Low Commitment, High Quality
A guide to quick ways you can improve yourself in preparation for interview season.
Interview season is fast approaching, and as I leave my sunny vacation for a taste of the freezing reality of home, I thought I’d share how I try to prep.
What I’ve found works for me, is spending fifteenish minutes every day doing something different to prep. It’s really hard for me to stay focused for a solid two hours of study, and even harder for me to set aside specific blocks of time to prep when my schedule shifts so much. It’s a lot easier for me to find fifteen minutes in a boring section in class, on the way home, or right before bed to get a bit of prep done.
I say doing something different, because while I love my job, it kills my brain to be working on algorithm problems too long. There are so many things that go into becoming a well-rounded person, and so many aspects about myself that I’d love to improve and explore. So everyday I try to pick something different than I did yesterday, so when I do come back to algos, I have a fresh set of eyes and a working mind.
When I think about the ideal person I’d want to hire, I don’t just think about technical skills. I think it’s really important for someone to be able to have relationships and build connections, because I’d want a team player. I think being aware of the world and having other passions are assets, because I’d want different perspectives with ideas on how to apply things to the real world. I would want these qualities in a hire, and so I try to emulate them.
These are some of the categories I’ve picked to work on this year, that I hope I will improve on!
1. Technical Ability
The obvious thing you’re thinking about walking into an interview.
When I was doing health science competitions, I used to spend fifteen minutes a day going over flash cards and diagrams.
Now prepping for software interviews, I spend the time working through sample problems on LeetCode and HackerRank. Basically what these sites are, are repositories of questions you might be asked to code in an interview, with test cases to check if you can come up with the correct and optimal solution.
I would pick out one to three questions to do, each on different topics so that if I got frustrated with trees, I could take a breather looking at queues.
The first time I do a question, I usually end up just trying to find a solution. Once I’ve got an acceptable solution, I move on. Then later, maybe a week or two afterwards, I go back and try to come up with a more optimal solution. I can step away from the question and learn other things that might help, and then I get to see the improvement I’ve made as the run time drops.
Another staple item to mention is Cracking the Coding Interview. Read through a few pages, and then try your hand at whiteboard coding some of the problems.
2. Building Your Network
It might sound like it’s for old people, but LinkedIn is a great place for you to build your professional network.
It’s basically social media focused on professional development and industry advancement. I like to scroll through my news feed and see what people have been up to. You never know who might become a powerful connection, so it’s in your best interest to connect with as many people as you can.
Some days I update my profile, or I go and try to reach out to a company I’m interested in, or someone I’d love to learn from as a mentor.
On a grander scale, go out and find some mentors.
Everyone has a different skill-set and point of view. They have words of wisdom that you will benefit from, and can give you advice on things you’ve had no experience with.
You don’t need to make it Facebook official or anything, no need to change your relationship status to “In a mentorship with …”.
It’s a lot of commitment to expect someone to be your dedicated mentor. Instead, maybe just ask them to coffee. Maybe you don’t even know them, and just want to chat. Shoot them an email, follow them on social media and comment your questions, or attend a talk they’re giving.
You don’t need to go up and introduce yourself. You can learn a lot just by figuring out who you want to learn from. And with social media, it’s really easy to hear from inspirational people without having gone to school with them.
3. Presenting Yourself
The first step is usually the resume, but that gets judged within a few seconds and a glance over.
Your resume is you crammed onto an 8.5 by 11. It’s hard to define yourself in words, and even harder to make it concise yet interesting. The conundrum of having to stand out, while checking off all the boxes recruiters are looking for, on a single sheet of paper is what took up an entire week of my school term.
It’s a lot.
Especially when considering that this one sheet of paper could be all a recruiter looks at when making the decision to interview me.
When there are countless candidates who have the same qualifications as you, if not more, you probably want to stand out.
I spend a ridiculous amount of time designing and editing my resume, because I really want to present all aspects of myself. I feel that no matter what I’m working on, I can find something interesting and exciting in it. But if the culture fit is wrong, and I’m spending time tamping down my creativity, there’s little I can do to change that.
Do all employers care about how it looks? Probably not. But in my humble opinion, if I were going to read a couple hundred resumes, I’d appreciate it if they were easy to consume, and weren’t comparable to reading a textbook.
Re-word your resume, re-format your personal website, or refresh your portfolio. Make sure you represent yourself to the best of your ability.
4. Being Aware of the World
You could spend all twenty four hours of the day studying shortest path algorithms, but then you’d miss out on Tesla’s new roadster reveal.
You could spend forever working in the tech industry, but then you’d miss out on how you could apply your technology to revolutionary miracles in medicine.
I think that the more you know about the world, the more interesting you are.
Getting a job is super important, but so is politics, culture, and everything else. Knowledge is power, and if I could have a whole arsenal of superpowers, versus just one, I would very obviously pick the arsenal.
Sometimes I read an article on Medium about a random topic, or I read a fashion magazine, or I watch people like Phillip DeFranco or John Oliver for my daily news.
YouTube, blog sites, and newspapers put things into small manageable segments that can keep you up to date from the comfort of your couch.
Sounds stupid, but you have no idea how many times I’ve wasted five minutes trying to explain something that should’ve taken five seconds.
Especially under pressure, it can be hard to consolidate your thoughts into a concise and coherent sentence.
You might find me talking to myself about myself, so that I can figure out how to answer that “tell me about your strengths and weaknesses” question.
Stay for another few minutes and you might find me repeating the same word out loud in different tones.
A good presenter knows how to moderate their pace, make use of different pitches and inflections in their voice, and how to use hand gestures to emphasize their points.
Communication skills are so important for working collaboratively, for building relationships, and for showing yourself off.
When you have a conversation with someone, try to notice how often you make eye contact with them. Try to watch their reactions to what you say, and how you say it.
Those five categories are what I try to center my fifteen minutes of personal improvement on every day.
I can’t scientifically affirm that they work 100%, or that they’re the most effective ways to improve yourself, but they work well enough for me.
Good luck to everyone interviewing! Feel free to reach out to me with questions and comments.