Do you know the story of Chandan Kumar? Despite failing to get into the IITs and NITs, he was set on one goal – to find his dream job in a product based company. After refusing an offer from a small-time company during his campus placements, he applied to several companies, asked friends to refer him internally, and reached out to HRs on LinkedIn. But, none of that worked.

“I started to apply for big dream companies. I started dropping my resume into their job portal. Three months later I realized, they don’t work, for freshers and especially if you are not from a premium college.”

He pursued his dream relentlessly and 3 months later, he finally achieved it.

Now, there are lakhs of freshers and developers in service based companies like Chandan in our country who are extremely talented but are unable to get a job in a product based company. Either the companies you want to work with do not visit your college during campus placements or outright reject your application. If you relate to this, keep reading on.

Most of us would love to work in a product based company for various reasons.

The pay, perks, and the prestige that come with these companies are inviting. You get to work with cutting edge technologies, and be surrounded by product-minded people. Overall, it can lead to a satisfying career in the longer run.

But the important question is how to get a job in product based companies?

In this article, you will learn how to prepare for product based companies and tackle their multiple rounds of interviews:

  1. Exploratory call
  2. Coding assessment
  3. Personal interview round
  4. Engineering round
  5. Culture fit round

Let us break down the complete interview process, round by round, what interviewers look for in candidates, and how you can prepare for each of these rounds.

1. Exploratory call

The exploratory interview allows you to learn more about the organization, and the interviewer about you. It sets the expectation for the rest of the interview process.

It is usually a 30-minute casual phone call in which the interviewer shares information about the role and explores your interest and qualities to suit the job.


What are interviewers looking for?

They want to know if your skills and strengths match what you have shared in your resume. The projects you have previously worked on come into the picture. They ask questions to get a general idea about your involvement, functionality and usefulness of the project, and the tech stack you used.

The next thing interviewers want to understand is about your career goals. They need to know if the company can offer you the opportunities to achieve your goals and provide you with a long, rewarding career with them.

How to prepare for this round?

Research the company deeply. Find out what the company does, what products it sells, and other background information as it will showcase your interest in the company. Also gather information about their different projects (both past and ongoing) and pick your favorites to bring up in the conversation.

If you can, talk to current employees of the company to understand what the company does at a much deeper level.

Further, prepare a few questions you can ask the interviewer that will help you understand more about the company and the role.

Be ready to answer about your career goals. Think in terms of what you want from your career, say, three to five years in the future.

If things go well, you might even proceed for a quick technical evaluation – a coding round or a technical quiz.

2. Coding assessment

This is a preliminary test before the company decides to invest more time in you. You will be given a series of coding tasks in a development environment to test your programming knowledge and skills.

It is usually a take-home test that comes with a deadline.

Another approach taken is an on-the-spot time-based test in which you are asked to solve multiple problems.

What are interviewers looking for?

The first thing they look for in this round is if you have the knowledge and can code in a specific programming language.

You will be expected to solve a finite set of problems in a time-bound manner. Speed will play a deciding factor in evaluating your performance in this round.

Make sure you add comments in your code and document your thought process to make it easier for the reviewer to understand your approach.

Not just that, the questions you ask in this round reflect clarity in thought, a quality assessed in product-minded engineers.

They also want to see your testing approach, how you debug your code, and overall correctness and completeness of your solution.

How to prepare for this round?

Quite often, you get to pick the language of your choice, unless the requirement is for a specific language. If you are given the option, pick the one that you are adept at even if you are familiar with multiple languages. And most importantly, stick to it until the end of the interview process.

Being a time-bounded assessment, work on improving your speed while practicing for this round.


3. Personal interview round

In this round, you will be given live coding challenges to prove your skills. There is no standard template for this round as different companies conduct their interview in different ways. This stage can even be extended to multiple rounds in some companies.

What are interviewers looking for?

Problem solving skills
Interviewers are going to test your problem solving skills during this round. The data structures and algorithms you choose to demonstrate your problem-solving abilities leave a lasting impression on the interviewer.

Since data structures are fundamental and common to all programming languages, a variety of scenarios can be tested using the same problem asked in multiple interviews.

Coding in front of an interviewer can be quite stressful, especially when you are not used to it. As for the interviewer, it gives a glimpse into your approach and logic, how you think, and your ability to code under pressure.

Interviewers are also interested to see what you do when you are stuck; they want to see if you ask the right questions before rushing to figure out a solution.

The aim of this round is not to see if you write flawless code but to understand your approach.

However, you will be expected to write a piece of code without compiling errors. You might also be asked to test your code for “interesting” cases manually.

Analytical thinking skills
Interviewers also pay attention to your analytical thinking skills, i.e. the kind of trade-offs you make when you write and optimize your code.

These kinds of questions also help assess your critical-thinking abilities and how you think through problems to arrive at solutions.

Coding skills
The tasks given during this round often include writing code from scratch as well as editing existing code. While it is not possible to fully assess your coding skills, they can evaluate your coding style and your ability to code well.

Another decisive factor is the readability of your code. They see if the variables are named clearly and are self-explanatory. So that if anyone reads your code, they can understand them.

Communication skills
You are going to build tools that are most likely going to be used by non-tech-savvy people. So, another key trait interviewers look for is your ability to communicate complex ideas in a simple manner.

How to prepare for this round?

When it comes to preparing for this round, quality beats quantity.

Most product based companies come up with difficult, algorithm-intensive problems. After practicing thousands of problems, if you are still stuck when faced with an unseen problem, have you really learned how to apply data structures?

While practicing, break down the problem and write the pseudocode for it. The more you do this, the easier it is going to get for you to simplify your problem and recognize patterns in unseen questions.

