How To Ace Your Tech Company Interview | Life In Tech by Bessy Tam

How to Ace Your Interview at a Tech Company in 5 Steps

Published on 28 January 2019 by Bessy Tam | Filed in Interview & Informational Chats

Interviews for tech companies can go 1 of 2 ways: 

  • It can feel like a nice catch up with a long lost friend 
  • or an awkward date that you can’t wait to be over.

The problem is, you don’t want to be in the 2nd situation halfway through the interview. Wouldn’t that just be a waste of time for the both of you?

So you need to do the “dance.”

Before you go on a “blind date,” we could probably agree that it’s a good idea to learn more about the person first.

Before you travel to a new country, you might need to learn more about the culture, attractions, and possible dangerous situations to watch out for.

Similarly, before you walk into an interview you should learn more about the company and hiring team.

This way, you can get enough information to match the right solutions to their problems and ask the right questions during the interview.


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I spent years interviewing candidates in my tech job.

Prior to the tech job, I also spent 10+ months applying to 100+ companies before I finally cracked the code on how to ace my interviews.

I remember what it felt like in the beginning of my job search process when young Bessy didn’t know anything about optimizing the interview approach.

Half-way through interviews, I would get blank faces and awkward silences that left me more nervous and incoherent than I already was.

After months of researching and testing various approaches to interviews, I got to a point where I could get offers for every official interview I got my hands on. Even ones beyond tech.

Now I teach these methods in my private coaching programs as well.

If you want the top questions asked in a tech interview and how to answer them, I’d love to share it with you. Just enter your information below and I’ll send it over. Then, after you crank out exactly how you’ll answer these questions word for word, you’ll be able to ace any other questions tech interviewers throw at you.

At the end of the day, it’s not the interview itself that you should focus on, but it’s the prep work behind it.

By the time you finish reading today, you’ll understand the 5 C’s of acing your interview:

  • 1
    The #1 way tech interviewees fail
  • 2
    A system to know exactly what the hiring team needs
  • 3
    The 3 C’s that set you apart

PRINCIPLE #1: The #1 way tech interviewees fail - Curiosity

I could tell you everything about tactics that all the other publications you’ve read online would say:

  • “10 questions you have to ask your interviewer!”
  • “Stay Positive"
  • “Read tech interview books!”
  • “Memorize all the questions!”
  • “Sell yourself!”

Sure, these tactics can help but in the end, the #1 way tech interviewees fail is a lack of curiosity.

The best people I’ve interviewed are the ones who are curious - curious to succeed, curious to understand the business, curious about what the hiring team needs, and curious about how to help.

This means reaching out to people who are on in the company as well as the hiring team prior to the interview.

This means reading and watching videos about the company to learn about their mission statement, products, vision, plans for success, and business challenges.

This also means doing whatever you can to find out about the topics that matter and how the team plans to solve big problems.

We live in a day and age where information is readily available online or through your connections. So it’s not about not knowing anymore, it’s about being curious enough to find the answers.

Find out how Laurie used this system to do her pre-interview homework and got a job in a profitable tech startup

Curiosity also shows during the interview when you ask great questions.

The worst questions I’ve received during an interview were:

  • Is it true there’s slide at Google?
  • Are there any learning opportunities coming into Google?
  • Do you work within your team or do you work with other departments too?
  • What clients did you work on in Hong Kong?
  • Are there any similar goals in managing a campaign as what I do now in campaign management?
  • What is XYZ like as a manager?

It gives the interviewer a feeling that #1 the interviewee didn’t really care and #2 they just wanted A job… any job.

A better way to ask some of the questions are:

  • How has your experiences in Google Hong Kong differ from your experiences here in Chicago and how did that impact your approach to work?
  • How does your team approach the agency, client, and Google relationship? What are the similarities in roles and how does it differ?
  • What are some of the challenges your team faces both internally and externally that keeps you up at night?
  • How would you describe this team in 3 words?

In the end, only 2% of applicants actually get an interview (WebWire). This already shows you have the basic qualifications if you got the interview.

Why not make the most out of this opportunity by doing more prep work that shows you curiosity and proactiveness beforehand?

Principle #2: A system to know exactly what the hiring team needs - the Checklist

This is the 2nd C, understanding the exact checklist of an ideal candidate. This means, you’re anticipating what the hiring team will evaluate you on.

You’re probably thinking, “What! Where do I find this information? Tech already seems exclusive in some ways.”

You might think about looking for “information” online - especially to get information about the “most common interview questions” through LinkedIn, Glassdoor. It’s definitely a great start, but the prepping process shouldn’t end with you facing a computer screen.

What sets a successful interviewee apart is being able to get information that no one else has access to. This requires a system to reach beyond common sites you find online.

A system to research and find the information you need to build a checklist of what the business, role, and company needs and wants.

How do you build your checklist?

