The interview process at tech companies can be long and grueling. Let us take away some of the unknown by outlining common interview structures for strategy and operations roles at tech companies.
You may not come across all of these during an interview process (and they may be in a different order!), but preparing for each should help you cover your bases.
Who: Someone from the internal HR or recruiting team
How Long: ~15-45 minutes
Purpose: Aside from resume filtering, HR is the first filtering conversation you will have. Their goal is to narrow the field of candidates before scheduling interviews with the rest of the interview panel.
What: They’ll want to ensure you cover the basic requirements for the role and are generally a good fit for the team. You may be asked about: legal ability to work, professional experience in a field, expected compensation, technical skills and your passion for the role.
Preparation: Make sure you have the basic requirements for the role and are able to speak to them with examples, where relevant. Also prepare for the classic “tell me about yourself” interview questions (see tips here!). You'll want to make the hiring screen as conversational as possible (rather than a stiff Q&A) - help the hiring manager understand your points of view and be engaging.
🌟 The Commons Tip: Prepare for the “what’s your expected compensation” question so that you can respond confidently (see our mentors advice here).
Technical Screening / Take Home Assignment
Who: Generally either a program or a potential future team member
How Long: 45+ minutes, activity dependent
Purpose: Determine if you have the basic technical skill qualifications for the role. You’ll be evaluated on your logical reasoning (eg. what columns are needed for a SQL output), communication (how you communicate your thought process before diving in, asking clarifying questions, etc.) and code quality / proficiency.
What: Depending on the role, you may need to showcase hard skills such as SQL, data visualization and Excel proficiency. This could be done remotely - for example: an Excel test where you have a specified amount of time to solve a series of questions. Or it may be done in real-time where you share your screen with the interviewer - for example: a problem where you need to leverage SQL. Typically you’ll be given a dataset to analyze.
Preparation: It’s really difficult to nail a technical interview unless you’ve actually practiced using formulas (whether it’s SQL, Excel, etc).
🧠 We might be a bit biased, but we think the best place to learn SQL in the context of a real business problem is through the The Commons' Strategy + Operations Sprint. You’ll learn fundamental SQL skills through workshops, have access to a data Slack channel and mentors who use SQL daily, and you’ll apply your learnings to a real business problem. It’s as close to being on the job you can get without being on the job. In a time crunch? Try testdome, w3resource or this guide for practice interview questions.
Advice from The Commons community for preparing for live SQL interviews:
- Brush up on the basics: Learn how to calculate the median, some window functions, and how to use CTE. Practice joins, case statements and aggregate functions.
- “I’d recommend doing mock interviews using a timer and questions from Leetcode or HackerRank. Aim for 5 minutes for easy questions, 10 minutes for medium ones, and 15 minutes for the hard ones.” - Alumni, January ‘21 (now Data Analyst @ Electronic Arts)
- It should also go without saying that you shouldn’t oversell your skills on your resume! "Humility and willingness to learn is always better than someone saying they're strong in something, and the hiring manager/interviewer seeing right through you." - Julie-Anne, Mentor at The Commons
🌟 The Commons Tip: If you get stuck and can't remember how to use a specific SQL function, verbally walk the interviewer through what you would like to do and why, and explain how you would brush up on your skills. Also, always walk the interviewer through your logic and application as you write out your query. Ultimately, your interviewer usually cares more about your ability to dive into the problem from a few different angles. They might even give you a hint as you talk out loud!
Advice from The Commons community for nailing live SQL interviews:
- Communicate: Talk through your solution (make the interview feel collaborative). Think out loud. If you’re stuck, just say what you’re thinking or what might work. If you are doing the assignment remotely, make sure you show your work so the interviewer can easily review it later (tip: use comments in your code)
- Keep it simple: Simplify analysis with good formatting and presentation to make it easier for the reviewer.
- Work backwards from the solution: Keep paper in front of you if that’s allowed. Write out what the result looks like in the form of a result output table. This will help you identify niche cases to account for in your query.
- Don’t worry about syntax at first and just focus on getting your thoughts down. Solve a simpler version of the problem. Think about how to find the simple solution and see if you can adapt that approach.
Who: Hiring Manager (i.e. the person hiring for the role; typically the manager of the role)
How Long: 45+ minutes
Purpose: The hiring manager will typically make the ultimate call on whether or not to give a candidate an offer, so they'll be asking questions that are critical to them as they think about filling the role (eg. What gaps on their team are they currently looking to fill? And how well do you plug those holes?). They may hone in on a specific competency and will be sussing out fit and your ability to work together.
