The Surefire Way to Get Software Engineering Interviews – 2017 Guide

The Surefire Way to Get Software Engineering Interviews – 2017 Guide

Imagine you’ve been in the job market for a few weeks and still haven’t had a good offer.

Frustrating, isn’t it?  But there are so many companies that are just as that they can’t find the right candidate.

There are 24k companies hiring on AngelList. But you may still not get any response back from them. In fact, only 2% of applicants actually get the interview! 

So why are companies unable to recruit engineers when there are so many of them right here looking for work?

It’s simple – most companies have awful hiring processes. They walk past the right candidate all the time.

I hate to say it, but most job applications are awful as well! It’s because most of qualified candidates fail to sell themselves. So what happens to those applications? They get thrown out! They never even get into the hands of the hiring manager. Computers filter them out before they can even see the light of day.

Let’s face it — companies just don’t have the time to got through hundreds of applicants!

I can tell you that because I have been on both sides of the table.

Now, you can’t change the company’s hiring processes. But you CAN tailor the way you approach companies to increase your chances of getting seen and getting the interview.

I have been in your shoes. And I’ve made the job hunting process a science.

I came to the Valley few years ago with no development experience. I have been through the grueling process of getting my first developer job. It was terrible! But I learned a few things on the way which made the job hunting process almost like a science. And things got a lot easier afterwards!

I was also only looking at companies that could make me rich. And at the end, I had 3 offers from top companies. All just within just 29 days! And the company I joined went IPO in the 2 years while I was there. Not bad, eh?

My experience with changing professions and industries goes way back. And I started this blog so I can teach YOU how you can also grow your career using similar strategies. There are a series of posts I have in works. They cover topics like how to ace your interviews and how to create a polished LinkedIn profile that attracts companies. Want me to notify you when they’re done? Make sure you sign up at the end of this post.

In this post I will show you how to apply to companies so you get that software engineering interview.

Don’t follow the crowd

What do most people do when they’re looking for a job? They go to job boards. And they get so overwhelmed with the number of job postings that they make it a numbers game. They start behaving like a gambler in Las Vegas and apply frantically to every second job. All in hopes to just get an interview.

This behavior leads to companies getting more than 250 applications for each job posting. And most of those applicants are not even qualified for the job! In fact, the quality of an application becomes so bad that companies often don’t interview a single candidate from that pool.

My point is that online job postings get so many applications that yours will just get lost in the pool. So don’t waste time on them.

Actively find companies where YOU want to work

Early in my career, I used to approach the job search process very reactively. I would look at the job boards, see who was hiring and only apply to those companies. I would also wait for recruiters to approach me, instead of pursuing companies myself.

But that left me miserable! Just looking through job boards meant that I was limited to where I could work. But I was the kind of person that wanted total control over my career. I was on the search to find my dream job and I realized I wasn’t going to find it on job boards.

That’s when I completely changed how I approached the job search process. Instead of looking at what jobs were on the market, I started going after companies and positions where I wanted to work.

This approach dramatically increased the number of responses I got back. On average, 4 out of 6 companies would respond back to me and give me an interview. (Yes, I tracked all my applications in an excel sheet.) That’s a 67% response rate, which is pretty darn good!

Here’s how you can do it too.

Find what YOU are most passionate about

Ask yourself three simple questions:

1. What kind of work do you like to do?

If  you said “software engineering,” dive even deeper into what kind of software engineering. Frontend, Backend, DevOps? Even within these areas, there are specialties. Figure out what you are most passionate about.

2. Which industries excite you?

Every industry has a different culture. I have worked in over 8 industries, some I really liked and others I hated. For example, I wasn’t a fan of Healthcare because I found the domain very dry and boring. But I loved my time in the Financial services industry because I got to work on the system that made happen stock trades.

To find out which industries excite you the most, just look around you. See what apps you use and what companies you follow in the news. They’re most likely in an industry you like.

