How to answer the 10 most-asked tech interview questions


Job interviews make everyone nervous, period. Maybe you’re interviewing for a job somewhat beyond your reach. Maybe you’re 100% qualified and it seems like the job description was written about you. Either way, you’re nervous. And it’s hard to be your best when you’re nervous. That’s why preparation is your best friend when it comes to interviewing.

The bad news is that tech interviews can be tricky minefields, designed to surface your weak points as efficiently as possible. The good news is that you can study and practice answering the questions ahead of time. Here’s your guide to the 10 most-asked tech interview questions, and how to answer them. (Bonus: job seekers who use Seen are matched with career coaches who aid with interview prep, including mock interviews—for free.)

What are your weaknesses?

This isn’t the time to be fake. Don’t say, “I’m so competitive and have so much drive. It’s a real weakness.” Don’t say, “I’m such a perfectionist. I really have to hold back from being the best.”

Naming a weakness that is really a strength is the fastest way to come off as inauthentic. Your interviewer will know the game you’re playing and will respect you less, without a doubt.

Be brave and try this instead: show self-awareness and honesty by sharing a real weakness, and then describe how you solve for it. Here’s an example: “Sometimes I lose drive in the middle of a project after the launch excitement has worn off. I combat that by breaking up the project into mini-milestones and celebrating them with my team. The original buzz gets recreated and it becomes obvious how crucial our work is.”

How familiar are you with [specific programming language]?

In most cases, your interviewer is checking to see if you’re comfortable with the language. You don’t need to be a senior-level expert. In fact, you want to avoid coming across as a specialist. Don’t say, “I prefer Ruby and don’t really know Java.” Instead say, “I’m really familiar with Ruby and am happy to dive into learning more Java. I love working in new languages.”

Be confident, and don’t get hung up on your skill level per language. Instead, emphasize how well-versed you are in coding as a skill, and how well you solve problems. Remember, tech companies are up against a tech talent shortage, so they’re not looking for perfection, but rather competency and drive.

From phone screen to thank you: grab your guide to ace every stage of your interview

The brainteaser or story problem

Ah, the mental riddle. On the surface, this appears to be a test of your intelligence. But it’s not. Odds are you’re in the same smartness range as the other applicants for this job. And your background and qualifications have earned you an interview, so your aptitude has already been vetted.

So if they’re not testing your brain power, what are they testing? Your sense of logic, your coolness under pressure, and your ability to openly think through problems while asking questions. So answer the question conversationally. Talk your way through it. Ask clarifying questions. Be curious. Say you’re thinking it through and figuring it out. Logically analyze—out loud—the different ways to approach it. Talk through why you’d lean a certain way, and eventually give your answer. Remember: getting a certain answer is far less important than coming across in real-time as verbal, open, and analytical.

Have you interviewed anywhere else?

Play it safe. Refrain from being specific, and keep your response laid-back and general. “Yes, I’m actively looking for other great roles like this.” Or, “I’m moving quickly with other companies with competitive offers.”

Do you work best alone or on a team?

This question is baiting you to take a side, but don’t. Why? The ideal tech candidate is a master of both solo, unsupervised work and agile collaboration. A great response: “I love the speed and energy of teamwork, and I also like concentrated time to work alone and execute on projects.”

Why are you leaving your company?

Tread lightly. Hiring managers are looking for honesty, but not baggage. So be real, and emphasize positivity and your hopes for the future. Instead of saying, “I’m cut off from collaborating and feel isolated,” say, “I’m looking to be a key player on a driven, talented team.” Instead of saying, “I’m unchallenged and need more to do,” say, “I’m really excited to grow and develop my skills and tackle new opportunities.”

What salary are you looking for?

You want to diplomatically avoid answering, and here’s why: you don’t know what their budget range is for the position, so giving a number in the dark could disqualify you if you’re too low or too high.

So what do you say? Politely deflect by trying, “I’m sure what you’re paying is in step with industry norms.” Or: “It’s hard to specify a salary range because this is a new type of role for me.” Or: “Based on what my responsibilities would be, I’m sure we can figure out compensation that makes sense.”

The programming test

This is more of a 2nd/3rd interview occurrence, but you should be prepared for it in your first interview, just in case. Remember, the way you solve the problem is being evaluated just as much as your final answer.

Practicing increases your skills, and being prepared makes you calm. So devote time to taking practice tests before the interview. We like Codewars. And Topcoder and HackerRank. If you want to try a mock live-interview coding test, try Pramp or Gainlo.

What do you do for fun?

This question seems out of the blue, but there’s a reason behind it: your interviewer needs to see your personality. More and more tech companies are oriented around culture—this means they’re looking to hire people who are as friendly as they are talented. Your interviewer is trying to see how your personality will contribute to a positive, open work culture.

Simply smile and share what you enjoy doing. Playing video games, exploring new restaurants, seeing live music, watching sports, taking trips with your friends—are all great answers. Your eyes will naturally light up, letting the interviewer know that you’re fun and friendly. Sounds silly, but interviewers need to feel that they can vouch for your likability.

What are your strengths?

Good news! The answer to this has been spelled out for you. Where? The job description. Look at the “Ideal Qualifications” section. Find two items that describe you, and brainstorm specific examples of how you demonstrated those characteristics on the job.

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