Once you have got a hang of it, time yourself, and practice multiple problems to improve your speed.

To improve coding style and readability, treat every line of code you write as if it were production-ready. Have a programmer friend read your code and ask for feedback. If they can understand it without much hassle, your coding skills are in top shape


4. Engineering round

The engineering round, on the other hand, is categorically different. It is meant to evaluate your foundation in computer science and raw programming ability. This is done usually through formulaic questions on data structures and algorithms to understand your approach, thinking, and choices made while working on technical projects.

What are interviewers looking for?

While not too different from the coding round, interviewers look for more specific things here:

  • Your involvement in past projects mentioned in your resume.
  • Your experience in technologies in demand (that are relevant to the company’s product).
  • Your knowledge of OOP principles and how you can apply them in real-world scenarios.

Just like the coding round, you get to pick the language of your choice during this round. It is important to showcase your knowledge in this language as interviewers use it as a framework to test how well you code.

Theoretical know-how is great, but you also need to be prepared to have meaningful discussions about your project work.

It is crucial that you have a solid answer to back the purpose of your project. Interviewers are keen to understand your thought process behind selecting and working on the project(s) shown in your resume.

With regard to OOPs (Object Oriented Programming), interviewers check how you:

  • Segmented the problem into well-organized classes.
  • Picked the right base classes and derived classes.
  • Organized your class variables and methods.

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How to prepare for this round?

Your technical projects stand out in your resume and can give you an edge over other candidates. So, you need to carefully pick the ones that can leave a lasting impression on the interviewer. Generally, showcasing 3 to 5 projects is a good idea.

Read this for useful tips on – "How to write project description in resume?"

While picking these projects, go for the ones that will highlight in-demand skills and technologies like web development, android/iOS app development, ReactJS, NodeJs, Django, MYSQL, Redis, etc.

Along with this, prepare clear and specific answers to talk about:

  1. Goals of your project(s).
  2. Technical challenges faced.
  3. Technical choices made to overcome the challenges.

Another tip a lot of engineers fail to use is capitalizing GitHub. Add your GitHub profile to your resume as employers are likely to scan your profile to check your contributions to open source projects.


5. The cultural fit round

While being a good programmer is important to land a job at a product based company, that is not all you need.

These companies place a lot of emphasis on organizational culture and evaluate whether you are the right fit based on your values, behavior, and beliefs.

The cultural fit round ensures that you are a great person to work with and the company’s goals align with yours.

What are interviewers looking for?

Interviewers like to gauge your interest by assessing what you know about the company and your expectations of it. They see if you have put in the time and effort to understand the company’s goals and values.

The next thing the company wants to assess is your inclination to work both individually and as a team. Your ability to take feedback and criticism also play an important factor here.

Apart from these, interviewers want to understand your interests outside of work, your priorities, and how you balance work and personal lives.

How to prepare for this round?

Research the company’s background beforehand. Check their website, social media, read reviews, and get in touch with people who already work there. Ask them about the organizational culture and assess if you would fit there.

Understand their mission and vision and use it as a foundation for analyzing the company’s work culture, values, and office environment.

Rehearse your answers in front of a mirror or with a friend. The more you practice, the more comfortable you become during the actual interview.

Commonly asked interview questions in this round:

  1. Tell me about yourself.
  2. Where do you see yourself in the next three years?
  3. What excites you about the job?
  4. Why did you apply for this job?
  5. How do you identify with our company’s core values?
  6. Is there anything you would change about our office/website/hiring process/business model?
  7. Which are the top 5 startups/blogs that you follow? What do you like about them?
  8. How do you stay organized?
  9. What tools or apps allow you to work more efficiently?
  10. What are your hobbies?
  11. What does work-life balance mean to you?
  12. What would be your ideal work schedule?
  13. Describe a time when you exceeded people’s expectations.
  14. What has been the greatest disappointment of your life to date?
  15. If you do not get this position, what will be your next career move?

In addition to rehearsing answers, prepare questions to ask the interviewer. This shows inquisitiveness and can avoid the conversation from being one-sided.

Quick Tips

  • Use your answers to steer the interview in your favor.
  • Keep your answers short and to the point.
  • Maintain a dialogue with your interviewer.
  • Do not speak continuously for more than a minute.

Share information that intrigues the interviewer to ask a question about it. Be prepared to answer that question. Use your answers are segue points. The interviewer’s next question always depends on the answers you give.

Use the opportunity to get to know more about the role and the company.
Your questions can revolve around:

  • Key responsibilities
  • Required skills
  • The company’s culture
  • Learning and growth opportunities
  • Team structure and hierarchy
  • Sprints
  • Tools and technologies used in the company

As a rule of thumb, avoid asking questions about working hours, holidays, the interviewer’s personal life, and salary (unless the manager brings it up first).

Miscellaneous tips to help you land an interview

Here are some general tips that will increase the likelihood of you getting the first call:

Perfect your resume

Your resume is the first step to landing your dream job. Spend some quality time on it and make sure it stands out from a sea of mediocre ones. Look at the job description and the skills requirement to tailor your resume for that particular position.

Also read: Software developer resume to land a job interview

Explore opportunities on AngelList

One of the most powerful platforms to explore opportunities in growing startups is AngelList. Register with them and scout for opportunities.

Find internships

If you are about to graduate or just graduated, consider an internship instead of a full-time job. Internships are a great opportunity to gain experience before you enter a product role and see if it is something you would enjoy doing.

Also, if you perform well, the chances are that your position will be converted to a full-time role.

Closing thoughts

Be genuinely interested in the company and in what they are doing. Be polite, honest, and receptive of feedback at all times. If you practice all these and your programming skills are top-notch, you will be able to crack the million-dollar question -

How to get into product-based companies’ in no time?’

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