3. What kinds of products do you like to build?

Most products out there fall in one of two categories – B2B and B2C. B2B products are sold to other businesses, while B2C are sold directly to individuals. They both tend to have very different company cultures.

The product priorities vary as well. For example, B2C products tend to be better designed, whereas B2B products have greater focus on security and reliability. Depending on your answer to the first question, you may prefer one over the other.

Once you know what kind of work and industries you’re passionate about, it’s time to list your priorities.

List your priorities

My friend, Mike, was a brilliant software engineer at one of Silicon Valley’s top startups. But he was miserable. He was left with no time for himself. He had to commute 4 hours total every day! And his company had a strict ‘no work from home’ policy.

Mike was a pretty healthy guy when he joined that company. But soon after joining, he didn’t have time to work out any more. He also started eating unhealthy just to save time. In just four months, I could see his job had taken a toll on his health.

Mike obviously didn’t last there too long. But my point is you don’t want to end up like him. So make sure you list your priorities ahead of time. Some questions include:

  • How far are you willing to commute?
  • What’s your minimum salary requirement?
  • How much flexibility do you need to work from home?
  • How many hours a can you work per day?

Some startups are notorious for having 12+ hour days. So make sure you know ahead of time if that would work with your lifestyle.

Once you have your priorities straight, it’s time to look for companies where you’ll love working.

Find companies where YOU would love to work

Notice I didn’t mention anything about looking for “jobs” yet. Because the focus should be to first find that excite you. I’ll then show you how to land a job at those companies.

This is the Discovery phase. And my favorite way to discover new companies in a particular industry is Angel List.

Let’s say you would love to work at a company in the Education industry.

First go to

angel list filter industry

Under the market filter, type “Education”. You will find over 15,000 companies in that list!

Let’s filter some more. Let’s say one of your priorities is that you would like a good work-life balance. Usually, smaller startups have terrible working hours. So, we can filter the list to only include Series B, C and acquired startups. If you’re not familiar with what’s a Series-X startup, read my post on how to find companies that will make you rich. I have given a detailed explanation of funding rounds there.

angel list filter size

That narrows our list to 179 companies. Let’s go a step further and also add our location. Filtering for San Francisco leaves me with 51 companies.

angel list filter location

These are 51 companies in an industry you like! These companies are much more exciting than the ones you randomly find on job boards. And if you apply in the way I show you, you are much more likely to get interviews here.

But before we do that, you need to filter this list even more. Narrow down on the companies that are doing the work you like to do and making exciting products. You can do this with a basic google search.

Now that we trimmed your list, it’s time to GROW it more. We will use your list to find even more of such amazing companies!

Go to LinkedIn and do a search for one of the companies from your list.

On the right side, LinkedIn will show you other companies that are related to that one. Learn more about them and add them to your list too.

linkedin related companies

Do this for all companies on your list and you will easily grow it by 2X to 3X.

Another great way to search for good companies in your industry is to do a quick google search.

Google “Top Education companies” in our example.

google industry companies

Then filter the list to show posts from only the past year.

google filter last year

Go through the links on the first page and add to your list the companies that seem interesting.

Filter companies to make sure they fit your priorities

Next, you will filter companies according to your priorities list.

Go to and enter the name of the company name. Glassdoor is like Yelp for companies. The company’s own employees will tell you how it’s like to be on its inside. It’s a good way to filter out companies with a toxic culture or bad leadership.

Anything above a 3.5 star rating on Glassdoor is pretty good. But a word of caution — Glassdoor ratings are not very accurate for bigger companies (1000+ employees). It’s because each team usually has its own unique culture. So filter the reviews by job title like “engineer” or “developer.”

The reviews will tell you whether the company meets your list of priorities. The overly positive reviews are clearly fake or written by the HR teams, and they’re very easy to spot. Just ignore them.

Once you have the final list of companies where you would like to work, it’s time to contact them!

2-Step process that will get you the interview

Have you ever contacted a company to never hear back from them? That will change very soon, my friend.

I will teach you an easy but extremely effective strategy to contact companies that gets me a response 4 out of 6 times.