First Step - Understanding the roles, businesses, products, and overall “searchable” information.

First and foremost you need to understand the company, departments, and specific products that you’re going for. This is high level information that can allow you to make an educated guess for the scope of work that this role is required to do and the overall business challenges that the team or company may face.

This easiest search to do are includes “X Company” +  “Business model”, or other combinations including + “mission statement”, + “products,” + “annual report,” + “founders letters,” + “annual meeting,” etc.

This way you can learn exactly how the businesses make money, what products they have, the message they want to convey, and the teams they hire.

Second Step  - Be Specific

Then, you can verify both the business challenges and role challenges by being more specific about what you’re looking for.

I know it’s easy to just search for someone you know in an ideal company and just ask for a 30 minute coffee to  “learn about the company and role.”

In reality, this is not beneficial for either you or the person you’re reaching out to.

I can’t tell you how many times someone reached out to me on LinkedIn or Facebook with a vague request like that chat about my experiences in a tech company.

As much as I want to just chat with the person  or even aim to refer him/her into the company, I simply don’t have the time.

The reason is because I get at least 1 of these requests each week. I could spend 30 mins just talking about my experiences knowing that it won’t actually help them or I could get a better understanding from additional context about the specific challenge they want me to solve or roles they want me to advise on.

Sometimes the person who reached out to me is completely searching the wrong types of jobs in comparison to his/her background. Sometimes, they ramble a 500 word paragraph that’s not going anywhere. Sometimes, they’re just not prepared.

For example, don’t just say you want to get a “product manager” role. Dig deeper. What does it mean? What do they do? What’s the minimum requirements? Do your homework before-hand to learn how your experience and wants tie into the role.

Then you’ll need to build your resume to tailor specifically to those business and role challenges you’ve prepared for. I can’t emphasize this enough.

Third Step  - Leverage Your Network

Once you’ve done your research, you can leverage your network both from social media, friends of friends, random people you’ve met at a barbecue, to learn more and possibly get a referral into jobs.

You don’t have to decide that the role you specified will be the exact role you plan to get into. However, you need to be specific in order to get enough information to make an educated decision.

By researching online, you barely have 10% of the information right now to make a solid decision whether you’re fit for the tech job or not. So the goal here is to focus on learning more and expanding your research process through your network instead of getting a referral.

I’ll walk through how to (a) find the right people and (b) how to reach out

How to find the right people on LinkedIn:

You can click “Jobs” on LinkedIn to see specific people who work at certain companies with various titles. Note: I have 2500+ connections on LinkedIn so it’s easier for me to search, if you don’t it might be good to connect with past alumni/high school friends first on LinkedIn to build the base.

After you search, you could then reach out to them saying something similar to the below:

“Hi XYZ name!

It’s been a while since we’ve chat. I’ve been following your journey in [Insert very specific occasion and a very specific reason why you admire/like/or connected with it].

I wanted to reach out for a quick 15 minute favor if that’s alright. I’ve been researching a few roles and companies among [name 3 companies + roles] because of my background in [insert specific experiences]. I really feel that I can add [XYZ value to the company and team because of XYZ].

However, after some intensive research, I still have some questions in mind and I thought that it may be best to reach out to you since you’re an expert in this field. I’ve done [XYZ to solve them previously].

If it’s okay, can I have a short call with you for 15 minutes? I had the below questions I wanted to specifically chat about if that helps:
[Insert questions 1, 2, & 3, and possibly a short explanation of how you tried to solve it]

I’ve also attached my resume in case to provide more context. If a call won’t do, I’m also happy to chat here in text or email if that works too! Feel free to say no. Either way, I appreciate your time for reading this and connecting briefly.

[Insert Calendly link]

Thank you so much

This example script shows that:

  • 1
    You care about them as a person
  • 2
    You’ve done your homework
  • 3
    You’re mindful of their time by providing them choices and only asking for 15 minutes of their time
  • 4
    You’re providing additional information

TIP: If they don’t respond on LinkedIn, you can follow up on the same platform in 2 days, and then follow up with a short note on another social media or by text message where you both are connected as well.

How to find the right people on Facebook:

I’ve also seen a friend blast “Does anyone know anyone in Hootsuite?” on their feed.

Then, friends would message her directly or link them up in a group chat.

The great part about this approach is that you could rely on the 3rd party validation, where your friend introduces you instead of you trying to earn a relationship with a complete stranger.

These are only a few approaches, there are always more.

By the end of the chats you need to expand your research by getting referring contacts.

For example:

“Thank you for your time today, I really appreciate it! [I have XYZ action items] to do and I can update you once they’re done. In addition, are there 2-3 other people you can think of who’s either in XYZ role in your company or a similar role in another team? I want to learn more about their challenges and business goals to see if I’m a right fit. If there aren’t hiring teams, other folks who are in similar roles would be helpful!”

If they say they do, you can ask them to introduce you both in the same email.

