I was a Canadian working in the United States not too long ago. I got there in late 2018 and things were going great. Then everything changed when Covid-19 came along. Although my future spouse and I were far from home, we had been seeing some family every few months. But with all the new travel restrictions, we were very alone. After a miserable year of not seeing our friends and family, we decided to take action. In late 2020, we started creating a re-entry plan into our home country.

With my years of software experience in the Silicon Prairie (yes, it is a real thing) I was eager to finally get into my dream job, Amazon. One of the big 5 known as FAANG (Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Google), these big players are known for only hiring the best of the best and paying top of the line. Up until this point I never really had a chance of getting into Amazon, but this time I had a shot. I applied to Amazon once again.

A few weeks later I got an email from an Amazon recruiter explaining they were interested in starting their interview process with me. All I can think was “Holy Cheez Whiz this is the furthest I ever got.” There are many rounds and big tech interviews though, so I didn’t pop the champagne just yet. After passing some preliminary tests I got an actual phone interview with the recruiter. He liked my knowledge/experience and was ready to send me to the technical interviews. He proceeded to explain everything I would need to study in order to just prepare for the technical interviews.

It took the interviewer 1 hour to explain to me all the different subjects and concepts I would need to know for the half-day-long technical interviews. I haven’t seen most of this subject matter since university 4 years prior and some of it I never even heard of. He explained to me that I had 2 weeks to study for the interview which at this point sounded more like an exam. I felt overwhelmed and terrified. My stomach instantly became sick and the imposter syndrome set in.

I needed to devise a plan immediately. I started studying the first day, but I just couldn’t do it. The fear was making it impossible to concentrate. Questions were racing through my mind:

What if I don’t know a question and I fail? What if I embarrass myself? What if I freeze up and completely blank? What if the recruiter made a mistake and the interviewers do not find my resume impressive and I just waste everyone’s time?

The Meditation Practice

I was spiraling out of control and was not able to study. My stomach hurt from all the fears I had about the interview going wrong. This is when clarity struck. For a few weeks prior I had started meditating a bit. Nothing fancy, but every so often I would do some deep breathing for 5 minutes in the middle of the day to recollect myself before going back to work. I did some more research on meditation helping with stress, and with that, I devised my own meditation practice. It went as follows:

I vowed to meditate at least 10 minutes a day right before I would start studying. I broke the meditation up into 4 sections: visualizing the best outcome, visualizing the interview, positive affirmation, and clear mind breathing.

In this part of my meditation, I imagined the excitement of getting the job and everything that would mean. I thought about how I would tell my parents I was coming back home, how my grandmother would react to know I could see her next Christmas, how the Timbits would taste when I crossed the border to Canada.

This part of the practice was to remind me why I wanted this job and why I was studying in the first place. I started the meditation practice with this because it was my favorite section and it put me in a good mood before I faced my fears in section 2.

In this section, I focused on being in the interview. This instantly made my stomach sick. I imagined getting a question that I did not immediately know the answer to. I imagined going through each step of the design process in order to answer the interviewer’s questions. I imagined how I would handle the awkward silence, how I would handle pressure, but MOST IMPORTANTLY how I would eventually solve the problem and see a smile on the interviewer’s face.

This is what coaches and athletes talk about when they say “visualize and attack”. I had to imagine myself handling the situation and sticking to my design process fundamentals. These interview questions are meant to be ambiguous and with the right process, anyone can solve these problems. After the 3rd meditation, my stomach hurt less and less thinking about the interview until finally, my anxiety turned into excitement. The excitement to showcase my knowledge and prove I was the engineer they were looking for.

This part is going to sound arrogant and maybe silly, but it's equally important as any other section. I wrote a list of 5–10 of my biggest career accomplishments that I was really proud of such as getting my Master’s degree, my first big successful project, and so on. Speaking out loud I would say my accomplishments to myself as if I was another person saying it. I would say:

  • You did the research and got your Master’s degree
  • You successfully launched that cool product
  • You figured out how to make that complex algorithm work
  • You deserve this position, you have earned this position

I would repeat these facts to myself until I believed it. Imposter Syndrome can be a common problem leading up to interviews; we doubt our skills and feel like we do not belong. It is easy to forget all the amazing things we have done because there is always a new project to work on or a new fire to put out. For these 2 and a half minutes, focus on why you deserve the good things coming to you.