Before you approach companies, you need to have a polished LinkedIn profile. I have a monster post in works that shows you how to make a killer LinkedIn profile. Subscribe to my newsletter and I’ll email you when it’s done.

Step One: Find the hiring manager

In order to skyrocket your chances for a response back, you never go through a recruiter.

In fact, you bypass the recruiter and go straight to the hiring manager. A hiring manager is who ultimately decides whether or not to give you a job.

Engineering directors and VPs are almost always the hiring managers because they are responsible for growing their team. And the great news is that if they’re not the right person, they will know the right person. So you will effectively get an introduction from an internal employee. That’s the next best thing to an internal referral.

Let’s say we’re looking for a hiring manager in Coursera. Search LinkedIn for “engineering director” and select the company on the right panel.

linkedin found hiring manager

Now that you know the hiring manager’s name, find his email address.

Rocketreach can help us do that. It routinely scrapes the internet to collect people’s email addresses. So this saves us you time from doing the tedious google searches yourself.

Go to  and enter Jiquan’s linkedin url, and it will to get the email address for you.

rocketreach found email

Before you send Jiquan an email, make sure you have done your research on the company. Sending an email without putting much thought is a surefire way to be marked as spam. You don’t want to do that!

So for every person you email, research the company for about 15 minutes and write a personalized email (read cover letter). Your cover letter should clearly say why you’re interested in working for the company and how you can add value.

If you’d like to learn how I write cover letters that have a 67% reply rate, subscribe to my newsletter below. I’m writing a post on it and will send you an email when it’s ready.

Doing this right will get you a lot more interviews at the companies you love!


Applying to companies is not a numbers game. The quality of your applications matter the most. And if you’re writing high quality applications, then why spend time on job boards? Job boards are infested with stale job postings and unqualified applicants! Yuck! You should avoid them like the plague.

Instead of just applying to companies that are hiring at the moment, start proactively finding companies where you would love to work.

To find those companies, just ask yourself a few questions:

  1. What kind of work do you want to do?
  2. Which industries excite you the most?
  3. What kind of products do you like to make?

Scroll up to see how to answer each of these questions.

Next thing to do is make a list of your priorities. Think about what’s important to you in life. These are things you can’t compromise. For example, how many hours are you able to work in a week? What’s the longest you are comfortable commuting?

Now that you know what you want in your next job, it’s time to find companies that will be a good fit.

Notice that we focus on companies and not jobs. That’s because once you find the right company, it’s almost always possible to find a job opening. Most companies are always in the market to hire good engineers.

Angel List is the best place to find companies. Filter them by their size, location and industry.

Now head over to LinkedIn and find other companies related to the ones in your list. This will help you grow your list 2X to 3X.

Scroll up to see how to do this step by step.

Once you have enough companies, it’s time to filter the list according to your criteria. Go to Glassdoor and read the reviews on the company. You can get answers to questions like how many hours people work and the work-from-home policy. It’ll help you cross out the companies that won’t be right for you.

The remaining companies on your list are ones you really like!

Now it’s time to approach them so they would give you an interview.

Here’s my 2-step process that gets me a response from 4 out of 6 companies.

First step is to find an engineering director on LinkedIn for the company you’re targeting. Once you have his/her name, let’s get their email address.

Head over to Rocketreach and enter the director’s linkedin profile. It will scrape the internet to find their email address.

Don’t email the hiring manager without researching the company first! That’s the quickest way to get marked as spam.

Research the company really well and write an email that says why you’re interested in the company and how you can add value. Scroll up to see more details.

At this point, notice this isn’t a random company from a job board. This is a company you are excited about! This excitement will show in you email to the hiring manager and throughout the interview process. This boosts your chances of not just landing the interview, but also getting the offer!

Follow these steps and you’ll soon be working at a company you love!

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  1. Murtaza Haji

    Hi can u send me the link for blogpost to builiding a linked profile. I have subscribed to the newsletter

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