Land Your Next Software Engineering Job by Nailing the Whiteboard Interview
At Launch Academy, we prepare students for the entirety of the software development interview process during our coding bootcamp.
The element that students are often most nervous about is the whiteboard interview, also known as the coding challenge. An experienced software engineer presents the interviewee with a computer programming problem. The interviewee has to talk through a solution while coding it on a whiteboard.
The whiteboard interview may sound stressful—and to be fair, it can be—but any coding bootcamp graduate can nail it with the right preparation and mindse
The whiteboard interview may sound stressful—and to be fair, it can be—but any coding bootcamp graduate can nail it with the right preparation and mindset.
How to Nail a Coding Whiteboard Interview
Most people feel nervous about their whiteboard interview because they don’t want to introduce a coding error in front of the interviewer. Don’t worry. You won’t be disqualified for forgetting a semicolon or making a syntax mistake. Clearly and confidently talking through the flow and logic of your programming idea is far more important than 100% accurate syntax.
Here are several tips—beyond simply writing error-free code—for acing your whiteboard interview and getting one step closer to your first software engineering job.
1. Repeat the question back to the interviewer
As soon as the interviewer presents the prompt, respond by saying, “Let me make sure I understand. You want me to x, y, z,” to verify the accuracy of what you heard.
Repeating the question back helps you absorb the information and organize the prompt in your own words. It also demonstrates that you’re a good listener and an effective communicator.
2. Think out loud
It’s okay if you don’t have a full-formed solution right away. Keep the chemistry of the conversation going by beginning your response as soon as the interviewer confirms the question.
Work through what you’re thinking out loud to take them through your process. The whiteboard interview is meant to highlight your problem-solving skills, and verbalizing your thoughts is one way to show your work.
This strategy buys you time to think through the actual problem and improves your rapport with the interviewer by preventing awkward silences.
3. Take notes
There are no bonus points for doing all the work in your head.
Taking notes buys you time and serves as an informal, written agreement with the interviewer about the problem at hand. You’ll be able to refer back to your notes at any time to reference the criteria that need to be built out.
4. Check in
Continue communicating verbally and nonverbally by making regular eye contact and checking in with the interviewer.
If the interviewer is nodding or giving you positive affirmations, it’s a good sign that you’re moving in the right direction. If they look distracted or dismayed, those cues may signal that you’ve made a mistake and need to rethink your work.
5. Use a concrete example
Use concrete examples to trace the results of your implementation. Doing so ensures you’ve met all the criteria the interviewer laid out. Ask questions as you go, like, “Do you agree that X is equal to this value at this stage of the process?” If the interviewer agrees, then you have confirmation that you’re on the right track.
The bottom line is that you don’t have to be a computer programming genius to nail your whiteboard interview. Your problem-solving and communication skills will take you far, supplementing the technical skills you bring to the table.
You don’t have to be a computer programming genius to nail your whiteboard interview. Your problem-solving and communication skills will take you far.
What if You’re Totally Stuck in a Whiteboard Interview?
Everyone’s biggest fear ahead of a whiteboard interview is having no idea how to solve the problem. While we advise you not to panic about this worst-case scenario, knowing how to handle it in advance will help you prepare in case it happens.
The one thing to avoid during a whiteboard interview is going silent—doing so diminishes any rapport you may have built. Instead, talk through what you’re stuck on with the interviewer. We recommend saying something along the lines of, “I am going to put a placeholder here for the code because I would need to look it up to ensure its accuracy, and I want to keep moving.” Be sure to write down where you got stuck in your notebook.
This approach is better than doing nothing—it’s akin to going for partial credit on an exam. In a best-case scenario, you’ll figure out the solution as you get further into the problem, and you can go back and fill it in. Otherwise, plan to find the answer on your own time post-interview and present it to the interviewer in a follow-up email.
Whiteboard interviews aren’t easy, but being a coding wizard isn’t the only way to come out on top. Listening intently, communicating effectively, and building rapport with your interviewer are all great strategies for shifting the odds in your favor.
Ready to begin your path toward becoming a software engineer? Check out the syllabus for Launch Academy’s coding bootcamp today!