Programming Self Improvement

How to Prepare Yourself for a Programming Interview

Joel Lee 18-07-2016

No matter who you are or how many times you’ve done it, the idea of a programming interview can be daunting. Do you know enough to pass? Will your solutions be good enough? What if you choke?


It’s okay if you’re nervous. In fact, I’d take it as a good sign: it means you really want to succeed How To Spark Personal Growth: 5 Tricks Of The Entrepreneur Not everyone has to be an entrepreneur, but everyone can learn something from the entrepreneur. By tapping into some of those entrepreneurial traits, you can radically alter your own life in an upward direction. Read More !

In truth, interview preparation is more about building confidence than strictly expanding what you know, though that’s important too. Here are five things you can do to make sure you’re well-prepared and feel ready for the big day.

This article is about the technical side. For general tips and advice on job interviews, check our articles on overcoming interview anxiety 3 Tips That'll Instantly Wipe Out Job Interview Anxiety The hardest part of getting any job is usually the job interview. These three tips will help you get through the process unscathed, and with a new job. Read More and interviewing over the web Learn The Art Of Web Interviewing & Help Your Career Or Business Would you mind if I interview you? Those are words that no one minds being asked. Learning how to interview can provide you with some of the most valuable life skills you'll ever gain. Read More .

1. Study a Little Bit Every Day

The absolute best way to prepare, bar none, is to do a little bit of preparation work every single day between now and the interview. Even if you don’t have an interview lined up yet, get started. Every little bit counts.

Daily practice questions are a good place to start, but don’t neglect other aspects like researching companies and technologies or refining what you’re going to say about yourself in terms of your credentials and experience. All of that is covered later in this article.



It’s important that you set realistic but challenging goals 5 Critical Mistakes To Avoid When Setting Goals Goal setting is a great way to cut down on procrastination and boost productivity. If you don’t have goals, you don’t have direction. Without direction, it’s easy for you to feel lost and confused. Fortunately,... Read More with your daily practice. Don’t make the mistake of doing too little every day — you need to take it seriously! — but don’t cram too much either. That’s how you end up with mental burnout Programming Burnout: How to Regain Your Lost Motivation Feeling tired of programming? Suffering burnout and can't see a way out? Here's how to begin regaining your motivation to code. Read More .

Even more important than that is to start early! Again, start RIGHT NOW if you’re able to. If the interview is several months away, maybe you can afford to wait a bit before starting, but we recommend starting at least six weeks out.

The ultimate aim is to prevent overworking yourself 5 Signs That You're Working Too Hard (And How to Fix Them) Do you suffer from an insatiable desire to work? Here are some of the signs to recognize this ailment and how you can overcome it. Read More , which can be counterproductive and overwhelming.


2. Know What the Interviewer Wants

As soon as you have an interview lined up, it’s in your best interest to research the company as much as possible. Context is everything when it comes to productive preparation. After all, your end goal is to meet your prospective employer’s needs.

Start with the job listing. Is it for an MMORPG game development position? Then you ought to be familiar with the tools and frameworks used in that field. Same thing is true for the development of mobile apps, business suites, web frontends, server backends, or what have you.


If the information is available, you should also study the specific technologies used by the company itself. You don’t have to be an expert (unless the job listing calls for it) but you should know enough to hold a decent conversation on it.


Study the right languages and concepts. Some of the bigger companies will interview you using the language you’re most comfortable with, but others want to test your expertise with their chosen language whether it be Java, C#, Python, etc.

It’s up to you to know what they expect from you. This simple but crucial step could significantly improve your programming career opportunities How To Improve Your Programming Career Opportunities If you're hoping to start, restart, or otherwise improve your programming career, it isn't easy. If you are in college, the time is now. Here are some tips that can take you far. Read More .

3. Focus on Improving Weaknesses

There are a lot of things you need to know: data structures, algorithms, industry standard libraries and frameworks, and more. Nobody expects you to know everything, but you should be confident in the things you do know.

Commonly covered topics include:

  • Nuances of certain programming languages, especially dynamic programming languages which have become popular lately. Understanding the principles of OOP is critical.
  • Arrays, Linked Lists, Stacks, Queues, Heaps, Hash Tables, Binary Trees (including Binary Search Trees and Self-Balancing Binary Trees).
  • Big O Notation (time and space complexities), Sorting, Searching, Recursion, Graph Theory and Traversals, Divide and Conquer, Greedy Algorithms.
  • Patterns such as Singletons, Factories, Composition, Multiple Inheritance, Polymorphism, Decorators.

And, of course, field-specific topics depending on the position you’re applying to (i.e. SQL queries for databases or UDP/TCP for network programmers).

If some of these topics make you nervous, that’s what you should be practicing. Identify your weaknesses and strengthen them. That will end up being more helpful to you in the long run because it will build up your confidence.

Fortunately, there are plenty of web tools you can use to practice data structures and algorithms 7 Unique Ways to Practice Your Coding Skills Let's repeat -- there's no age to learning. Once you are on that path, you just have to keep practicing. And today there are more ways than one to sharpen your coding chops. Read More . Here are some of our favorites:

But don’t just rely on rote memorization. Programming interviews — the good ones, anyway — are meant to see how you approach problems, what your problem solving process looks like, and where the edges of your capabilities are. Data structures and linked lists are must have tools in your belt.

