For most recent college graduates the technology sector is attractive. Silicon Valley seems like a really exciting place. Innovation is happening on a regular basis. Some of the companies those graduates might use every day came from there. The compensation seems really high. And the growth opportunities bountiful. And while all of these things are true, what no one informs you about is the hiring process in Silicon Valley. Because there is more competition entering the area, hiring becomes more strict. There are more “hoops” that you need to jump through in order to secure your role. In this guide, I’m going to help you get a better idea of what you might experience when you go to an interview at a technology company in San Francisco and ensure that you are well prepared for what you’ll experience in the sessions themselves.
High degrees of competition make the hiring process more important
The San Francisco population grew to nearly 884,000 people in 2017, which is a massive sum for the city that is only 7×7 miles. That’s right, only 7 miles wide! The attractive nature of job opportunity has led many seasoned veterans and recent graduates here. And its the smartest and most talented people in the world, arguably. And while there are plenty of available jobs, there is steep competition for being able to secure those jobs. And Companies in San Francisco recognize this. So they’ve decided to spend more time ensuring they are hiring the correct candidates versus hiring any and all candidates.
Because of this, Companies have built up a system for vetting their candidates from the phone interview stage to the technical interview stage, which we’ll discuss shortly. For the average person, these interviews can be quite tiring. And what you should expect is a great deal of discussion and mental testing that you might not have had before.
What the process is like
The process of interviewing at a technology company in San Francisco is like going in a lightning round boxing match. Expect at the end of it, you will be extremely tired. Your eyes will feel as though they are weighing heavy, you will be questioning every piece of communication that you made, every answer that you said and hoping it all works out. You’ll feel as though you want to take a nap right after.
While most job interviews have you interviewing with one, maybe two of your colleagues that you’ll work with, technology jobs often have you interview with 5-8 people. Each one of these discussions lasting about 30 minutes in length each. They’re back to back as well, and take up at least half of your day in total. That’s a lot of time spent having someone ask you questions regarding your experience, your process, the way you work, why you like the company and much more. It can be quite stressful.
It’s imperative to know that each one of these interviews has a specific goal in mind from the employers standpoint, they are interested in learning about your communication skills, interested in learning how well you’ll work with your team members, and interested in learning if you are passionate about the company and the companies sector. All of which you need to be prepared for in advance of their questioning.
Technical interviews are more intense
While the process above describes the general nature of what it’s like to interview with companies in Silicon Valley, if you are a programmer or software engineer, the process is even worse for you. You may have to sit down with another engineer and whiteboard out equations or solutions to problems that the employed engineer is asking you about. This can feel quite stressful because you are being asked to perform in real-time and you are doing so against a whiteboard versus your computer.
Paired-programming sessions is another way this technical aptitude test happens as part of the interview process. This is when an engineer sits down with you and your screen is shared with them. And together you go through a technical problem that you are being asked to solve. The other engineer then gets to see how you work. Meaning they can understand what types of questions you ask to get a better sense of what you’re building. And they can see how you navigate application structures to get started or if you write tests against your code to confirm the functionality.
These technical aptitude sessions are on top of the other sessions that you might have. And by the time that you sit down with another engineer to have these sessions, you’ll most likely be quite tired already. Ensure that you are applying to a technology company and position that fits within technical programming languages you are very familiar with. Because you’ll essentially want to be able to “code in your sleep”.
Preparation truly is king
OK, so every article about preparing for a job interview tells you that you should prepare. Yes, that is true. But what they don’t exactly tell you is how to prepare yourself for the types of qualities you are being tested against for technology companies in particular.
In your interview sessions you will be tested against these things:
- Your knowledge of the company
- Your communication skills
- Your experience in the role you are applying for
- Your experience working with agile technology companies
- Your experience working with teams similar to theirs
- Your personal career goals
That somewhat sums up the area’s you are going to be asked about. The best thing you can do is to try and read through the lines when you are in an interview session and determine which one of the above questions your interviewer is trying to answer. Remember that they’ll have to go back to the other team members you spoke with and relay what they learned. The clearer you can make the statements, the better off you’ll be. But in order to be clear about your statements you have to know what the interviewer is looking to learn. And that they don’t tell you. You’ll need to do your best to figure out what they want to know and try and proactively provide that to them.
Come to the interview prepared to speak about yourself in a clear, concise way. Be sure you have a “pitch” ready (a pitch is a short, powerful sentence) regarding your personal value and your background. The shorter and more impactful the statement is, the better you’ll be perceived. Ensure that you know the founders’ history. Often in technology companies, founders have a vision for the company that they are proactive in sharing. Be sure you are clear on what that vision is, you will be asked. Then be sure that you are prepared to speak about the companies sector, too. That means you’ll have to spend time learning about what category of business they operate in and what conditions their market is in. For example, if they are in the social media business, you’ll need to be able to speak about companies like Medium, Twitter, Facebook and more. Your own perspectives on those businesses will be a powerful statement piece in your desire to be part of the Company. But remember, every other potential candidate is also preparing in this way. So take the time to go above and beyond as it relates to your opinions and how well they align with the companies values.
Expect a slightly confusing day but have confidence in your preparation
The reason I recommend being extremely prepared is so that you are confident in your performance at the end of the interview session. You may not hear back from your future employer right away, as they often are interviewing multiple candidates and reviewing those candidates as a group. That can take some time to wrap up. While you wait, you’ll be questioning your own performance. Remember that you came prepared and you did your best. Have confidence that the right opportunity will line up
Patrick Algrim is a writer on Algrim.co, a blog dedicated to helping young professionals land the job of their dreams. Specifically, we help recent graduates get jobs in the technology sector. The world is a big place; one step at a time.