When applying for a development job, especially if it is your first, you may be faced with a horrifying request: Stand up, grab a marker & get ready to code on a whiteboard.
No internet. No IDE. Not even a keyboard. Just you & the awkward silence of the interview room.
The Case Against Whiteboard Interviews
Whiteboard interviews are a debated technique. There are two problems; Firstly, they typically involve tackling questions that don’t connect to real-world work. They tend to be algorithmic trivia that many developers haven’t thought about since college. Secondly, you’re used to having access to tools that automate parts of your job like IDEs, as well as information resources like Google and Stack Overflow. If you will have access to these tools on a daily basis, why should you be tested on your skills without them?
Whiteboard Interviews Are Designed to Make Your Squirm.
The primary function of a whiteboard interview isn’t to judge your technical capabilities. It’s to test your mental fortitude. People complain that whiteboard interviews are unfair & distressing.
That’s the point.
When an interviewer asks you to stand up at a whiteboard, they want to see how you approach problems while under pressure. There are two crucial mistakes you can make here:
- Don’t give up, even if you have no idea how to solve the problem. Remember, this is a test of grit more than technical knowledge. Try different approaches, ask questions.
- Remain calm. All jobs come with moments of pressure. Make sure that you don’t get flustered.
The best cure to fear is preparation. Here are some resources to practice whiteboard style challenges.
Whiteboard Practice Resources
- Hackerrank. Hackerrank is a place to take practice questions online.
- Interview Cake. Another resource for practicing coding challenges. This one features specific questions from the Big Four tech companies.
- Project Euler. (pronounced “oil-er”) A bit more challenging, but the problem space is interesting and pushes you to think about problems differently.
- Programming Interviews Exposed. A book that includes challenges along with more specific interview advice.
- Awesome Interviews. A curated list of interview prep articles.
“Ugh, I’d rather leave than deal with such a bad practice.”
Getting frustrated is understandable, but it’s worth it to shift your mindset. Working under pressure, talking to people, and being interviewed are all practicable skills. Instead of getting frustrated, try to be grateful for the opportunity. It’s worth it to stick it out, and you should never walk out of a job interview.
- Instead of fretting before, or God forbid during your next job interview, block out 30 minutes on your calendar, and try to tackle a problem or two from one of the links above. For additional practice, try talking out loud as you work on them so you can also practice explaining your thought process for others.
- If you’re feeling good about your interview game, consider taking some time to beef up your portfolio.
- Want to continue the discussion about job interviews 1-on-1? Come over to my weekly letters, where I regularly have personal conversations with readers.