By Kevin Wu, co-founder and CEO at Pathrise

Whether you are looking for software engineering, product management, design, marketing, data science or a different type of role in the tech space, you should be prepared to participate in a technical interview or challenge.

Job seekers are expecting these challenges and working hard to prepare for them technically by mastering the topics they will cover. Practicing similar questions and whiteboarding them out on your own are helpful when preparing. For software engineers specifically, there are a lot of sites that provide similar questions, with coding environments, so they can get a good sense of what is expected of them technically.

What a lot of people don't realize is that preparing for and solving the technical questions are not the only criteria they will be evaluated on. Here are just some of the tips my company gives our job seekers to make sure that they have the confidence they need to nail their technical interviews.

To start, a lot of people think that speed is the most important, and they want to dive right into solving the problem. And yes, there is often a time limit, but that does not mean you shouldn’t take a moment to read and reread the question before doing anything else. Then, ask clarifying questions so that you make sure you have everything correct before beginning to work.

Examples of these types of clarifying questions for software engineers:

  • “Can I expect there to be duplicates or repetitions?” This is a common and useful question for any list problems where your solution could differ a lot depending on whether duplicates or repetitions of the input is allowed.
  • “Could I use pseudocode or a visualization to make sure I understand the problem?” It's not always easy to understand a given problem or situation just through words. Using written communication can help confirm that your interpretation of the problem matches the interviewers’. 
  • “How do you want to define X?” Some interviewers will purposely leave the definition of your input, and the problem in general, very vague. It's helpful to state your assumptions and then ask if they are correct. 

Once you have your initial questions answered, you can begin working on the problem at hand. A lot of people work in silence, but I actually recommend that you explain what you are doing as you do it. I call this proactively showing positive signal; it is a tactic used by strong candidates who explain exactly what is going through their minds as they problem solve.

This gives you an opportunity to not only explain the “what” but also the “why.” In addition, providing context and correct tidbits of knowledge means that if you are going down a slightly different path than what the interviewer is thinking, you can change how you are interpreted.

What if you get to a point where you need help? You believe you are on the right track, but you want confirmation before you jump into the next step. Know that it is OK to ask the interviewer questions throughout the process.

In my experience, some interviewers really don’t like the word “hint,” so  you can say, “My assumptions are X and Y, I’m thinking of doing Z. But I’m struggling with solving [problem].” You can also ask collaborative questions like:

  • “I was wondering if you had thoughts about this approach.”
  • “Do you think I’m going in the right direction?”
  • “Would you say my assumptions are correct?”

Similarly, you can ask permission questions -- each interviewer has different preferences on what they allow and don’t allow when assessing candidates. Questions about whether or not you can Google syntax or move forward with a less optimal solution to get to a different part of the question are helpful to ask as well.

While it is important to answer the technical questions correctly in these interviews, adding these elements of context and positive signal while reducing negative and empty space can help you stand out more than your peers and increase your chances of moving forward after the technical round. What happens if there's not enough positive signal? The obvious answer is that you'll most likely not be moving on to the next round.

Throughout the whole interview, the interviewers will be taking notes on every little thing they see and feel. Some interviewers can be very nitpicky since each one has different things they value. One interviewer might find it really important that you ask clarifying questions, while another interviewer could focus more on overall communication. 

In many cases, the results of your interview are not only based on whether you got the correct answer or not. A big chunk of the decision to hire someone comes from whether the interviewer felt good about the interview as a whole.

Kevin Wu is co-founder and CEO at Pathrise, helping students and young professionals around the country land their dream jobs.