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5 tips for your zoom interview

Updated: Nov 13, 2021

I have sat in both a candidate and an interviewer's seat in my career. So I know exactly what is going on in both the minds before, during and after the interview process. I want to help you crack those interviews by providing you with the necessary resources on this website and also by giving some useful tips to keep in mind during the interview.

With most companies moving to work from home model, interviews over video conferencing ( especially over zoom ) have become the only option lately. The world has changed and we software developers love "change" because we were told that's the only "constant" in our career.

Traditionally, interviews have been mostly face-2-face. A few years ago, when I was continuously giving interviews, I was asked to write code on a whiteboard and express my approach to the problem with a touch of body language. But nowadays, since our lives are pretty much virtual, it's kind of hard to express what you are thinking about. Especially if you have not turned on the webcam.

Speaking of expressing what you are thinking, when the interviewer presents you with a problem, you should never ever jump directly to coding. You should first explain your approach to the problem and give a pause, then wait till you get an acknowledgement from the interviewer if he is ok with the approach. if the interviewer says - “yes” or “go ahead”, then you are sure that the approach you just explained is what the interviewer is looking at. Now your coding is worth spending time. Remember, time is limited in the interview. And speed is everything.

But how will you explain your approach in this zoom call situation? It's kind of hard right? Well, it's not impossible if you know a couple of zoom tricks and tips. Which is why I am writing this article to help you be prepared and ready before the interview starts.

Let's get started.

Below are 5 tips you must keep in mind before the interview starts. I assume you have prepared all the concepts and practised coding well before this day.

#1. Join the call on time and turn the Webcam ON.

There are high chances that the HR is probably arranging the zoom interview for you as a host and they might start breakout rooms ( a feature available on zoom ) as candidates join one by one on the interview drive day. Make sure you turn the Webcam ON. By doing so, you get immediately noticed as most candidates and interviewers will not turn it on. Now, before turning it ON, I want you to choose a place where light is directed towards your face ( sit in front of a window ). You probably know that most laptop webcams are bad. So proper lighting is your only option here.

Now that your face is visible on the zoom call, interviewers will focus on you a bit more as it is a human tendency to look at other people's faces. I mean, they have been looking at the computer screen all day probably. This tendency has come due to the biological history of living organisms - human faces get attention over machine screens naturally.

And please make sure you have a good microphone. Many people ignore this aspect. Having either a gaming headset that comes with a mic or an external mic is so useful and underrated. You are kind of a YouTuber in this zoom interview situation.

#2. Keep your favourite code editor handy.

Few companies will prefer an online code editor like CodeSandbox or CoderPad. However, there are many companies and interviewers who don't prefer it. Many times, the interviewer may ask you to open in your local machine due to VPN issues, blocked websites or maybe they want to see how you set up the coding environment and get your hands in the terminal. Either way, you will need to set up and keep your IDE handy. In case you are not using your company-provided laptop, don't waste time installing it in the middle of the interview. Keep it ready with all the extensions that you use and keyboard shortcuts configured.

Time is money when it comes to interviews. The faster you write code and arrive at solutions, the higher your chances to get selected in the interview. I don't want to use the word "judged". You will be "measured" in the interview by how quickly you arrive at solutions to the given problems. The speed at which you think and the depth of your thought process is also taken into account in this limited time of probably 45 minutes.

You will be fast to write code in the code editor you use on daily basis due to muscle memory. So take a shot in the dark and ask the interviewer if you can use your local editor to write code and show the results. Unless there are company restrictions, the interviewer will probably agree for the request. I am saying this because I have agreed to this in many zoom interviews and I found out that the candidates write code very fast in their local machine than online editors. At any cost, I do not want to judge them just because they felt uncomfortable in some other code editor. I know that some companies still use google docs to write code. I don't prefer it personally due to indentation issues and the absence of syntax highlighting. Nonetheless, you need to be prepared and definitely ask the interviewer if you can use your local machine in the interview.

If they agree, you will write code fast and it's an advantage for you.

#3. Keep a sample project bootstrap ready.

