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I am an experienced engineer with more than 10 years of experience. Recently I interviewed for staff engineer/principal engineer positions in some companies and noticed the following weakpoints:

  1. I was having a hard time completing timed online tests. I guess this could be addressed by more practice on sites like leetcode, hackerrank, etc.

  2. I was also having a hard time answering in depth questions at times about certain specfic fields. Ex: I was recently asked some questions on http and ssl protocols - these are stuff I had actual experience with, but it was just one of those things that did not come out naturally in an interview setting. After thinking through, I could get the right answers for many of the questions asked. It almost sounded like they wanted instant responses - like how a student would memorize stuff for an exam. This is one area where I am having a hard time improving on.

Any inputs on how I could better improve on the above areas - esp #2.

Please suggest.

Om

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This is a great question that I personally struggled myself about a year ago as I was having a tough time getting past Senior roles.

In my case what I did was start to write. Every month I dedicated one full weekend to write a high quality blog post about a specific topic, to position myself as an expert and leader in my field.

Earlier this year I received two offers. In both I received questions similar to the second ones you mention. One of the questions was subjective and I said the "wrong" answer; in the other case the question was outside my area of expertise and I said, "I don't know" with confidence. Your attitude is more important that knowing something you can easily google.

About the first kind of questions, sure do study but being a Staff Engineer is not about speed but depth in your analysis, your ability to handle complex problems, and your creativity when solving them. In that case my approach was choosing better companies to apply to.

A couple more pieces of advice, Omi: when interviewing ask hard and intelligent questions yourself. That will level the playing field for you. Finally, when choosing a job, think long and hard about the technology and complexity of what you will be working on. Before making the jump I took a six month contract on a highly technical and innovative project before moving past the Senior level.

Best of luck!

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After thinking through, I could get the right answers for many of the questions asked. It almost sounded like they wanted instant responses - like how a student would memorize stuff for an exam.

Who cares what they want?

You want to show them why you're the right person to deal with the issues they need to deal with in their day to day work, regardless of what they used to think they need. When things come up that you've forgotten how to deal with (or have no experience with yet) how do you deal with them?

Do you have a process (or processes) you would follow to learn the answer? If so then this is what you should talk about in the interview when you don't know an answer. If not, then creating one which you can talk about would be a good way to improve the impression you give in interviews.

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