Tech Interview Experience - USA vs. Europe

Tech Interview Experience - USA vs. Europe

For the past year, I have been interviewing with companies from both USA and Europe and I am seeing quite a notable difference between their process, fundamentals, basic hiring criteria, and general attitude towards candidates.

In this post, I am going to summarize basic differences between tech hiring procedures between USA and Europe along with their pros and cons and what qualities you need to search for better jobs in both markets.

Please note that when I say Europe, the context is limited to major European cities which only include Dublin, Amsterdam, London, Berlin, and Lisbon, but can be generally extrapolated to other smaller tech hub with caution

Salaries and Benefits

The USA is the king in the world when it comes to salaries. They pay a lot and abundantly. A few examples of other benefits are, joining bonuses, stocks, RSUs, and buying out the current contract. It's not unheard of and unsurprising to get paid  400K-500K USD in total compensation in the USA. Bottom line - If you want more money, go to the USA. The land of gold!

Europe is meh! when it comes to salaries, Even big tech hubs like Berlin and Amsterdam will hesitate to pay anything above 80K for a senior software engineer position. If you demand more, you will get a judgy look. I think earning more is not just part of their culture. If you manage to get 100K, count yourself lucky and among the privileged few. As someone coming from the USA, it is a bit shocker to me, but I understand and respect their tradition.

Given the extent of inflation and how everything is getting expensive in the post-pandemic world, Europe should consider improving the salaries and benefits range otherwise I can easily see the talent going somewhere else in the world

Work-life balance

If you are someone living in the USA and were joyful reading the last paragraph, please don't. The USA is a terrible place to have an on-job work-life balance. You have high pressure to deliver, cutthroat competition, much higher expectations, and once in a while 14-hour work day which may also include your weekend. If you're burned out due to a high workload and still want to make some money, spend some time in Europe while you recover. The work-life balance is good and they pay half of the average US pay.

One of the reasons many people including myself come to Europe is the awesome work-life balance. People won't harass you with unreasonable deadlines, work is very chill, no pressure or expectations to work over the weekend. The vibe is pretty cool. You will feel as if you are on a vacation. This is not a surprise to general European culture, for them it's normal and that's how one should work.

Interview Feedback

If you get rejected during the interview process, US companies will send the generic rejection email without specifying why your application was rejected. It's mostly for legal purposes and to prevent the backlash from the rejected candidates in form of lawsuits. On the other hand, if you pass the interview, they will give you all the reasons why they decided to hire you. Ideally, it should be the opposite. If I get rejected, I must know the reasons so that I can fill those gaps in my next interview

The European interview feedback is not for the faint-hearted. They don't leave anything behind while giving critical feedback. You will often see terms like terrible, awful, sucks, fell-down, aghast, and very very bad. I think it's the other extreme. I wish they could improve the wording to give presentable feedback. I can't deny the fact that having feedback is good, but so far I have seen that it's not useful. They will tear you down but will fail to verbalize what was missing. In my opinion, wording and feedback attitude also tells you a lot about company culture and what kind of behavior is rewarded in the company.

Asking Illegal and Personal Questions

The USA does a much better job at avoiding illegal and personal questions to candidates. It's built into their system which is plagued by frequent lawsuits. Even the interview training will strongly focus on what kind of questions you can ask and which questions can put the company in hot water. In my career in the USA spanning 9 years, I have never seen anyone asking me discriminatory and illegal questions.

There is no such concept as illegal questions in Europe. You would think there is given how strict the privacy laws there are, but it ends there. I think companies have a "guideline" on which questions can be asked and which not, but from my experience so far, those are usually ignored. I have been asked very uncomfortable questions such as age, ethnicity, country, city I grew up in, whether I am married, comments about my accent, and their unfair bias towards people of color. I was appalled at their audacity for asking such questions, but looking at their reaction, it was normal for them. To summarize, don't be shocked if you come across such questions. Be nice, and just tell them you're uncomfortable with them and move on to the next question. I would also recommend following up with the recruiter and letting them know about it.

Level of Difficulty

In the USA, interviews are designed to suit the level you are applying for and are strictly followed. If necessary, they can also downgrade you to lower levels if you don't meet their bar. However, the difficulty and seniority are strongly correlated and you get rewarded with higher compensation for showing strong talent. For example, the senior engineer might make 350K  and the staff engineer grabs 425K which is quite a jump for one level. Given the sharp increase in compensation, candidates have a strong incentive to do their best and apply for the highest position available.

In Europe, it's quite opposite. Their interview evaluation and assessment are completely out of whack and they will reject or downgrade for any small mistake. Maybe some developer didn't like your coding style or you used a slightly different style of architecture. It's like they want the perfect candidate for positions that barely pay 90K per year. If you manage to impress and upgrade to better positions, you're still out of luck. You only manage to make 8K or max 10K more for the next level. In terms of the amount of effort and skills you need to put in terms amount of benefits you get in return, it's not really worth it in Europe. However, I think it's normal and people have accepted this fact. Getting an average-paying job is not difficult, but the moment you ask 10K over the market price, they evaluate as if you're applying for the Principal Engineer position.

Interview Structure

The USA tech industry follows the standard interview structure as follows. Please note that I am generalizing it and companies may have slightly different processes.

  1. Initial call with a recruiter
  2. Initial Tech screening
  3. Another tech screening (Can be omitted for mid-level roles)
  4. On-site round
  5. Programming skills - 1
  6. Programming skills - 2
  7. System design
  8. Interview with the hiring manager and culture fit

In Europe, the emphasis is on solving the take-home tech challenge and discussing it with team members

  1. Initial call with a recruiter
  2. Take-home assignment
  3. Live-code review for assignment
  4. System-design round
  5. Programming skills
  6. Interview with the hiring manager

If you compare these two, you put more or less the same effort into both. One gives you a much high salary and the other gives you a much better work-life balance. It's up to you to decide where you want to go considering your career aspirations and priority to family life.


To summarize, go to the USA for better salary benefits and compensation. Come to Europe if you are fond of traveling and are in search of a great work-life balance.

Things in Europe may look so nice from the outside, but they have their own disadvantages. For example, sometimes work culture may feel too chill for some people and things move too slowly. It's also difficult to move up the salary ladder because people inherently don't expect to get paid a lot and companies are even less willing to do so. However, fancy titles come at no expense. You can still be a Principal Engineer and earn 110K. You can use this opportunity to flaunt that title and get a better job somewhere else.

On the other hand, granted USA pays much better, but it comes at the cost of your health and work-life balance. If you get a good-paying company with great culture and a manager who is on your side, you're all set in your career. But given the cutthroat corporate culture, consider yourself lucky if you even get all three. The USA is a land of dreams and heaven for hard workers. If you're in good company and work hard, you can quickly climb the career ladder and be at the top. Then after you earn enough and are ready to retire, maybe come to Europe to enjoy your life.

This is all I had to write about my tech interview experiences between the USA and Europe. Hope you liked them. If you have your own experiences to share or have any comments about this article, don't forget to get in touch @jayeshkawli

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