Interview with Stephen Cognetta, co-founder of Exponent

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Exponent provides mock interviews for people looking to enter the tech field

Securing an interview with your dream company is exciting! Until you realize you have to do an interview. Then, the fear sets in. 

While some people are gifted with the natural ability to charm their way through an interview, many of us need to prep in advance. A resume can only go so far, so acing the interview is extremely important.

Thankfully, many online resources can help you prep for your upcoming interview. That said, these are often generic and might not apply to something as specific as the tech role you are going for.

Exponent hopes to change that. This platform essentially helps tech hopefuls prepare and practice for their interviews.

I had the chance to interview Stephen Cognetta of Exponent to learn more about the platform, what inspired it, and how it sources its knowledge. You can read the full interview below.

Care to introduce yourself and your role at Exponent?

My name is Stephen Cognetta. I’m the co-founder of Exponent. I went to Princeton for computer science and founded the company with one of my classmates. After college, I worked at Google as a product manager.

Then, I left to do a road trip around the country. On that trip, I found a passion for teaching and helping others get jobs at their dream tech companies. When I got back home, I went back to Stanford to finish an MBA and help build the business to where it is today.

In just a few sentences, what is Exponent?

Exponent helps job candidates ace their interviews at tech companies. We offer courses, interview coaching, and a database of the most frequently asked interview questions to help applicants prepare for tough interviews.

You can do everything from reviewing your resume to practicing mock interviews to get ready for your next job. We work with product managers, software engineers, program managers, designers, and more.

What inspired the creation of the company?

I discovered my love of teaching while I was traveling the country. I helped candidates navigate the Google product management interview path over Zoom calls.

We’d practice mock interviews and go over helpful strategies for nailing the questions on the day of the interviews. I realized there was a much bigger need for candidates at this step of their careers.

Who are your competitors in the space and how are you differentiating yourself?

Funnily, some of our main competitors aren’t other interview prep companies! We’re often competing for attention with other forms of entertainment. Primarily, people discover us through our YouTube channel so we’re up against all sorts of videos and playlists other than interview prep.

We know there’s value in preparing for an interview, both in feeling more confident and helping to boost your salary and compensation at the end. But not everyone knows that services like ours exist in the first place! So we spend a lot of time thinking about how to make learning engaging.

We differentiate ourselves by trying to offer a full interview prep experience. Other companies tend to focus on just one aspect of a candidate’s prep like coaching or courses.

Exponent has a number of tools to help candidates no matter where they are in their journey, including coaching, prep courses, mock interview practice, written lessons, video lessons, and a question database of the most recently asked interview questions at hundreds of companies. And because of our amazing community, they help us be the first to know about changes to interview loops or question types.

What are your most popular courses and do you see that changing in the coming months/years?

exponent platform

We started as a product management interview prep company. So product managers are well represented on our platform.

But over time, we’ve grown into helping software engineers as well. I think we’ll continue to push into more technical roles. Some of our most popular YouTube videos this year have been on software engineering topics.

How do you source your interview material?

A number of ways! We primarily work with candidates who just completed interview loops at dozens of companies. We’re able to compare notes between candidates to learn more about the full interview process.

We also work with current and former hiring managers or directors at companies to learn more about what they’re looking for in candidates. We learn what types of questions they ask and what they’re looking for in an answer.

Finally, our community keeps us up to date! Candidates regularly share which questions they’ve been asked and add them to our interview question database. It has over 2,000 interview questions and answers and shows where and when they were last asked.

The peer-to-peer interviews seem interesting – can you explain that part in more detail?

We offer peer-to-peer mock interviews in a number of ways.

First, Exponent users can watch pre-recorded mock interviews and hear detailed notes about what made the interview good or bad.

Exponent hosts and guests often just went through the real-world interview process for the same roles, so their experiences and perspectives are fresh and unique.

We also have a peer-to-peer mock interview tool. Twice a day, candidates can randomly pair with other Exponent members to practice interviewing on their own.

Roles and questions in the interview are automatically assigned so that candidates can practice with each other in a real-world scenario. They’re given rubrics to grade each other. The tool is free to use for everyone.

Do you have any stats on how successful users are at getting placed in their dream jobs after using Exponent?

About 30% of Exponent users report landing a job directly after using Exponent. Of those Exponent members who land a job, they report an average 60% salary bump.

Why only offer a subscription model and not a way to buy individual courses?

The short answer is, “we’ve grown!” We’ve tried selling individual courses before. But over time, we found that candidates’ favorite Exponent products weren’t able to be “bundled” into a single course.

Every month, we add dozens of new interview questions and answers to our database. We publish new step-by-step interview guides for specific roles at companies. And we maintain a mock interview pipeline where candidates can get access to new mock interviews and analyses every month.

A subscription model helps us better prioritize and maintain all of those resources for candidates.

Anything you’d like to close with or touch on that I missed?

Something we’re excited about is the growth of our new Masterclass series! Whereas Exponent courses can be viewed at your own pace, Masterclasses pair you with an instructor and a cohort of other candidates to learn together.

A FAANG interview instructor teaches interview frameworks, gives live feedback on answers, and helps expand your professional network.

I’d like to thank Stephen for taking the time to answer some of my questions.

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