Don't let anxiety wreck your technical interview

Are you preparing for a technical interview? Do you want to clear the bar at a major tech giant like Google, Microsoft or Amazon?

The internet is awash with resources on technical interview preparation. There's even entire platforms dedicated to this.

But something I've noticed taking many candidates by surprise (especially ones at an earlier stage in their career) — is interview performance anxiety.

Months of preparation goes down the drain because an important aspect of the experience is overlooked.

Can we talk about this?

I'm sharing my thoughts as a FAANG engineer who still actively conducts technical interviews, as well as having cleared several technical interviews myself (including at Amazon and Google).

Interviewing anxiety is a widespread problem

If you've ever experienced nervousness during an interview and felt that it had a negative impact on the outcome, then you're not alone.

A new study from North Carolina State University and Microsoft finds that the technical interviews currently used in hiring for many software engineering positions test whether a job candidate has performance anxiety rather than whether the candidate is competent at coding.

At least half of the 100+ candidates I've interviewed show visible signs of nervousness — some even explicitly calling it out.

I know, I get it. I've been there as well.

The outcome of an interview can potentially be career-changing or even life-changing. There's a lot on the line. In fact, it'd be unnatural if you weren't a little nervous.

⚡ Nerve damage

Nervousness or anxiety in itself doesn't have any negative impact on your assessment. An interviewer would never write "oh they seemed nervous, let's not hire them."

The real damage comes from the side-effect this has on your performance during the session.

If your nerves run too high during an interview, you start to short circuit — your head goes into grid-lock and you may forget important things and make mistakes you wouldn't normally make.

Interviewers will do what they can to make you feel as relaxed and comfortable as possible. They want to see you at your best.

So it's always really unfortunate if anxiety gets the best of you. It's a lose-lose situation. You don't land the job, and the company misses out on a qualified candidate.

So what can we do about this?

💡 Suggestions

👉 Watch recorded interviews on YouTube

You can feel more comfortable in technical interviews by just making yourself more familiar with the process and the timing of them.

If you search on YouTube, you'll find many examples of mock technical interview sessions with actual FAANG engineers. Watch them! Grab a snack or a drink and pay attention.

Don't put it on 2x speed, keep it at a natural 1x pace. Your goal is to get familiar with not just the process, but also the timing of the interview.

The more you are familiar with these things, the less nervous you'll feel when it's your turn up on that stage.

👉 Use your "introduction" to feel more comfortable

"So tell me a bit about yourself!"

This is something you'll probably hear at the start of most interviews.

The biggest mistake I see candidates making is, they sometimes start just listing off all of their credentials and achievements without even taking a breath.

But the what they don't realize is that this is rarely (if ever) even assessed. Did you know that?

When I use this question — "tell me a little bit about yourself" — my goal is to get you talking and feeling more comfortable. Don't waste that opportunity just telling the interviewer just what you think they want to hear.

Instead, use that opportunity to mentally ramp yourself up. Talk about something you are confident or passionate about — something that really makes your eyes light up — and feed on that momentum for the rest of the session.

For example, one time I had a candidate talk about a Discord bot they were working on for a game.

And this had nothing to do with the actual role they were applying for, but just that passion and excitement really came through and set the stage for the rest of the interview.

👉 Do at least 3 mock interviews

🚨 Don't skip this! This is the most important one! 🚨

Acclimatize yourself to coding in front of another person. Regardless of what the actual question is, just going through the motions will already help you get adjusted to that kind of environment.

If you're in university, you can ask someone from your class to be your mock interviewer. If you have technical ex-colleagues, you can ask them too. Otherwise there's both free or paid services online that let you pair up with a mock interviewer.

And if nothing else works for you, just ask a family member or a friend to read out a Leetcode question. Remember, it's the stimulus of having someone watch you code that is the key factor here.

You might have to do this a couple of times before that psychological adjustment kicks in. I recommend doing this at least 3 times.

From my own experience, that's how many times it took to start really feeling comfortable and level with that kind of environment.

✨ Relax! You've got this

You're a software engineer. You solve problems using logic and process — and there's no reason you can't apply those same tools to overcome "interview anxiety".

Here is a summary of the three actionable thing I suggested:

  • Watching recorded interviews on YouTube
  • Use your "introduction" to feel more comfortable
  • Do at least 3 mock interviews

Finally, remember that the interviewer is on your side — they want you to do well! Now it's up to you to minimize the impact your nerves might have on your chances of success.

Good luck!

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