By the end of these chats you should have been able to:

  • 1
    Understand the different roles in the hiring team
  • 2
    Learn about all the challenges that the hiring team faces
  • 3
    Match your experiences to what they look for
  • 4
    Get a sense on the culture and vision of the hiring team

These are topics that would add up to the team’s “ideal candidate checklist.”  And you probably would’ve have chat with at least 3-5 quality people within the team to get this information.

It takes time, but remember - you can only get information that’s valuable from people who are in the company but most importantly, in the same team.

Fourth Step  - Referral

Then, once you’ve casually found a right fit, you will naturally get referred.

People who are in tech companies are passionate about referring friends or aquaintances into the company. The main reason is because people who refer usually gets a high bonus ~US$3K to $5K.

Referrals also have a 9.5X of a success rate vs applied candidates (see chart below).

(Source: Lever)

By getting referred after you’ve done these chats, you also have a higher chance of acing the interview since you’ve already had enough “inside information” from the 3-5 informational chats.

Principle #3: During the Interview - Be Clear

Once you get the information you need (Principle #1 - Curiosity) and have the specific requirements the team needs beyond the job description (Principle #1 - The Checklist), no you need to focus on the interview.

The 2nd biggest challenge I’ve faced as an interviewer after the lack of curiosity, is the lack of clarity when interviewees answer the questions.

This is actually the biggest issue among my students in my personal coaching program as well. They always say they don’t have the right experience but I would actually say the reverse. They have great experiences but don’t know how to apply these clear and concise stories to interview questions in order to match up the hiring team’s “ideal candidate checklist.”

If you want the top questions asked in a tech interview and how to answer them, I’d love to share it with you. Just enter your information below and I’ll send it over.

A few tips for you would be:

  • Use the STAR method at all times - for Situation, Task, Action, Result
  • Get the top questions asked in a tech interview through my free email course
  • Write down your answers in a running document to reference to and practice with. This will help you get your example stories or situations straight and simply be able to “Plug and play” for any interview
  • Nail the basics first before you tackled harder “behavioral questions”. Simple questions such as “Why XYZ company?” “Why do you want this role?” “Tell me about yourself”
  • Ensure your answers are about 30 seconds long. It’s like peeling an onion, you can let the interview choose what they want to learn more about with their follow-up questions
  • Practice answering in front of the mirror… vocally.

After you’ve done the tips, you’ll be way less nervous and much more clear in your answers.

Principle #4: During the Interview - Culture

Everyone talks about what your technical skills are but no one talks about how you fit into the culture.

There’s a reason why Google coined a term called “Googley.”

.. Why Amazon is known to be relentless for growth

… How Salesforce prides itself in their “Ohana” culture

Culture is a huge piece of the pie where everyone has to unite and interviewers look for but no one coaches you on. When interviewers ask certain behavioral questions, they’re also looking for these specific traits to see how you fit in.

It may or may not be something you can control, but definitely something you can convey by showing the best of who you are.

That’s why I always tell my students - if you have specific interests or quirky traits that make you stand out, always express it! You’re already “nervous’ in the interview, but if you don’t show your natural side, interviewers wouldn’t be able to feel how you’ll fit into the culture.

I’m not talking about interests such as TV shows you like to watch or places you like to shop. I’m talking about passions, interests, hobbies, or experiences that are completely unique. Eg. You’ve traveled to 25 countries, play soccer professionally before, built an art gallery, or wrote for 200 blogs.

I used to think I needed to be really serious in the interview. But as I progressed and learned more, I found that my natural smile and interest in people made me a great candidate. Trust that your quirks will too.

Principle #5: The Bottom Line - Care

The bottom line is - interviewers know whether you actually care about the cause that the team is striving for.

I’ve interviewed candidates who “memorized” a script like a robot before.

I’ve also interviewed candidates who specifically told me they just wanted to switch jobs.

In the end, if you don’t do the prep work or actually care, interviewers know that the job is “just another job” for you.

So don’t lean on the “I-Don’t-Know Syndrome” where you lie to yourself saying “I don’t know how to learn more about the company and roles.”

Just try and be relentless in the process of learning.

As long as you care, people you have chats with along the way and interviewers can feel the passion and drive you have.


We talked about the 5 C’s today:

  • Curiosity
  • Checklist
  • Clear
  • Culture
  • Care

It’s these 5 C’s that can drive you all the way through the multiple rounds of initial research, insider information chats, referral, multiple rounds of interviews, and eventually the offer.

Get started now and get the top questions asked in a tech interview straight in your inbox. I’ll show you exactly how to answer these questions!

Just enter your information below and I’ll send it over. 


About the Author

Bessy Tam is a career coach who helps busy professionals get into their dream non-tech job in tech. She’s helped dozens of clients get interviews and offers from companies such as Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Lyft, Amazon, Babbel, & More. She currently works at Google in Chicago.