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My recent front-end interview experiences

ardennl profile image Arden de Raaij Updated on ・6 min read

I'm super happy to tell you I recently accepted a job offer here in Lisbon and started working with a great group of people since last week! I've been seeing many posts about job interviews, how to prepare for them and what to expect so I thought I'd share my interview experiences while they're still fresh in my mind.

Over the course of eight weeks I sent out eight applications to vacancies with the title (Senior) front-end developer or (Senior) JavaScript engineer. Five of these resulted in skype/phone or in-person interviews and from all of these I got follow-ups in the form of coding tests and / or a second interview. In the end I got one rejection, two 'maybe soon' and two offers. Even though I hadn't done traditional job interviews in over a decade, I found the experience surprisingly enjoyable.

Background

Over six month ago I wrote about my 'coming of age' in webdevelopment and my doubts on how to continue at the time. The TL;DR: "I recently relocated, everything is exciting except for doing freelance work once again. Life is good, but maybe I should look for a challenge"

You'd think that six months would be enough for me to make a balanced decision on where I want to go with my career, but I didn't really. I continued freelancing until I saw an interesting job vacancy and thought "A decision is better than no decision!". After the first application I felt more certain that I wanted to work in a team again. It would be good for me to get to know the tech scene here in Lisbon and to get grounded in Portugal.

Preparations

I can count all the job interviews I've had in my life on one hand, and those were over ten years ago! I've been a freelance developer until the first agency I worked for made me an offer I couldn't refuse.

So you can see how I was totally new to this interview game. I've always ignored recruiters and haven't had to create a resumé since my early 20's. It was time to wisen up.

CV

Before I could do anything I had to make a resumé, and I had no idea what those looked like anymore. As it turns out, nothing has changed and employers still like a printable document which they can quickly glance over.

Now I had to think about what I could put on my resumé as my past ten years of experience is basically summed up in eight years of freelancing and two years of working for an agency. Furthermore I have no relevant degrees or background in Computer Science, something mentioned in many vacancies. I had no idea how greatly degrees are valued here in Portugal, but I can't work with anything else with what I have! Or from a positive perspective: It was easy to keep my C.V. well structured and scannable 😅. In the end I went with the following structure:

  • Introduction
  • List of (technical) skills / languages
  • Work experience (freelance and agency)
  • Last two studies
  • Three relevant side-projects

This made for a one and a half page resumé and that was as good as it was going to get.

Research

Some of the companies I applied for had a lot of information online. Things I looked out for were company blogs, Linkedin profiles, Github accounts and other resources they shared online. For the bigger companies I found great amounts of information on glassdoor which helped a lot with knowing what to expect from an interview process.

I also discovered that doing whiteboard interviews, Codility tests and other assignments are a thing now. This was something I never did before and seemed scare. I thought the 'Sieve of Eratosthenes' was an Indiana Jones movie, and if that were the kind of things I had to explain during interviews I'd be doomed.

The type of companies I applied at are divisible in three types: Digital agencies, local and foreign startups and multinationals with a technology center in Lisbon. There were plenty of vacancies available, but as I didn't have great urgency I only applied to vacancies I truly deemed a good match.

Cover letter

The first cover letter I wrote was completely written for the first vacancy I encountered. As it got a foot in the door I re-used the structure for my following applications as well, but made sure to rewrite it for each vacancy. In my cover letter I started with an introduction explaining why I was excited about their vacancy, followed by a list of relevant points about myself and things I've recently been working on and ending with a summary stating why I thought this was the right challenge for me.

For every cover letter I did the basics like trying to find someone to address my cover letter to, and mentioning specific information about their vacancy I was interested in.

The interviews

In total I had interviews with five companies of which two were in person and three over Skype / phone. In every case the conversations were greatly enjoyable, although I was noticeable nervous at some. In many cases they asked me why I moved to Lisbon, why I wanted to quit freelancing and work for an employer again and went over my past experiences. I've been very upfront on not having a Computer Science degree, but no-one really asked.

Some companies had done quite some research on me and mentioned my Codepen Pens, Github projects and blog posts. I've had more than one positive comment on being organized, which is something I work hard on as I'm a bit chaotic of nature.

As I was grateful for every interview I got, I made sure to value everyone's time and be honest about other running applications.

I wasn't really prepared for salary negotiations. I hadn't really researched the market in Portugal. Although I knew the salaries were lower than in the Netherlands, I didn't exactly know by how much. In most cases I tried to defer those negotiations until later, and in the cases I did put in a number it was way of the mark.

In all cases I got positive feedback from the first interview and was asked to do either a small coding challenge, assignment or a second interview.

The Challenges

Coding challenges were also completely new to me. The first thing I had to do was a Codility test which I instantly messed up. I was afraid it was going to be some super mathematical computer sciency stuff, but in fact the tests were really practical and mostly about data and DOM manipulation. Still, I botched it because I wasn't well prepared and lost track of time.

