Discover useful tips and strategies on how to effectively prepare for a whiteboard interview. This post provides a comprehensive guide to help you ace this crucial part of the job application process.
Whiteboard technical interviews are a standard part of almost any tech hiring process. They involve showing potential employers your coding skills so that they know you have the expertise to get the job done.
Whiteboard interviews can seem intimidating the first time you’re invited to one. Let’s take a closer look at what you can expect from a whiteboard technical interview and the best things to keep in mind as you prepare.
What to Expect From Your Whiteboarding Interview
Most whiteboard interviews aren’t about getting everything right. Your interviewer wants to know how your thought process works as you solve a coding problem. They may not even be interested in which coding language you use as long as you explain why you’re using it. (“I like using Python for this type of problem because…”) Whiteboard interviews are, generally, more of a conversation than a question-answer format.
Additionally, your whiteboard interview may not take place on an actual whiteboard. “Whiteboard” has become more of a term to explain all technical interviews of this type. If your interview will be online, ask what platform your interviewers plan to use.
The Best Ways to Prepare for Your Whiteboard Interview
Now that you know what to expect, it’s time to start making sure you’re prepared for the actual event. Here are some of our best tips and tricks for getting yourself ready for a whiteboard interview.
Practice the Logistics
It’s tried and true advice, but practice makes perfect — and it also makes you prepared. In advance of your interview, make sure to spend some time practicing possible whiteboard interview questions. These are readily available online, although they likely vary from company to company.
Some of the most common whiteboard interview questions include problems related to:
- Data structure problems
- System design
- Coding problems
If you’ve asked your interviewers what the format of your interview will be, try to practice and familiarize yourself with the platform. If your interview will be held online, for example, play around with whatever platform you’ll be using ahead of time. This will help make sure you won’t stumble during your interview. Coderpad, for example, has an open sandbox for interview prospects that lets you practice problem-solving.
If your interview will be on a real whiteboard, try to buy a whiteboard you can practice with. Writing things out on a vertical platform is different from writing on a piece of paper or typing on a computer. If you can’t get a whiteboard, try taping pieces of blank white paper to a wall to practice working out some problems. Writing takes longer than typing (for most people), so this process will also help you slow down and think through what you’re doing.
Hubspot has a great checklist for making sure you use your whiteboard efficiently and effectively. Mostly you should practice writing clearly. You’ll want to make sure you’re using the space well and that everyone in the room will be able to see what’s on the board. Write out the problem first, take a minute or two to read it, ask clarifying questions, then get started.
Concentrate on Good Communication
Whiteboard interviews are all about communication. Yes, the technical aspect is super important. But communication is one of those life skills that most of us need to practice, especially for job interviews.
Good communication is about more than just getting your point across. It involves explaining how you – you, as a unique person – solve problems, work with a team, listen, and express yourself non-verbally (body language). Do you interrupt a lot? Look at your phone while someone else is talking? Do you insist that your way is always the right way?
Sitting across a desk from someone at a job interview is one thing, but a whiteboard interview requires advanced communication skills. Why? Because much of your time will be spent standing in front of a big board (or on a code interview program) while focusing on solving a problem and talking through your process and answering questions. All while trying to make a good impression.
Thankfully, you can practice and enhance your communication skills for whiteboard interview questions ahead of time. Practice speaking out loud while working on a coding problem. If you’re by yourself, you may feel silly at first, but this is a great way to learn how to write, solve, and talk at the same time.
Record yourself and watch the video to learn where you need improvement. Are you mumbling? Slouching? Second-guessing yourself? Keep practicing until you can whiteboard a problem while communicating clearly and confidently. The goal is to let your interviewer know that you not only know how to solve a tricky coding problem but that you can explain how you found the solution and why you’re doing it this way.
Really want to nail your whiteboard communication skills? Have a friend or family member sit down as if they’re your interviewer. They don’t need to understand the finer points of coding and software, but they should be able to follow your train of thought and feel like you know what you’re talking about. This way you’ll know you can communicate and focus at the same time.
Staying focused on the task at hand goes along with these advanced communication skills. This isn’t a skill that comes naturally to everyone. Especially during a whiteboard interview, your attention may be all over the place as you try to solve the problem, communicate with your interviewers, and make a good impression.
You can train yourself to focus better. All that problem-solving practice? The more you do it, the more “muscle memory” you develop. Not that you should go into your whiteboard interview on autopilot, but if you’ve run through the process several times in advance, you won’t have to tune out everyone and everything else just to work through the problem.
Help Yourself Relax
Very few people feel fully relaxed at a job interview. Most interviewers know this and won’t blame you if you’re a little bit shaky or need to start over. They probably don’t care if you forget a bracket. Before you go in, remind yourself that you’re human, they’re human, and this is an intense experience for everyone involved.
You’ve already made it past the first hurdle – the application process. You wouldn’t be called in to interview if they didn’t see something in you. This is about you as a whole person, not you as a coding machine. Plus, most, if not all, coding interviewers were once where you are now. It’s quite likely they’ve been in your shoes.
Check out your interviewer’s LinkedIn page or company profile so you know something about them. Do you have something in common you can mention? That’s a great way to break the tension and remind your interviewer that you’re a person, not just another item on today’s to-do list.
Once you’re there, be polite. Introduce yourself and smile. Take a deep breath and tell yourself you deserve to be there.
While every interviewer will have their own style of interviewing and checklist of what qualifications they’re looking for, knowing the most common questions will help you avoid blanking out on answers. At the very least, you’ll be able to adjust your answers to fit the question. This is where your practice comes in handy.
Learn to Manage Your Time
Like good communication, time management is a life skill that’s useful beyond job interviews. As stated above, not all whiteboard interviews are about finishing the problem so much as sharing your thought process and technical skills. But you still need to manage your time during the whiteboard interview so you’re not staring at a blank board or screen for half an hour.
Your whiteboard interview may be 30 minutes. It may be 75 minutes. Whatever time you’re given, you should spend about half of that doing the actual problem-solving work. Give yourself time at the start to rewrite the problem and ask clarifying questions. Make sure you leave time at the end to discuss the solution, and so you and your interviewers can chat a little bit about your process.
This, again, is why practicing at home is a good idea. Your scheduler will likely tell you how long your interview will last when the two of you set a date. Use that information to your advantage as you prepare for the actual interview.
Recognize Your Achievement
If you’re nervous about your upcoming whiteboard interview, it might be difficult to look ahead to the other side once it’s over. But it can help to recognize what an achievement this is — you worked hard, made it through an application process, and now you’ll have the chance to show off your skills. Keeping a mindset of what you’ll have accomplished when you finish your interview can help you stay motivated, positive, and relaxed.
And once your whiteboard interview is over, try not to second-guess yourself. If you’ve practiced and prepared, then you did the best you could do.
As with any other job interview, send a follow-up email within 48 hours thanking your interviewer for their time and mentioning how much you’re looking forward to the next steps in the process.
Then let it go. It’s out of your hands now. Take a deep breath. Relax.
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