Getting ready for a software engineering job interview is a lot of work. As you already know, you need to spend a whole bunch of your time studying every day before the interview.
There’s working on practice code challenges, preparing your technical and soft skills answers, and spending time coming up with relevant examples from previous jobs and projects that you might need to bring up during your interview experience. That’s all a given.
But isn’t everyone spending all their free time grinding on LeetCode? How is doing what everyone else does to prepare for interviews ever going to be enough to help me get the job? Is there any way to stand out without picking up entirely new skills?– Age old questions asked by every job seeker ever
If you’re like most of the software engineers I’ve worked with, I know you are looking for ideas for how you can go the extra mile and really make sure you stand out as a great fit.
If you are wondering if there is anything else you could do to give yourself an edge and really impress on the hiring manager that you are excited about working in this role and for this specific company, the answer you’re looking for boils down to one magic word: Research ✨
How To Stop Panicking And Prepare For The Interview
Job interviews are nerve-wracking for almost everyone, and for most people, there is always some element of fear that will keep them up the night before an interview.
This kind of fear usually originates from the stress of not knowing what to expect. But the only thing to fear is fear itself, and, fortunately for us, the world is at our fingertips. Not knowing what to expect in a job interview is a completely solvable problem, and in this article, you will learn the timeless art of researching a company before your next interview.
What you learn from your research can really help you stand out from all of the other candidates, impress almost everyone you meet on the team, move people to champion for you, and ultimately show them you are the best fit and get you hired. This research should give you confidence, and that confidence is ultimately what’s going to conquer the fear.
Tips for coping with job interview anxiety
- Be nice to yourself, and don’t be a perfectionist
- Picture success and imagine already having the job
- Research your job market and salary levels for your skill set
- Remember you are interviewing the company too
- Take your time and answer questions at your own pace
- Take notes while your interviewers are talking to refer back to
- Get plenty of sleep, eat breakfast, and don’t overdo the caffeine
How To Research A Company Before Interviewing
1. Start by looking at the company’s Glassdoor Interview Questions
For most larger companies, it’s fairly common to find recent interview questions posted by other software engineers who’ve interviewed at the company on Glassdoor. This isn’t true for all companies but many hiring managers that I’ve asked have confirmed that new questions are consistently posted during the major hiring seasons (January-February and September-October). One hiring manager at a larger company mentioned that they typically see most new interview questions appear on Glassdoor within 6-8 weeks from the time they begin asking it. While you’re there, you should also look at salary ranges and reviews by employees who work in similar roles to the one you are interviewing for.
2. Go to the company’s website and read everything
Once you’re on their website, look around and find any language that alludes to the company culture or mission. A list of values, mission statement, or guiding principles might be somewhere on the About page. And most importantly, look at their customer-focussed and product pages, and find words they use to describe the problems they’re solving. Anything with passion or energy behind it will give you clues about about what is important to the company. You can also quickly discover what you should and shouldn’t talk about during your interviews. This research can tell you what matters to the company, and what they look for in a software engineer – beyond code and years of experience. When you answer questions in your interviews, use this research to help you find opportunities to frame your answers in a way that ties back into those aspects of the company and what they care about.
3. Check out the company website’s team page
First, you should check out the founders and all key staff members – think CEO, CTO, President, any other senior management, team leads, and department heads. Then, look each of them up on LinkedIn and Crunchbase to see what other companies they’ve founded and worked at. Next, you can look on LinkedIn for other software engineers at the company and try to find their GitHub profiles, blogs, portfolios, and side projects. You might also want to look up anyone involved in the hiring process so far as well and try to find out if you have anything in common with them that you could use to help you stand out and be more memorable.
4. Network with current employees on LinkedIn
Make sure to look for LinkedIn profiles of people you know will be interviewing you and people who you might be working with when you get the job. If you’ve been at the company a long time, their work history is particularly useful to help you understand how you might advance in a similar role at the company. If you know anyone at the company, follow up with them and let them know you are interviewing. When you reach out to people you know at a company during the interview process, it’s a great idea to always ask some questions about what they are working on or how the company is tackling specific engineering challenges. Again, this will help you discover what matters to a company.