In another case I realized I would be able to do the assignment of building a Vue application, but that it would take me quite a while. As they were in need of developers to jump in as soon as possible, I felt like I wasn't 'senior' enough to begin this job without a considerable on-boarding time. I decided not to do the assignment and was candid with the company about why, which seemed to be greatly appreciated.

In the other two cases I got a React/Redux assignment and a JavaScript challenge, both which didn't have a very strict time-limit and I was able to do fairly well.

The Feedback

One company (re: Codility test) was a hard rejection, two companies felt I might not be the perfect fit for the position I applied for but offered to remain actively in contact with me. Two companies made me an offer of which I chose the one that I had the greatest first connection with.

Concluding

Applying for jobs in a new location was greatly out of my comfort zone, but turned out to be really reassuring. I got a lot out of the experience and feel more confident as I know that there are definitely opportunities for me out here. For now I am absolutely stoked with the choice that I made and hope to create, learn and share loads of cool stuff with my new team!

Posted on by:

ardennl profile

Arden de Raaij

@ardennl

Front-end developer based in Lisbon, co-founder of cfye.com and enjoyer of beaches and waves.

Discussion

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Congrats on the job dude! Also, great post: I think it really helps to read about the whole job finding process, from start to end.

 

Thanks! I hope it might be a positive note between all the difficult stories I often read about job interviews 🙌

 

congratulations on your new job. I'm exactly in the same boat, i will need to find a job in my new city Stockholm relocating from Melbourne after working for the same company over 15years, still do remotely. I'm little nervous but I'm up for the challenge. It's exciting having a new start. Your posting is very helpful, it gives me a lot of positive energy somehow. good luck mate!

 

Hi Joni! Thank you so much for your kind words. With that positicw attitude I am sure you're going to do great. I was super nervous as well but in the end the whole experience was really good and also helped me grow as a person. So how are you enjoying Stockholm, and are there a lot of jobs in your area of expertise there? In any case, the best of luck! And again, thanks for your kind reply, it means a lot.

 

Thanks Arden. I'm enjoying the life in Stockholm very much. I'm not sure about coming winter yet though ;) I'm still working for the company in Australia so I haven't started looking the market yet, maybe sometime early next year. Hopefully i post a successful story like you later. :)

Haha yeah coming from Australia, that's going to be a challenge! That's why I moved to the south, haha. One thing, in hindsight, that I maybe should've done more when I arrived here, was going to some meetups and stuff, especially ones organised by interesting local companies. What I mostly found difficult in applying is that it felt so unnatural. Almost every cover letter I sent out felt like a bit of a stab in the dark. If I already had known some companies and people I might've had a better idea on where to start.

That's just an idea though, you'll be good either way!

 

I would never understand requirements like this one with Vue. Vue is very new and it is also rather simple. Great front-end people are hard to find and whatever they have experience with - Vue is just another JS framework, which, despite that I like it, can be out of fashion in two or three years and then what does this company plans to do? Fire Vue devs and hire those who know what is shiny and bright at that particular moment? I would really not consider even working at such company at all.

 

Hey Alexey, thanks for your reply! That's not really how I perceived that experience. The Vue assignment could've been in any other framework or vanilla JS as well. They weren't looking for Vue developers, but in need of people who could quickly jump in. I didn't feel comfortable enough to be able to pick up a new framework in a short period of time, so I left it at that. I feel like quickly being able to pick up a framework is something I can work on.

 

There is a fundamental difference between being a contractor and being a permy. If you are contractor and you are being tested for a framework - this is perfectly fine and this is why you consider it as a norm. You work there for three to twelve months and you need to start delivering value from day one.

If we are talking about a permanent position, there is a different story. If a company is serious about their people - they will train you for this framework considering you are good at front-end and JS in general. Pair-programming and some introductory course will set your track, then you can do stuff yourself. If a company is not ready to invest at least this to people they consider to work there for many years - I would seriously doubt their intentions in general. If a company doesn't even understand the point - even worse.

You might be right, I just assume the best as I've had almost no negative experiences during my career, whether as freelancer of working for companies. As an employee, I do value an on-boarding period to get familiar with the stack, but with my experience also feel like I should be able to deliver / contribute quite early on.

Have you had any experiences with companies or even interviews for companies that expected you to be up and running from day one?

 

Great post, very informative.....
I also had to do a codility test to get my first job in tech, I think that's a new trend now in tech companies.

 

Thanks! How did it go and what kind of questions did they ask you?

 

It went well....The questions were about competitive programming mainly about big O, recursivity and jquery.

 

Great write and good luck for your new job!

 

Hey, Congratulation for the new job, all the best bro.. I really like your process to find, discover and take the chance,, great post

 

First, congratulations!

Second, I hate phony programming problems: burdettelamar.wordpress.com/2014/0...

 

Thanks. and lol! I don't really mind, but I know that if you ask me any computer science stuff on the spot I'll tell you I won't. Small assignments and tasks to see how you think and what your level is are alright with me. Even better: a paid(!!) day on the job which allows you to meet the team and allows the team to check out how much potential they see in you

 

Congratulations on the new job.

 

Congratulations dude! Thank you for sharing your experiences