Instacart’s Interview Process & Questions
The info below is based on conversations with Instacart engineers in 2023.
Mid to senior-level engineers interviewing at Instacart can expect the following process:
- Recruiter call (30 minutes)
- Technical phone screen (45 mins)
- Onsite (3-4 hours)
Instacart has a hybrid hiring process: it’s not fully decentralized or centralized. You usually apply or get brought in for a generic job listing, and then they will determine which team you interview for. Your interviewers will come from all across the org, but the hiring manager for the role you are interviewing for will usually be involved from the start. You can only interview once, but if you don’t get an offer from the team you interviewed with, you may still have a chance with another team.
The entire process takes about 2-4 weeks.
- Instacart doesn’t ask questions that require knowledge of academic or obscure data structures and algorithms. Although questions can still skew LeetCode-y, they won’t be questions that require knowledge of niche trees, dynamic programming, etc. Brush up on the basics, and you should be fine.
- Make sure you practice system design, as that interview is often make or break and is definitely used for leveling
Instacart’s recruiter call lasts 30 minutes, and it’s pretty standard fare – they’ll ask you about your previous experience, and why you’re interested in Instacart. They’ll also talk about the specific role and team you’ve been matched with.
It’s really important, at this stage, to not reveal your salary expectations or where you are in the process with other companies. We’ve written a detailed post about salary negotiation that lays out exactly what to say if recruiters pressure you to name the first number.
Instacart’s technical phone screen lasts about an hour. They use CodeSignal.
- Coding (45 mins). Like the technical phone screen, this round will be conducted in CodeSignal, and you can use any language that CodeSignal supports. For more detail about the kinds of questions to expect, see the Coding section below.
- Second coding. As above.
- System design (45 mins). This section is really important and usually where people fail. You can use any tooling you’d like, e.g., Google Draw or Excalidraw. For more detail about the kinds of questions to expect, see the System Design section below.
- Behavioral (45 mins). This interview will be conducted by a hiring manager. For more info about what questions to expect, see the Behavioral section below.
A lot of Instacart’s questions are created in-house, but you may run into LeetCode-style questions as well.
You’ll be tested for pragmatic coding skills here. You might be asked to write a script to convert dollars to euros, get a question about API optimization, be asked about designing key-value stories, edit distance, expression evaluation, combinatorics, file I/O, or any number of other fairly practical questions.
In recent years, as Instacart has hired more FAANG alums, the question composition has shifted a bit to include more LeetCode-style questions. That said, even if you do get a LeetCode question, it will likely NOT touch on obscure algorithms or data structures.
Below are the technical topics you’re likely to encounter in Instacart interviews. To compile this list, we did two things. First, we spoke to some current and former Instacart engineers. Then we cross-referenced all the anecdotes we heard with Glassdoor data AND our own data-set of mock interviews:
System design interviews at Instacart matter a lot for leveling. The most common failure mode we heard about was passing the coding portion and then failing on architecture.
Specifically, if you want to hit at least L6, you NEED to do well in this interview.
The engineers we spoke to said that in the system design portion, it’s really important to manage your time because there’s typically a lot you can cover with your answer, but they are looking for you to be concise. Also be prepared to justify your design decisions.
You might be asked to:
- Design a database model for an Instacart-like system
- Design a system for tracking shipments
- Design a system for communicating with a payment processor
Instacart’s behavioral interviews are pretty standard fare. You’ll be asked about past projects and your impact in previous roles. This interview is primarily used for leveling.
Hiring decisions are made by rough consensus. There’s a debrief the same day or the day after your interview loop. People vote, but ultimately the decision rests with the hiring manager. From one of the engineers we spoke to:
“If there’s one strong no, that’s usually the end of it, and a strong yes from someone else probably wouldn’t countermand that.”
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