Congratulations! You have an opportunity to interview for that dream job. Now, it’s time to make sure you’re prepared to show that you’re a fantastic fit for the role. This sometimes involves one or more technical interviews, which give interviewers the chance to probe your knowledge of the technical fundamentals you’ll need on the job. Whiteboarding may be a substantial part of this process.
When an interviewee whiteboards, they respond to technical questions by writing code without an IDE. Many people who excel in their technical roles find whiteboarding challenging. That’s because it’s a different craft. But don’t stress. Let’s see how you can build this skill so that you can feel comfortable and confident whiteboarding during your technical interview.
1. Study the Basics
From binary trees to Dijkstra’s algorithm, there are plenty of data structures and algorithms that are staples in technical interviews and in the industry. Plenty of talented engineers, data scientists, and developers may scratch their heads in confusion when asked to write an algorithm that efficiently retrieves the depth of a binary tree. Fortunately, there’s an effective way to avoid being caught flat-footed.
The effort to build your whiteboarding skills begins before you reach the whiteboard. Study data structures, algorithms, and common problems that are relevant to the role for which you are interviewing. Having these fundamentals memorized will help you figure out how to navigate and solve technical questions quicker and easier.
2. Think Out Loud
In a technical interview, the interviewer will not know the difference between a silent interviewee who is perplexed and a silent interviewee who is on their way to the solution. Practice explaining your thoughts out loud as you think through technical problems. There is another reason developing this skill is critical for your interview. Being able to execute without being able to explain limits your ability to work alongside your potential colleagues. When you share a project with your coworkers, they will rely on you being able to describe your ideas. Interviewers are looking at more than the code you write on the whiteboard; they are listening to how you talk about it and weighing how easy it might be to work with you.
3. Practice Coding Without Assistance
When was the last time you wrote code without an IDE, a linter, or a debugger? A whiteboard will not tell you that you forgot a semicolon. Get comfortable with writing code by hand without any of the automated assistance you may rely on day-to-day. Additionally, ensure that your handwriting is legible, that you are writing in straight lines, and that the size of the characters you are writing is a good fit for the board. If you find yourself quickly running out of space on the board, you’re probably writing too big. Do your best to find a font size that allows you to fit your full solution on the board.
4. No Impulsive Erasing
If you run out of space to write or would like to change your approach to the problem, always ask the interviewer whether it’s okay to erase what you have written before erasing it. Never erase the bulk of what you have written without asking. What you write is a record of your thought process. It’s common for interviewers to take a picture of the whiteboard at the end of the interview to add to their interview notes. If you change your mind about how you approached the problem and erase your work, you may run out of time before writing a sufficient portion of your new solution. As a result, there will be no record from your interview for your interviewer to add to their notes. That means that the interviewer might not be able to recall how well you did at all. Be sure that the interviewer has what they need from the whiteboard before you erase it.
Being Prepared Provides Confidence
Mastering these skills is the key to excelling at whiteboarding in technical interviews. Relax and take pride in your new ability. Good luck with your interview!