Interviews are a weird world. I think it really depends what you are trying to do…. Everyone is different, and so are the games they play. I’m not sure how to best advice you there, or if there is any good general advice for it (I had a friend who does engine work go into facebook — a second round interview — and was beaten by a guy whose code test didn’t compile, but his did. Why you ask? The other guy coded ‘faster’.).
Me? I just go into interviews with a portfolio of code samples (have only been tested during the interview once). I feel like most the interview I go on tend to be trying to feel out my personality more then my abilities.
My bf plays a fair amount of logic and puzzle games. Stuff like you hear about in google interviews (http://www.mytechinterviews.com/10-google-interview-questions). I personally have never had these types of questions…but I know people who have.
For more general ideas on what I think you should do:
1) Make a website. My bf and I made websites which had our info on it (and no, LinkedIn does not count). If you don’t have much to put on the website, that’s fine. Go in-depth and talk about school projects. Add a few key code samples. If you can write well — blog a bit (though I do think most career magazinces are being a bit silly saying ‘blogging’ is the new way to start any career). Make it pretty…then start attaching it as a tagline to every email you send.
2) Start showing some commitment and presence on forums. All programmers swap code. You quickly notice who is good when you are in forum world. I’ve known people who have gotten jobs just based on their forum activities. My bf’s current company hosts a user site, and several people got their start in that company by becoming commited forum users. (I strongly believe THIS is far more useful then blogging — and a guaranteed way to start standing out early in your career).
3) Check out some industry events. Personally — I went to a kick ass school (UC Berkeley). Many computer programmers around Silicon Valley owe their beginnings to this school (and that other one further down the bay).
Having said that — CAREER SERVICES AT MY SCHOOL SUCKS.
I’ve never met a bigger pile of clueless nitwits then the crowd running the career center at California’s flagship university. 99.9% of all the ‘computer programming’ career advice they gave was nonsense. Hogwash.
Spend your time and money to go to industry events. If your school has a career event…okay, go. But I think your time will be wayyy better spent at industry events. Seriously.
4) Good old volunteering. Programming is expensive. Many non-profits would love to have a code-fiend in their ranks.Whether to develop an app in Java, or help them overhaul some system glitches, or work out some optimization routes. If you start there, and fall into the right crowd, you will get the benefit of having a large amount of input in all parts of the process. THIS rocks. It looks awesome on a resume too.
Entry-level is full of some pretty shitty work. That’s why volunteering rocks. You usually get to do way better work, and have ownership of it (as oppose to really mind-numbing tasks like QA/QC, or code revisions, etc).
Just because they can’t pay, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t look into it. Really.