5. Search Google News and set up Google Alerts about the company
To find the best conversation starters, set up a Google News alert for any company you are currently interviewing with and be on the lookout for mentions of the company on sites like Hacker News, TechCrunch, and other tech industry news sites. You should also read their blog and follow all the social media of a company. If they have one you can also sign up for the company’s newsletter. These are all great ways to find out what a company is doing and what is really important to them. To stay up to date during your interview process with the company, go to Google Alerts and create an alert so you get notified anytime the company’s name is mentioned on the web.
6. Use the company’s product, app, or service
Another idea that many job seekers don’t usually think of is to become a user of the product, app, website, or service the company you are interviewing with offers. You see a company from a completely new perspective when you become a user, and this experience will give you a lot to talk about during your interviews. Think deeply about their customers, and put yourself in their shoes. You might also be inspired to build a solution to part of a problem they are working on or write a blog post about some aspect of their product that appealed to you.
7. Become an industry expert
One of the best ways to stand out as an engineering candidate is to go beyond the technical and research the industry landscape of the company. Find out who their biggest competitors are and learn about them. Find out how the industry began, who were the biggest innovators, and what are they up to now. Look at industry financial data to discover what the market share of the company is, and how they are doing financially compared to others in the space. Are there any large companies acquiring smaller more innovative companies in the industry? If there is, try to figure out what their strategy might be. You can also search for interviews involving key players in the industry and try to find out where people think the industry is heading in the future.
8. Follow the company’s social media
Someone at the company that you’re interviewing with has, undoubtedly, Googled you and looked at your social media profiles as soon as they began contacting you. You should definitely reciprocate by following all of their social media accounts and learn about what they’ve been promoting lately. Be sure to look at what their audience cares about by checking out their engagement levels on different posts and reading comments. If the company has a Youtube account, you’re in luck! Leading up to the interview, watch all of the videos that you can.
9. Perform a financial audit of the company
First, head to Crunchbase and search for the company. Look at any investment rounds they’ve raised. Make note of how much total funding they’ve secured, how often they raise, and if the amount of each round has gone up over time. You should also look at who they’re taking investments from, who provided the initial seed and early rounds of funding, and if the company has lost or gained any investors over the years. Then do some research on who the investors are, and find out what other successful or failed companies they’ve funded. You should also find any investor blogs and social media accounts, and search for any mentions of the company you are interviewing for.
10. Explore the company’s GitHub repos
Finding a company’s GitHub organization and digging through their open source repos to look for issues, pull requests, and documentation is a goldmine of great information that can help you get the job. Look for any indication about which standards they write their code to, which testing and CI/CD tools they rely on, and which open source projects they maintain, and open source projects that the company’s developers contribute to. If the company if really big on open source, it’s a great idea to fix a bug and submit a pull request, and then let the interviewers know what your experience was like and what other contributions you’d like to make to their repos.
Research Is What You Should Do When You Don’t Know What To Do
Now that you’ve done all of the pre-interview research, take a step back and consider how all of this information you’ve learned is all meant to help you discover how to approach everything you do and say during the interview.
Take stock of everything you’ve learned about the company and the people that work for it, and think of everything you have in common with them. Use this research to further align yourself with the company and find the best ideas that you can for framing your answers.
With enough research you can find dozens of ways to show the company you are interviewing for that you are their best option and the obvious right candidate to choose for the role. Don’t skip the research and you will have a great shot at getting the job.
Even if someone else is more experienced, faster, or has more noteworthy credentials, just keep this in mind. Remember that your goal is to convince the company that you want to work for them specifically, and to accomplish this, you must be able to talk about how you can add value based on what matters to them and what makes their company special in their industry and unique from the competition.
Everything you present in your interview should be framed in a way that ties back to what matters to them, and the only way to know what matters to a company is research.