Mock interviews are a waste of time

What's up everyone? Sam here from byte-by-byte.com. Today I'm going to tell you why most mock interviews are a complete waste of time. Alright so you've probably heard going through your interview prep that mock interviews are an important thing to do and you may have even heard that from me because that is something that I've said in the past but recently as I've been working with more and more clients I've realized that mock interviews in the traditional sense are not actually a very valuable thing. And the real problem is not that mock interviews themselves are not a valuable thing to do ever, but it's that people treat them as something that is way more valuable than it actually is.

So I want to talk about what a mock interview really is. And what a mock interview really is is it's just a tool. A mock interview is a tool to evaluate where you are currently at in your interview prep. It tells you you did well on this, you didn't do well on this in this one particular context, and then it also gives you some practice actually going through the motions of doing an interview. But the problem with mock interviews is that it's lacking much beyond that. A mock interview is not gonna help you learn how to solve problems more effectively. It's not gonna help you learn what are your recurring mistakes so that you can improve over time.

And these are problems and a reason why I think just doing standard mock interviews, for example doing a mock interview with some Google engineer, is not all it's cracked up to be. Because there are really three specific problems that I see over and over again when I look at people doing mock interviews. And the first one is just that the person interviewing you is not necessarily a trained interview coach and while they're good at evaluating someone's ability to interview successfully that doesn't mean they have any clue what they're talking about when it comes to actually giving you advice for how to improve. So they'll give you feedback on your interview and then it's your responsibility to actually take that feedback and figure out what to do with it. And if you don't have the context and the overarching process for preparing for your interviews it can be very difficult to actually figure out how to do something meaningful with that feedback.

The second thing is that you're only usually doing one interview with these people. They're not seeing you over time and that's a huge problem as well because it means that you're not getting that continuity. And the continuity is key because the continuity when you do a mock interview you might do well on one problem you might do badly on another problem it's just normal, right? There's a random variation and noise in your results. And it also depends on the person who's actually interviewing you how they decide to actually evaluate you. And so there's a lot of variance there and the feedback might differ and then you don't actually get continuity. So you're gonna get feedback on the same things over and over again and maybe those things are not really what the core issue is. So this all goes back to do you actually know how to evaluate the feedback you're getting and is the feedback that you're getting helpful.

The third thing that I see a lot is that there's a lot of advertising for like “get a mock interview with a Google engineer” and so people say “oh well I'm interviewing at Google that sounds great!” But the problem with that is that that's tapping into this fallacy where we believe that the problems that people have been asked or the problems that the mock interviewer is gonna ask are gonna be the same or similar to the problems that we get asked in our interview. And yes there may be some overarching connection between different problems in terms of the types of problems that companies ask but this really isn't a good reason to do tons of mock interviews.

You should never be preparing for your interview by hoping that you're going to see a problem that you've already seen before. You need to focus on how do I get better at solving these problems so that I can interview more effectively. And if you check out in the description I will put a link to a blog post that I wrote about how to get unstuck in your interview. And so this will really help you in that sort of situation but it teaches you it's not about finding it's not about memorizing the solution but it's actually about finding the solution and learning the processes for doing that.

So if mock interviewing sucks so much what is the alternative right? Like obviously you need to get practice and you need to prepare for your interviews and I just want to tell you guys a little bit about the way that I do things and this is something that you can work on with your friends or if you have a co-worker they can help you with it too but I do also recommend working with an experienced coach, because an experienced coach will have a good understanding of the arc of what needs to go into an interview. And so there are really three things that I focus on when I am helping people prepare for interviews and when I'm doing mock interviews with them.

So the first thing I do is I actually don't just do mock interviews straight through. And so it's not the same as doing an actual interview, although it's kind of similar. I'll stop people going throughout and I'll help make course corrections as we go. And what this does is this allows people to understand in the moment what are they doing wrong and get that feeling under their belt of what it feels like to do things correctly. And by stopping and course correcting and I don't I hate telling people the answer so I never do that, I help guide people to the solution, but by doing that people have a much better understanding of where they're going wrong throughout the interview.

The second thing that I do is that I help them understand these underlying problems. So I work with people I don't do single mock interviews so if you were thinking of doing that you know go somewhere else because that's not something that I do because that's just not helpful to people. What I do is I work with people over the course of multiple weeks. I see the problems that come up repeatedly and by working closely with them we can actually develop systems to help them to solve problems more effectively and to stop making the same mistakes that they keep making.

So to give you an example some people start coding right at the beginning of their interview. They sit down, they hear the problem, and they immediately write some code. And that's a terrible way to approach things because that makes it much much harder to really conceptualize the problem. And this is a great thing that when I see it I can just stop people and correct it and then by doing this repeatedly, by working through this and getting practice, people get much better actually fixing these problems as they come up. And by working with people over the period of multiple weeks I'm able to identify these and develop systems.

And that's the last thing. The last thing is to develop systems to actually approach these problems. Let's say you're a JavaScript developer and the way that you learn JavaScript was that semicolons at the end of lines are sort of optional. Which you know the language will run if you don't have the semicolons, but it's still proper to have the semicolons. And I've seen this before where people will just write code and they just don't think about it they don't put the semicolons in and that to me as the interviewer reflects really badly. That makes me think that this person is inexperienced and that they've not worked a development job before. So what can we do? We can develop a really simple system for this. All you have to do is make a checklist that says once I'm done writing the code go through line by line and make sure that every line has a semicolon. It's not hard but you wouldn't even know to do that unless you identified the problem in the first place.

So at the end of the day really the difference between doing regular mock interviews and what I do is that I really help people work through the problems and I help people understand at a deeper level. I use mock interviews as a component of coaching rather than as a standalone tool and that makes it much much more effective for my students. And my students have seen the results you know I've had people get jobs at Amazon and Bloomberg and Uber, eBay, etc. etc. And the results really speak for themselves.

So if you're interested in doing coaching I do offer coaching which you can check out the link in the description as well and it's byte-by-byte.com/coaching and I also encourage you to try these techniques on your own. You don't have to work with a coach to make this more effective you just need to have someone who has a little bit of experience with the interview process and could help you work through it. So I hope you guys enjoyed this video if you did please click the subscribe button below and as I said last week if you have not gotten my free e-book yet I have a free e-book on dynamic programming at dynamicprogrammingbook.com and I look forward to talking to you guys again soon.

Don't do another coding interview...​

…Until you’ve mastered these 50 questions!

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