Silicon Valley internship - interview tips?
May 16, 2018 4:46 PM   Subscribe

A student of mine with a strong background in data science is interviewing for an internship in Silicon Valley. They are from East Asia, and I'm helping them prepare for the language skills needed for their interview, but does anyone here have any helpful tips about interviewing for a job in Silicon Valley? Which questions should they prepare to answer?

Hello AskMeFi!

A student of mine is interviewing for an internship in Silicon Valley. They are a college student in their early 20s, with a strong background in data science -- taught themselves Excel at age 9, completed multiple courses in their preteens, and currently studying Computer Science in college.

They are from East Asia, and it is a huge leap for them to be making. I'm helping them prepare for the language skills needed for their interview, but does anyone here have any helpful tips about interviewing for a job in Silicon Valley? Which questions should they prepare to answer? TIA!
posted by anonymous to Technology (2 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
My advice here is based on having interviewed at and interviewed for software developer roles at large established companies. These practices have trickled down to some smaller companies, for better or for worse, but startups are a wildcard, and someone else can chime in on that.

Your student will probably not have to answer a single "Tell us about a time you've dealt with a conflict in a team situation..." / "Tell me about an obstacle you've overcome" / classical STAR question. I also would not worry about demonstrating well-roundedness.

Interviews might open with some warm up questions like "Tell me about a recent project / tough technical problem you've worked on," or "What would you be most excited to work on this summer?" in which case it's good to have some answers ready. But basically, as long as you're baseline conversational, it should be ok. Maybe practice the "Hi (name of interviewer), nice to meet you too" + handshake / eye contact if you think your student would benefit.

The bulk of the interviews will be the equivalent of an oral exam in algorithms / data structures, which your student should have had a course in, and should have support from the career / recruitment director of the computer science department, other departmental groups, or from engineers sent by the companies themselves.

Interviewers ask a vague question, and the interviewee's first few minutes should be spent asking clarifying questions. They should write a few examples of the problem to confirm that they understand what's being asked; once they think you've solved the problem, they should run these cases through their code to check that it works.

Your student should practice writing compilable code on a whiteboard as well as a text editor (e.g. Notepad) while explaining key steps, and be ready to give the running time and space of their solution.

One thing you may be able to help your student with is taking hints from the interviewer, and treating the interviewer as a collaborator rather than an examiner. i.e. it's a very good thing if they stop midway to ask more questions, and to be constantly explaining. This is where you demonstrate that you'll be able to communicate.

The interview may close with "Do you have any questions for me?" I have survived this question with just "What do you do here?" or "What's one thing you would change about your product?" or "What path did you take to get to your current position?" Your student can probably think of more interesting ones.

Maybe watch this video of a sample interview?
posted by batter_my_heart at 10:06 PM on May 16


Your student will probably not have to answer a single "Tell us about a time you've dealt with a conflict in a team situation..." / "Tell me about an obstacle you've overcome" / classical STAR question.

Not necessarily true in my experience. I'd say roughly 80% of my internship interviews in software development included a STAR question or two at some point in the process. The rest of batter_my_heart's advice is sound.

But I'd note that you aren't very clear about whether this is a software development or data science position. I've never interviewed for data science positions but as I understand it they ask different questions. This book might be helpful.

If it is software development, get him a copy of Cracking the Coding Interview. That is the software engineering interview bible, and will cover all his questions in far more detail than anyone can provide here.
posted by perplexion at 11:24 AM on May 17


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