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Interview skills from YouTube?

3 YouTube videos. 3 completely random topics. 3 unexpected interview skills demonstrated. Here's how these videos helped me be a better interviewee and what lessons can be learnt from each.

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James Formica
UI focused, builder of silly things
Mar 14, 2022 - 21:07 PMMax 8min read
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If you’re not a confident interviewee, then good news, the rest of us aren’t either. You’re not alone and I have met my fair share of you from Grads to Lead Developers doing interviews for REA Group.

I’m not going to give you any life changing advice that will instantly bolster your confidence and charm but what I am going to give you is a few unrelated Youtube videos that accidentally (or intentionally) highlight some important yet simple interview techniques that are often missed.

Disclaimer: This blog post is mostly for fun so enjoy

Video One: 4 producers, 1 sample

After about 50 interviews you can start to tell two things within 5 minutes of looking at someone’s interview exercise solution:

  1. Whether or not they are familiar with their own submission
  2. Whether or not they wrote their own solution

The point it want to stress here is that every solution should be unique. There is no one single correct solution, especially with take home interview projects. What we want to see is your developer personality. What techniques do you gravitate towards? What were your primary concerns when you architected the solution. These are the things that make for an engaging interview. Discussion kicks off around a simple choice that was made and turns into a fun chat about pros and cons / what alternatives there are.

On the flip side, if the solution is not your own and you aren’t familiar with it you can imagine how fast the conversation declines.

  • [me]: Oh, that’s interesting can you explain why you went with XYZ?
  • [them]: Ummmmm, I’m sorry I can’t remember
  • [me]: Well that’s okay, maybe we can just talk about the pros and cons of XYZ?
  • [them]: 😰😳😵‍💫

Regardless if it’s a take home project, a system diagramming exercise or a pseudo technical solution design, it is always, always best if it is your own unique solution. Be individual, be authentic, be imperfect. Every idea has benefits and drawbacks but it’s being able to talk to them that shines through in an interview.

With that in mind, check out this video by Andrew Huang where he finds 3 music producers and gives them all the same sample of a squeaky door closing and asks them to create a song from it. Each artist creates something completely unique to their personality. There’s no right or wrong here, it’s creative expression with the skills they have learnt and tools they have to play with. Why is interviewing any different?

📽 Watch the video

Video Two: Worlds hardest sudoku

If there is a single takeaway from this article, please let it be this section. I promise it will genuinely help you and make for more engaging interviews.

Prolonged periods of absolute silence are difficult and awkward. Especially when you’ve done your best to encourage the candidate multiple times to verbalise their thought process. It’s unnatural, I get it, but it’s important. Communication is paramount in collaborative teams and even more so if you are a junior developer. Being able to describe the problem you’re facing, the solutions you have tried, and what your next step is will accelerate your growth and problem solving skills.

As an interviewer, I try not to mark someone down upon for not instantly knowing the answer to something. That would be ridiculously hypocritical of me. If we know what you’re thinking and where you’re heading, we can help guide you to a solution or ask questions that nudge you in the right direction. Conversely, if it’s all radio silence then we are as lost as you. Never feel embarrassed for not knowing something in an interview and it’s okay to admit that you’re stuck. We’re not going to laugh at you, we’re going to try and help.

With that, I want to introduce you to what should be the most boring video if you look at it on paper. It’s over 50 minutes of a guy solving an extremely hard sudoku puzzle. Before you skip over it, let me say this. This is the single most impressive showcase of verbalising a thought process I have ever seen. This guy took me on the journey with him and almost made it feel like I had solved the puzzle as well. I felt lost when he got stuck. I felt elated when he figured out the next step. This is a prime example of how to talk through your problem solving technique, admit when you’re stuck, and bring your audience on the journey with you.

📽 Watch the video

Video Three: Motorway madness

Curve balls. Baseball isn’t even that big in Australia, but we still love our curve balls. Let’s say you’re acing an interview and things are going swimmingly (much more of an Australian sport). The interviewers are likely going to start throwing curve balls to see how you think on your feet. This is usually towards the end of the interview where it’s more of a theoretical discussion which allows the curve balls to get pretty wild.

Not being able to let go of your existing idea/solution is one of the most common pitfalls I’ve seen. Curve balls can wildly mix up the problem space. They can create a full paradigm shift away from the original problem. If the foundation on which your original program / idea / solution / design is based on has completely changed why wouldn’t the solution completely change too?

Sometimes, what we need to do is start from scratch but what we end up doing is trying to mould and morph whatever we have to try and make it work. Let it go. Especially when talking theoretically, don’t restrain yourself by fear of losing the work that’s already been done. Let it go.

So here’s a video of a real life Civil Engineer playing a game called Mini Motorways. This game is constantly throwing curveballs which makes elegant solutions messy real quick. Sometimes, the only way to get them to be elegant again is to delete your work and start again with your new requirements.

📽 Watch the video

Final notes

Well I hope you enjoyed, and perhaps learnt a thing or two. Interviewing is difficult and putting your best foot forward in a room where the stakes are high and you've never met the interviewers is even harder. There's an infinite number of valuable resources to help you be a better interviewee and my goal with this article was to try a fresh take on the topic and perhaps justify the amount of crap I watch on YouTube 😅.

I can't speak for every business, but at BuildPass we won't be looking for candidates who know everything off by heart and have produced the most perfect solution. We'll be looking for those who are unique, genuine, still learning and growing. Those who can communicate their problems and ideas effectively. Those who are excited by curve balls and who lean into the creativity of coming up with interesting solutions to tricky problems.

James