So You've Failed Your Technical Interview. Now What?

I can’t even count how many technical interviews I’ve failed, yet each time my confidence takes a hit as if it was my first rejection. Failing a technical interview is normal, but we don’t talk about it. Being rejected feels utterly isolating; it feels like a sign that you’re not good enough to make it as a software engineer. But you are good enough. So how can you process the potential feelings of shame and impostor syndrome?

Take A Break

If you’re able to take a break after an interview rejection, I highly encourage it. Interviews are stressful, and a rejection only perpetuates that feeling. Taking a break will allow your brain to digest and move forward from a rejection much more quickly than barreling through.

If you’re unable to take a break after a rejection, give yourself a day to process your emotions. Rejections can deplete your self confidence, and confidence is extremely important during an interview. Give yourself some time to rebuild your confidence.

Identify Areas Of Improvement

Approach every interview as an opportunity for growth and a rejection can provide valuable insight into what areas you can improve upon. For example, if you keep getting rejected after the recruiter phone screen, you should dedicate some time to improving that phase of the interview process.

Or if you receive a rejection after the technical phone screen, think about the problem you were asked. What areas of the problem were difficult for you? Maybe you struggle writing asynchronous code. Or perhaps it’s CSS that trips you up.

You can also review areas of the interview process you did well in. If you had a successful interview with the Agile coach/scrum master, you should keep exhibiting those traits in the subsequent interviews.

With a little introspection you can narrow down the areas you excelled at as well as the areas you can improve upon.

Learn In Small Chunks

All of us, at one time or another, have crammed for an exam the night before. And while you’re technically correct in thinking “hey, I was able to learn some new things in a short period of time”, what you might fail to realize is that you likely forgot all of that newly learned knowledge in the following days.

When we cram information into our brains the night before an interview, that information is only stored in short-term memory and quickly forgotten. Additionally you’re more likely to regurgitate answers than to understand the underlying concepts.

I always recommend studying a little bit each day. This micro-studying will prevent you from getting overwhelmed, and will encode the learned information into long-term storage.

In addition to learning a little bit each day, you can use context- switching as an effective learning method. Switching contexts, or topics, every 30 minutes or hour might seem ineffective but in reality it will strengthen your recognition and recall of information.

If you study linked lists for 30 minutes, queues for 30 minutes, and stacks for 30 minutes, then cycle back through these three data structures once again, you’ll probably find yourself getting frustrated. In reality, switching contexts will solidify your knowledge of these data structures in the long term.

Recognize Your Small Wins

In his book Atomic Habits, James Clear discusses how small, seemingly minute, changes to your routine can compound over time to make a big difference.

Imagine you’re flying a plane from Los Angeles, California to New York City, New York. If the plane takes off from Los Angeles and adjusts its course just 3.5 degrees south, it will land in Washington, D.C. instead of New York City. This minor change is not noticeable to passengers but has a big impact. This shows how a small shift in direction can lead to a large shift in the grand scheme of things.

Thus it’s important to recognize your small wins. No win is too small to be celebrated. Over time you’ll realize that these small wins have compounded into a much larger win.

Keep On Going

It’s important to be resilient during the technical interviewing process. It’s a grueling process but unfortunately a necessary one. Remember that you are not alone and slowly over time these interviews will get easier.

You are smart enough and you can do this.

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