Main image of article Turning a Failed Tech Interview Into a Learning Opportunity

No matter how much you prepare and study, it’s easy to get tripped up in a technical interview. For virtually every tech role, the potential number of questions (and answers) is vast, especially if an interviewer really wants to dig down into the technical nuances of a tool, platform, language, or service.

In fact, based on some rough data, the average pass rate for technical interviews is about 54 percent—and reportedly as low as 15 to 20 percent at tech giants that have a highly competitive and rigorous hiring process.

While your ego may take a hit in the aftermath, failing a technical interview can be an opportunity to identify the areas where you need to improve and learn something new. To help you appreciate failure and use it as a learning opportunity, we asked three tech pros to share the steps they took to recover after failing a technical interview.

Do a Brain Dump

Farhana Mustafa has learned to write down every question the interviewer asked and how she responded. She does this as soon as the interview ends, while it’s still fresh in her mind.

Like many of her peers, keeping a diary helps the senior software engineer for Intuit reflect on her performance, as well as spot patterns, trends and opportunities to improve her technical and interviewing skills.

Davide de Paolis, technical lead at Goodgame Studios, uses a sort of retrospective review to compare his answers with those of Google, ChatGPT or colleagues. This helps put the interview in a different context.

“I can review my performance and identify the cause as a lack of knowledge in a specific area, or an inability to manage stress and time pressure,” he says. “Then I can focus on improving that specific skill by studying or solving quizzes and technical puzzles within a short period of time.”

Critiquing your own performance not only helps you evaluate the correctness of your answers, but your ability to present your ideas clearly and logically, which is at least half the battle.

Ask for Feedback

The ideal situation is that you pair your self-assessment with feedback from the interviewer to get an objective view of your strengths and weaknesses.

Since most technical evaluators want you to explain your thought process while working through a problem, asking temperature-checking questions like “Is this the approach you’re looking for?” or “How does this sound?” is a good way to see if you’re on the same wavelength and adjust your approach before it’s too late.

Some interviewers voluntarily provide detailed feedback after an interview, but if they don’t, Sándor Dargó, senior engineer at Spotify always reaches out to see what they thought about his performance.

Feedback specificity is critical, because it helps tech job seekers improve by addressing their strengths and weaknesses directly.

Study for the Test

A technical interview isn’t so much about what you know; it’s about passing the test. So unless you’re studying the right things, the questions and format may take you by surprise.

For instance, Mustafa was surprised and stumped when interviewers asked her a Fizz Buzz interview question. She suffered the same fate when she was asked to solve LeetCode problems focused on data structures with graphs or algorithms.

Despite being well-prepared, Dargó says he clearly underestimated the importance of the big O analysis. You rarely have to analyze a piece of code in terms of runtime and space complexity on the job, but it’s a must during technical interviews, he explained. He boosted his performance by studying the time and space requirements of the most-used C++ standard functions.

To simulate the various testing environments, Mustafa recruited friends to randomly select medium-level LeetCode problems for her to solve on a timed video call while sharing her screen. She also organized a group that practiced solving questions on a whiteboard and another that tackled data structures and algorithm problems.

In addition to LeetCode, Mustafa now researches typical interview questions for front-end developers and uses side projects to hone relevant, task-related skills well before an interview.

Try to get as much information as possible before the interview, de Paolis advised. Will it involve live coding, algorithm and data structure quizzes? Is it pseudo-code whiteboard interviews or system design? Having a bit of knowledge about the role, the interview format and the company’s tech stack can help you refresh your skills and knowledge and practice before an interview.

Recognize that Style Matters as Much as Substance

Through feedback, many tech pros learn that style matters as much as substance when answering technical questions. For instance, based on feedback, Mustafa now spends more time discussing options for handling error cases when presenting solutions.

She also offers alterative solutions to show that she is willing to challenge the status quo. And she boosted her confidence in working toward a solution by deploying the UMPIRE interview strategy.

Most importantly, she has accepted the fact that it is okay to simply answer, “I don’t know.” If you can demonstrate how you think through a problem, your interviewer may be just as impressed with your thought process as a solution.

Keys to Recovering and Rebounding

What are the keys to recovering and going on to ace your next technical interview? Don’t take it personally.

You need to be confident enough so that a failed interview will not keep you down. In addition, you need to be humble enough to recognize that you have a lot to learn.

“Keep pushing it,” Dargó says. “Realize that with study and perseverance you'll be able to ace the next interview that comes along.”