I have an interview coming up. The first part is a video call, followed by a "30 minute assignment". I have been told to have a (for example) Python IDE ready but "no other specific tools are needed".

I would like to know what other areas to study and if possible any specific areas to focus on. For example should I focus on the basics of the language or how it interacts with MS SQL. How can I phrase this question with getting the best chance of the most detailed response? Obviously this isn't like school where they would tell me which part of a book to read for a test. I just don't want to waste a bunch of time practicing the wrong thing.

The job posting had about 3 related languages (e.g. HTML/CSS/JS) and in the last interview more were discussed (e.g. Java). As an aside, I know some people feel it's unethical to do unpaid work, and this is a form of it. After finishing school I have had trouble getting a permanent job with my degree. I am not in the position to be picky.

  • What degree do you have? For an unpaid internship, I think a simple fizzbuzz question or a simple palindrome question (in your favorite programming language) would do the trick. You can always ask, but I doubt they'll tell you very much. Just prepare these two questions. If you want to practice more, I recommend you practice on binarysearch.com (on easy level) Commented Sep 5, 2021 at 5:55
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    Here is an answer to a similar question : Appropriate to ask what will be covered in a technical interview ? workplace.stackexchange.com/questions/64159/… Commented Sep 5, 2021 at 6:44
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    IMO the "unpaid work" issue should be taken off the table here. The concern is when given a task that takes several days offline, esp. when that's a prerequisite to an interview. Here the interview happens first, and the test is very short. As long as there's a quid-pro-quo of their time for your time, it makes sense. Commented Sep 5, 2021 at 18:16
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    How can you possibly consider a "30 minute assignment" unpaid work? Commented Sep 7, 2021 at 17:24

2 Answers 2


They tend to ask relatively common tasks that all should know how to do.

Putting a coding question that takes the most senior coder 3 days as a 30 minute test is not productive.

As long as you have a good grasp of what you have studied and how to apply it then just go in having had a good night's sleep. Trying to do an interview after working / gaming until 5AM and running on caffeine / Red Bull etc is not a good plan, imho.


Probably an unpopular opinion:

You are not supposed to study for that at all.

Suppose you get the position, then what? Given assigned the first task go "uhm sorry guys I'll need to study for this one" and take a week or two worth of working time.

Get this school/college/uni mindset out of your head first and foremost. In routine work life and interviews there is really no grading attached. If you "failed" because you were an inadequate match for the job, it saved you from lots of stress and tension from underperforming on it. Unlike teacher grading a student, you meet on more equal terms - you evaluate the company as much as it evaluates you.

To that end, "unpaid work" is not really applicable here and is self-inflicted. You are not being asked to solve a problem worth a few days of hard work, you are asked to take half an hour out of your schedule. Importantly, if instead of working yourself over getting the perfect answers from the first try you manage to adopt a more relaxed mindset and be able to follow cues from interviewers, that's typically a big plus as it shows you're capable of working in a team.

I understand it can be hard to find some confidence, but it really is key. If you get rejected, ask for some tips on how to improve - coming from people in the industry, they will have a honest evaluation of their expectations vs your capabilities and make you more prepared for the job. Also possible, if you end up being able but still not the perfect fit, to get a reference from them for another employer. You really need to show some basic technical and soft skills more than anything.

  • Eh, I disagree. I have been working for 10 years. There is lots of stuff that I know that isn't fresh. I have been doing machine-learning work for the last 4 years but worked on frontend stuff prior to that. If I was going into an interview, I would want to know if FE stuff was being covered so that I could spend a couple hours loading that out of deep storage :) Commented Sep 7, 2021 at 20:54
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    I share the same mentality. Unfortunetly MANY recruiters expect you to study for the test. I once was scolded in an interview because I said I didnt study anything for the test. I told them I was under the impression that the test is about my abilty as a coder, not my abilty as a student. They got really pissed and told me I am just lazy and that is why I wasnt an A student in college and yadda yadda yadda. Still had the 3rd best test out of 50 candidates. I still wouldnt study for such a test. And I will always tell HR that the test should be about skill not the ability to study
    – bibleblade
    Commented Sep 9, 2021 at 11:58
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    @bibleblade maybe that's just me but I'd say that's a bullet dodged...
    – Lodinn
    Commented Sep 10, 2021 at 10:19
  • @sixtyfootersdude Changing the field and digging up some old skills is fair game here, I agree. The question is worded in a way implying the person is applying to a python job they DO have an up-to-date knowledge on and want to know if they need to study something extra in a hurry - which, I'd argue, they totally don't.
    – Lodinn
    Commented Sep 10, 2021 at 10:23

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