This section is pretty self-explanatory: try to clear your mind and breath deeply. This is still really hard since our brains always want to think. So what I like to do is focus on something random for my brain to chew on. I Think about how the air feels going in and out of my nostrils or how my stomach feels when it expands and deflates with the breath. I sometimes like to throw in some mantras or chants to focus on instead. As long as you think of anything but your day ahead, you are winning. It is still pretty hard to do at the beginning but you’ll get much better at it with practice.

I consider this section as stretching after a big workout. You have done a lot of mental work and it's time to wind down to get ready to re-enter your day.

My Game Day — The Interviews

Finally, it was the day of the interviews. At this point, I had meditated once a day for 12 days and I racked up about 30 hours of studying (about 2–3 hours a day). I did one final meditation right before my first interview and got ready for the call. The interviews started at 8 am and I would have multiple in a row until 1 pm with 10–15 minute breaks in between each one.

I am not allowed to specifically mention what happened in the interview, but what I can say is I felt relaxed throughout the whole process. When I got stumped on a question I remembered the design process and instinctively followed through to get an answer that made the interviewer happy. I stayed comfortable within the awkward silences when I was thinking about my next algorithm while the interviewer watched my every move. Everything I visualized in meditation helped me break through the barriers in the questions. Once it was were over, I logged off my computer feeling good. I didn’t know if I got the job since they were interviewing many great candidates. What I do know is that I did my best and every interview ended pleasantly. I accomplished what I set out to do.

The recruiter told me at the beginning of the process that it would take up to a week to know if I got the job or not. So I was surprised to get a call from him later the same day of the final interviews. I was in the car with my fiancé when the call came in, thankfully I was in the passenger seat. Can this be it? My heart was racing. I answer the call and he starts off asking how the interviews were and how I felt taking them. After the small talk he finally hit me with “Congratulations, you have passed the technical interviews”. Now I’m a late 20’s man, but that one sentence had me speaking with voice cracks and high pitch excitement. I had got the job and earned my spot in the big tech engineering ranks.

Now I finally got to do what I was so excited for, tell everyone I was coming home. The first thing I did was call my parents and we all went crazy together. Then I called my grandmother and we cried with joy to be reunited. From there I called each family member individually to celebrate. I texted my Canadian friend group chat and we freaked out together and talked about all the things we will do when I got back (these were all hypothetical, of course, since lockdown was still in effect and we wouldn’t get to do any of these things for months….still fun to talk about though!).

Within 6 weeks I was back in Canada, quarantining in my parent’s basement, excited to be with my family and start my new career.

You may be wondering how I created and kept track of my meditation. I used the free Insight Timer Meditation app on my phone. In the app, you can create your own timer practice using Buddha Singing Bowls.

The below image is the meditation practice I created in the app to do every day before my interviews. Notice, the Sakya — Bell1 that goes off every 2min and 30 seconds. This is the bell that notifies me to switch sections. The Gong HanChi bell is to signal that I am halfway through my practice. Then, there are also some bells here that go off at seemingly random times. These bells are to help you keep focus. It is very easy for your mind to wander while meditating, these bells are to bring you back on course. Feel free to change the type of bells to ones that are more pleasing to you.

The Conclusion

Everything I meditated on helped me get through this whirlwind. Visualizing the outcome helped remind me why I was studying so hard in the first place. Visualizing the interview helped me follow the design process and kept me grounded in my fundamentals throughout the long interviews. Positive Affirmation helped me feel confident throughout the interviews and relinquished my imposter syndrome. Finally, a clear mind kept my mind limber and ready to do it all again.

I still meditate every day for at least 5 minutes, but with new intentions.