How does the interview process differ for tech positions vs. non-tech positions?

Many people often ask, how does the interview process look in the world of tech and startups? How do I prepare to interview for a technical vs a non-technical role? Overall, the interview process should be similar regardless of the role you are interviewing for, except technical roles will have a technical challenge of some sort. These challenges will take the shape of a take-home problem, pair-programming, bug-hunting, or white-boarding out a problem with your interviewers. Every one of these “challenges” has its supporters and detractors, and some work better for certain situations than others.

The following is a typical interview process for the majority of tech startups and scaleups. The caveat, every organization is different and will have its own variance to this process.

Step 1: The HR Screen

Usually, this is performed by someone in HR/Recruitment but can sometimes be a Hiring Manager for the role. Questions tend to focus on your previous experience, why you applied, what you know about the company and/or product, and a bit about yourself. Generally, there is very little difference between a technical and non-technical culture screen.

Step 2: The Hiring Manager Screen

This call focuses on your specific skills for the role. If it is a technical role, expect to be asked about previous projects you worked on, what you contributed both from a software standpoint and as a team member. For non-technical roles, the focus is on company impact, how did your projects or role impact the company, what is the ROI on what you did. If you have data and hard numbers make sure to share them,

Step 3: The Challenge

Now, this step can either be before or after Step 2 depending on how a company likes to structure its process. For technical roles, expect a coding challenge or problem to solve either at home or in the interview (Step 4). For non-technical roles, this is usually a case study to look at to come prepared to discuss in the interview.

Step 4: The Interview

The interview is where you really get to learn the most about a company, as well as let them get to know you. No matter what role you are interviewing for, you should prepare by looking into the company’s history, what the team looks like, who you would be working with, and the main product you would be working on. This doesn’t mean LinkedIn stalk the whole team but go through the website, learn the product by signing up for their free tier (if available) and read the help docs. If they are VC backed, learn who their main investor is. Almost all of this info can be found just by going through their website. For both technical and non-technical roles, this is where you will go through your challenge, whether it is white-boarding, pair programming, problem-solving, or giving your report on a case study, make sure to ask a lot of questions and narrate what you are doing. Take your interviewers along with you as you showcase your thought process and skills. Practice with a friend or your partner to smooth out the rough edges.

Step 5: The Money Talk

Now if you have made it this far you generally have a call with someone from HR and either a Hiring Manager or Founder depending on the size of the company. Now, most companies will ask you what you expect to be paid or what your previous role paid you, I think this is ridiculous and they should have posted the salary with the role. If you are asked your salary expectations you have a couple of options. Give them your current Salary + 10-15% Ask them what the salary range is for the role (they might not answer this). Either way, this is usually the part of any interview process that causes the most stress as a candidate, and entire blog posts have been written about how to navigate this one step. You can tell a lot about a company depending on how they come to this conversation.

That is it, simple. Now, of course, every company will be a bit different and have more or fewer steps but generally, any company that has put some thought into their interview process will run through an interview process similar to the one highlighted above. The main difference between a technical and non-technical interviewing process will happen in Step 3, The Challenge. Technical roles require a lot of the same skills as any non-technical role. Most interview processes will reflect this and test for it.

About the author

Noah Warder (COO and Co-Founder at Battlesnake) - passionate about organizational design and experimenting with new and exciting ideas and processes to create safe, inclusive, and efficient spaces for teams to come together to share their most creative ideas. Whether that is through new diversity and inclusion initiatives, mentorship programs, manager and interview training or just being another person to talk ideas through, Noah is always taking feedback and iterating on what is working and what is not.

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