Anyone who has looked for a job in the technology sector in recent years knows how long and grueling the process of finding one can be. According to data collected in 2017 by hiring platform Workable, filling an Information Technology job in the U.S. and Canada takes 51 days on average, compared to 56 days globally. Much of that time is taken up with interviews: in 2017, a study titled How Long Does it Take to Hire? from job site Glassdoor found that the interview process took more than 20 days for tech-related jobs and ran well over 30 days for software development engineers and IT managers.
To help job seekers improve their chances in this increasingly extensive interview process, "mock interview" sites have sprung up that let applicants practice their interviewing before it counts, and receive feedback from peers or experienced tech company interviewers.
It's hard to get a read on how many such sites there are. "Many companies are working on this, but they come and go since it is really hard to make a profit," according to a spokesperson for one such site, Gainlo. Pooya Amini, an Amazon software engineer and cofounder of TechMockInterview, estimates there are "around 10 well-known websites providing the service (excluding recruiting companies) for software engineers."
Typically, the sites have been launched by working software engineers (like Amini) with the intention of helping their peers. "A couple of years ago, Nazanin Bakhshi—the other cofounder and a software engineer at Google—and I were having interviews, and we started to mock-interview each other in order to prepare for the real ones," Amini recalls. "We were thinking that it would be great if we could be mock-interviewed by some experienced interviewers to know our areas for improvement. Once we both got our desired positions, we started TechMockInterview to help people like ourselves." (Amini and Bakhshi also have drawn on their interview experience for a book published last fall, Cracking the Behavioral Interviews for Software Engineers.)
Similarly, said the Gainlo spokesperson, "We started to help our friends, and they all thought mock interviews helped a lot. We think we should help others, so since 2015 we've hired interviewers from top companies to serve more candidates."
Aline Lerner, cofounder of Interviewing.io, says the engineering community is very tight-knit, and "there's a sense that we're all in this together." She got the idea for her site when she started to question the value of resumes; she sent anonymized resumes to recruiters and hiring managers, and discovered there was little agreement on what a good candidate looked like. She founded Interviewing.io to help candidates get past the resume stage and directly to an interview.
Most of the mock interview sites charge job seekers for the service. TechMockInterview, for example, charges $109 for a one-hour interview covering algorithms and coding ($299 for three sessions) or $129 for an hour-long interview on system design and scalability. The mock interview is conducted by a real interviewer from a tech company, and includes verbal and written feedback. "The service is profitable," says Amini, "but considering the interviewers' fee and other costs, our margin is pretty low."
Gainlo's fees are in the same range: "$100 to $200 per mock interview," says the spokesperson. "We are based in Silicon Valley, and our costs are really high, so we can just keep Gainlo going."
MyInterviewPractice, by contrast, doesn't use actual technology company interviewers, but rather an algorithm that compiles questions to match a candidate's profile. Candidates can record their sessions and invite others to review their performance and offer feedback. This subscription-based approach ranges in cost from $19.99 for one month up to $59.99 for six months.
Some sites don't charge job seekers at all.
In an approach reminiscent of students correcting each other's papers, Pramp has candidates interview each other. After the candidate describes the kind of interview they want, the site pairs them with a peer and supplies some interview questions. The collaborative interviews take place over video, after which the two participants provide each other with feedback. Pramp's approach and pricing make it popular: at the beginning of 2018, the site was scheduling 10,000 interviews a month.
Interviewing.io is free because it's actually the front end for a job board. "We're kind of the three-sided marketplace," says Lerner. "We have candidates, then we have interviewers, and lastly we have employers that are looking to hire." Job seekers sign up with Interviewing.io and schedule anonymous practice interviews "with senior people from Google, Facebook, Dropbox, Microsoft, and so on," says Lerner. If a candidate does well on the interviews, the employer portal is unlocked so the job seeker can view job listings and book an actual interview right away. "They get a guaranteed technical interview at the employer, often as early as the next day," says Lerner. "It really short-circuits a lot of the normal process of applying for jobs."
By the nature of the process, it's hard for the operators of the mock interview sites to quantify how successful their clients are in their job searches. "We have about 5,000 engineers who sign up for Interviewing.io every month," says Lerner. "We tell our customers that you're probably going to talk to about the top 3% of engineers—that's a few hundred really great software engineers every month. Of the candidates who talk to companies, on average about 70% pass technical screens. If you look at other sources companies are using, a really good process is like 20% to 25% percent, so we are more than three times more effective than other channels."
Still, that's just the technical screening stage. As for actual placements, "it's very hard to find out," says TechMockInterview's Amini. "Some people get hired to the position they want and send us thank-you emails. Some get hired and do not update us. Some candidates might land the job months after they use our service."
Yet the benefits persist, says Amini. "Our goal is to help our candidates to know their areas for improvement, not only for their upcoming interviews, but for their careers as well. We have seen many talented candidates who did poorer than expected in the mock interviews, but with a little guidance about their areas for improvement, they performed well in real interviews. Our service tries to fill this gap between the candidates' potential and their actual performance."
Jake Widman is a San Francisco, CA-based freelance writer focusing on connected devices, smart homes and smart cities, extended reality, and other emerging technologies.
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