The last thing you want is getting stuck in setting up a sample project during the interview. I can't stress this enough. Even today, when I am taking interviews, I still see candidates starting from scratch when I ask them to execute a sample javascript code or to write a sample react component implementing a certain feature and show the output their machine. It would have easily saved 10 minutes of time if a sample bootstrap was already ready so that the candidate can focus only on the problem. Some companies do allow online editors that come with a built-in setup to quickly get started. But as a candidate, don't take this chance. Just keep a sample React project ( a blank create-react-app ) and make sure Node is installed in your machine. You can just directly execute Javascript code with Node and show the output.

Another most important thing that I want to bring is about installing dependencies. Don't just set up the project files before the interview. You must also install all the dependencies that the project demands. Don't waste time installing these. The reason why I am stressing on this aspect is because I have personally seen candidates spending time and in worst cases, their wifi connectivity gives issues during the interview. And I see them getting into a panic because of this unexpected situation which has no value in the interview. It will only lessen the candidate's chances of getting selected.

#4. Environment setup is crucial than you think.

I recently posted this quote on Linkedin - “When you maintain proper sunlight, water daily and take care of the surrounding environment, a plant grows and the flower blossoms. Likewise, when you have a desk fully set up with all the tools and a laptop which is fully configured just like the way you want it, you will grow in your career, you work will blossom too.

Before the zoom interview starts, make sure you have done the following 10 little things.

  1. Set a professional-looking background in zoom if your background is cluttered.

  2. Keep your mobile in DND mode. I suggest switching it off.

  3. Make sure your laptop is connected to the power supply at any cost.

  4. Place the webcam in proper position and if you have an external mic, use it as close to your mouth as possible. There is a reason why podcasters use it very close.

  5. Make sure your wifi router is connected to a UPS.

  6. Inform your family members that an interview is going on so that noise is reduced.

  7. Please wear something formal even if you are not visiting the office.

  8. If you are using Windows PC, please update the OS to avoid interruption.

  9. Turn off notifications on your computer too in settings.

  10. Make sure your hands are also visible in webcam for appropriate body language.

Once everything is ready, you are ready for the technical round but before you do so, please keep the below 5th point in mind. I think this is very critical and will be a deciding factor for your selection.

#5. First the approach, then the code

In most online interviews, there will definitely be a coding round. Especially if the role is for a software engineer ( doesn't matter which level ) coding is a mandatory skill and every company will measure the candidate based on various aspects of coding. But you must always keep in mind that before coding, the interviewer is interested in the way you think when a problem is presented to you. They want to know how and why you chose an approach to solve the problem and after that, they will assess you in how well you write code that actually solves the problem by producing the desired output.

So in the zoom call, after the interviewer presents you the problem, you need to carefully read the problem and start asking questions back to the interviewer if something is not clear. Don't jump into coding. Break the problem into understandable statements and clarify your doubts. The more clarifications you ask, the more it feels like you care about providing the right solution and what the interviewer is expecting. Trust me, if you want to crack the interview, you need to read the interviewer's mind and picture what they are expecting from you. You can get this picture only by asking questions and by getting more clarity. Don't think the interviewer will get irritated if you keep asking clarification questions. It is also one of the aspects they are looking in you.

Now that your doubts are clarified, it's time to write code right? ... No.

Your next step is to explain your approach to solve the problem. The approach should not be a brute force method. Take a step back and fully explain your approach and then ask the interviewer if he is ok with the approach and if you can start coding. Now, if the interviewer says "go ahead" or "start coding" then you can be sure that this is his expectation and your code will have value once you write it. And if the interviewer said "can you think of a different approach ?", then it saved your coding time because now you have the opportunity to think about a different approach and you did not waste time coding a wrong approach to begin with.

This point is not just for zoom interviews, but it is essential in general. It matters in zoom the most because another candidate will be waiting after your zoom call and it cannot be postponed like in an onsite interview. Nowadays, due to WFH, I am seeing meetings are getting started at the exact time. If there is another meeting during the end of one meeting, I see participants post a message in zoom chat saying - "Need to drop to attend another call" and then they drop off. The situation has changed and our work timings are kind of becoming strict since we are not wasting time running from one meeting room to another. While this looks like a boon and it feels like we are teleporting at supersonic speed 😅, it can be problematic as well due to strict timing being followed. Nonetheless, this is the new normal and we need to adjust with it and move on.

That being said,

I wish you have a great interview experience and succeed in your career.

All the best 👍

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