a P-value?
  • Predict the results from a fair coin flip.
  • What types of biases can occur during sampling?

Core Values

Tech companies value specific competencies and cultural fit. Common attributes they look for include:

  1. Collaboration: Ability to effectively communicate within and across teams.
  2. Drive Results: Striving to achieve goals and taking accountability.
  3. Customer Focus: Understanding and empathizing with customers to deliver value.
  4. Problem-Solving: Demonstrating strong analytical and decision-making skills.
  5. Adaptability: Handling ambiguity and change with agility.
  6. Growth Mindset: Showing curiosity, willingness to learn, and resilience.

What to Highlight

In your interviews, emphasize the following:

  • Team Collaboration: Share examples of effective teamwork.
  • Customer Obsession: Show how you consider the customer’s perspective.
  • Technical Proficiency: Clearly explain your thought process in solving technical problems.
  • Cultural Fit: Demonstrate alignment with the company's values and mission.

How to Prepare

Preparing for a tech interview requires a blend of technical knowledge, problem-solving abilities, and a deep understanding of the company’s culture and values.

Remember, each interview is a learning opportunity, so stay positive, keep improving, and you'll be well on your way to securing a rewarding role in tech.

Research the Companies

Spend time researching the companies you're applying to.

Understand their core values, mission, and technical infrastructure.

Most large companies have dedicated hiring resources on their company website with information about the hiring process, team structures, and expectations.

Technical teams may also have blog posts documenting their adoption of new technologies and visions for the future.

Being up to speed on a company's vision and projects can help you frame your answers in more meaningful ways.

Interview Prep

You should spend a minimum of 4 to 6 weeks preparing for tech interviews.

  • Refresh your knowledge of core technical concepts like data structures, algorithms, and system design. For business and product roles, focus on user experience, product lifecycle, and market analysis.
  • Use online platforms to practice easy, medium, and hard coding problems. For non-coding roles, practice case studies, product design scenarios, or relevant industry problem-solving exercises.
  • Familiarize yourself with the interview rubrics and guidelines of your prospective companies. This will help you understand the evaluation criteria for each stage of the interview.
  • Reflect on your past experiences and prepare answers for common behavioral questions. Make sure each story highlights your problem-solving skills, teamwork, and adaptability.

Prepare for Technical Interviews

  • Review core algorithms and computer science skills.
  • Practice writing real code with your strongest language.
  • Practice on a whiteboard
  • Write in the language in which you feel the most comfortable. During the interview, you can ask what language your interviewer prefers.

Mock Interviews

Before you go for your actual interview, try practicing mock interviews to help build your confidence ahead of time.

Most candidates who land a job in tech report that practicing with peers was the best way to get a feel for the real thing.

Conduct mock interviews with friends, school mentors, or through professional services.

1:1 Coaching

Work with a guidance counselor, career services center, or external coach to help you identify areas of your interviewing skills that need improvement.

They can give you feedback on:

  • Technical skills
  • Communication skills
  • Career goals


Does the tech industry hire new grads?

Yes, many tech companies have robust internship and new graduate programs.

Are tech interviews remote or in-person?

Interviews can be conducted remotely or in person, depending on the company's current policies and the role you’re applying for.

These days, most interviews are remote.

Can I apply for multiple roles at the same company?

Yes, applying for multiple roles is usually allowed, but ensure each application is tailored to the specific role.

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