What: This interview is likely a mix of behavioural questions, and may include an on-the-spot case.
Preparation: It’s helpful to prepare a rolodex of examples that you can leverage for a variety of responses. Check the job description and prepare 2-3 stories from past experiences that speak to each of the listed requirements. Be prepared to demonstrate that you possess the desired requirements, technical skills, motivation, and overall cultural fit.
💭 The end of this interview is a great time for you to ask questions about the role and team; you want to be confident the fit is mutual. Be thoughtful and specific (see our post on 5 insightful questions to ask) & do your research on the hiring manager ahead of time!
🌟 The Commons Tip: Mentor at The Commons Julie-Anne shared some advice for articulating these stories. You should include: Brief context → How I assessed the situation → What I did → What was the outcome and what did I learn → ALWAYS followed by a closing sentence tying it back to the question that they asked.
Who: At this stage, you'll likely have a series of interviews with potential future collaborators. This may include: peer-level team members, individuals from affiliated departments, and senior leaders. Interviews may be conducted 1:1 or with a panel of interviewers.
How Long: 45-60 minutes
Purpose: Dig deeper into your past work history, motivations, strengths and gaps. It's also an opportunity for different members of the team to get to know you and provide their perspectives to the hiring manager.
What: Similar to the hiring manager interview, be prepared to demonstrate that you possess the desired requirements, technical skills, motivation, and overall cultural fit. Do your research and prepare a rolodex of examples that speak to each of the listed requirements.
- Be sure to also look at the company values and prepare examples that speak to each of them. Examples of values may include topics like bias to action, ownership, doing the right thing, etc. Typically teamwork and ability to collaborate with others are common topics.
- You may also interview with senior leader. They'll be assessing a) your fit as a future leader and b) if you're a culture carrier. Leadership looks to understand the candidates vision, how self aware they are, and their ability to influence.
Preparation: See prep for the hiring manager interview.
🌟 The Commons Tip: You can expect each interviewer to focus on something different, as they try to evaluate against different aspects of the role requirements. It may be that they're looking to understand specific competencies, like stakeholder management or communication. They may be looking to understand how creative you can be (be prepared for a few curveball questions) or bias to action. As Max, one of our DoorDash mentors shared, "creativity is all about answering the curveballs with sincerity and giving [the interviewer] some detail for why you think a certain way. On bias to action, you want clear examples of how you've done the nitty gritty work yourself (without support)".
Often these teams are lean and they need to feel confident that the individual in the role can be resourceful, make decisions and deliver impact.
Who: Typically a team member or a cross-functional stakeholder
How Long: 45-60 minutes, case dependent
Purpose: Think of the case interview as a test of your technical skills, business acumen and problem solving abilities.
What: The case may be a take-home case, where you prepare materials - typically a deck - in advance, and present it during the interview. Alternatively, you may just send it in for the team to review (no presentation involved). You may be given a scenario and / or a dataset to work with. Or, it might be an on-the-spot case, where you'll receive a prompt that you need to answer in real time. In this case, you’ll be given time to read a situation before formulating an opinion.
Preparation: You should try to prepare for case interviews in the context of the business you are interviewing for. For example - make sure you understand:
- Their overall business model (consider thinking about: how does their business work, how do they make money, what are common metrics that are important to that business and how do they interact with each other),
- Competitive landscape (how is their offering different from competitors, what is their competitive advantage or value proposition),
- What are the company objectives?
- Pain-points & barriers to achieving the objectives (what are current pain points & how can they be mitigated? What is limiting (or what could limit) achieving the company objectives - these can be internal or external factors, like regulations)
Consider the role and what questions may be asked of that person if they were hired - these often make good case interview questions. For example:
- If it is a market launcher role, you may be asked about how you would evaluate when to expand and what markets to select
- If it is a marketplace health role, you may be asked to evaluate city health metrics and answer questions accordingly
- If it is a role that focuses on process improvement, you may be given steps in a process and be asked how you could improve it
- and so on…
Additional advice from mentors at The Commons:
- Never provide recommendations at a high level (i.e. improve growth by investing marketing) and always share your tactical recommendations (i.e. we have to reduce our CAC by finding a more efficient audience segment)
🌟 The Commons Tip: There often isn't a correct answer in a case interview. Instead, the interviewers are looking to understand how you break down complex, ambiguous problems. Ask clarifying questions if needed, be sure to structure your thinking rather than diving in sporadically, and clearly articulate a recommendation that you can confidently stand behind. If you're interviewing for an Ops role, it may be relevant to touch on implementation. This could include: timelines, other teams & resources required, and risks and mitigations.
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