4. Mock Interviews Are Priceless

It’s one thing to study on your computer and type out code in your favorite IDE. It’s a completely different experience to write out your code on paper with pencil or on a whiteboard with marker — without Google as a backup.

Gives new meaning to the idea of writing better code 10 Tips for Writing Cleaner & Better Code Writing clean code looks easier than it actually is, but the benefits are worth it. Here's how you can start writing cleaner code today. Read More .


Don’t underestimate the importance of mock interviews. Set them up to simulate the interview environment as closely as you can: no computers, no phones or tablets, a sheet of paper, a pencil, and a timer for 30–60 minutes.

By practicing in this way, the actual interview won’t feel like such a foreign experience, and this can really go a long way towards reducing nervousness and making sure you’re concentrating 100% on the questions before you.

There are even online services that offer mock programming interviews for free. They aren’t perfect, of course, but they can be very useful if you need the person-to-person practice.

5. Exercise, Meditate, Relax

This last tip isn’t programming-specific, or even interview-specific, but it could be the one that helps you the most. Confidence is best cultivated when you have a stable and robust mind, whereas a frenetic or insecure mind can be a massive obstacle.

Most importantly, take care of your physical health. I’m talking about both diet and exercise. I know it can be tough to make time to go to the gym or even just to run a lap around the neighborhood, but exercise is demonstrably good for your mind.

If time really is an issue, you can always find ways to exercise without going to the gym How To Workout Without Going To The Gym It's hard enough setting aside time for actual exercise, but throw in your commute and it can add up to a lot of wasted time. Try these effective workouts without ever leaving your home. Read More . Stay at home and watch YouTube fitness channels 7 Best YouTube Workout Channels To Exercise at Home Home gyms and personal trainers help the moneyed get up straight from their beds and hit the gym. We lesser mortals have to call on our powers of self-motivation and discipline to trudge the few... Read More or stay at work and exercise right at your desk 8 Easy Exercises To Help You Stay Fit At Your Desk Staying fit at your desk is actually possible. Here are some exercises anyone can do. Some don't even require getting up, others take no longer than 10 minutes out of your daily routine. Read More .

And then there’s the magical 3-minute exercise This 3-Minute Exercise Will Actually Fix Your Posture You may think bad posture can't be fixed, but this quick and easy exercise will change your mind. Read More for fixing your posture. That can work wonders for confidence.


Mindful meditation is also good for you. It can be done without any kind of spiritual or religious component if you don’t want that. At its core, meditation is about being in the moment and being intentional about your thoughts.

We’ve shown how meditation can make you a better programmer How Daily Meditation Can Make You a Better Programmer When you face mental obstacles while programming, calming your mind can help. Try meditation with these meditation apps to get through a tough day of coding. Read More , so give it some serious consideration. Even just 10 minutes a day can have big results.

And lastly, make sure you sleep well. Not just the night before your interview, but all throughout the preparation as well. Using apps like Flux and Night Shift Can F.lux and Night Shift Really Improve Your Sleep Habits? Excessive use of computers, tablets, and smartphones can lead to deteriorated sleep quality -- but do apps like F.lux and Night Shift really counteract those effects? The science is pretty clear on this. Read More along with basic relaxation techniques 3 Relaxation Techniques to Help You Sleep Better Sometimes it takes too long to fall asleep. Technology can help us sleep better with some help from better sleep habits. Try these suggestions to shut off your brain. Read More can help, and if they aren’t enough, you can try these smart sleep gadgets 6 Smart Gadgets to Help You Sleep Better Not getting a good night's sleep is never a good way to begin a day. Luckily, there are plenty of home gadgets that can help you get a great night sleep. Read More .

Don’t Worry, Failing Is Not the End

Even if you do everything perfectly and ace the interview, you may not get the job. In many cases, that’s more of a statement on the state of the industry than your value as a programmer.

It isn’t uncommon these days to have to interview several times before landing a job, so keep your chin up and stay at it. Each interview is a learning opportunity. You’ll get there soon enough.

That being said, you may realize that programming just isn’t right for you 6 Signs That You Are Not Meant to Be a Programmer Not everyone is cut out to be a programmer. If you aren't completely sure that you're meant to be a programmer, here are some signs that may point you in the right direction. Read More , which is fine too. There are plenty of other tech-related jobs Coding Isn't for Everyone: 9 Tech Jobs You Can Get Without It Don't be discouraged if you want to be a part of the tech field. There are plenty of jobs for people without coding skills! Read More that you can pursue with a great degree of success.

What’s the worst part about prepping for a programming interview? Is there anything that really has you nervous or scared? Got any other tips worth sharing? Let us know below!

Image Credits: Lone Laptop via Shutterstock, Typing Laptop via Shutterstock, Written Code via Shutterstock, Outdoor Laptop via Shutterstock

Related topics: Careers, Education Technology, Interviews, Job Searching, Motivation.

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