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Ilia Mikhailov
Ilia Mikhailov

Posted on • Originally published at

Ace your first job interview

You don't get a second chance to make a first impression. The person you meet makes a judgement of you in just a few seconds, if even that long. How can you make sure you nail it?

But as I sit down and write this I realize that there is no blueprint, no script. It's not something you can rehearse as every situation is different.

Same for the interviews. Every company has their own interview process, their own set of questions.

But one thing is always universal - you are invited to the interview because they believe you might be the right person for the job.

If you read my other article, 5 essential job application tips from a CTO, hopefully you have been invited to the interview already.

So congrats for making it this far! The battle is almost half won. You just have to convince the person across the table that you are the right one.

I've been in quite many interviews in my career myself, but now I mostly sit on the other side of the table interviewing developers.

What follows are some tips on top of my head. Things that I noticed people do wrong or could do better at. Maybe "patterns" is a better word than tips.

Note: I am not talking about technical interviews or screening calls, but "soft" interviews. Technical interviews are different, but many tips below will apply to them as well.

Start with a hello and a smile

Remember I said that first impression lasts? This is the moment. The critical part. This is the moment that sets the tone for the whole interview. The moment the person across the table decides if she likes you or not. It's the first time they meet you.

Don't screw this up.

This is also the simplest part of the interview. Just say "Hello! I am [name]. Nice to meet you!" with a genuine smile. That's it!

Appear self-confident

You have to appear self-confident and not nervous. People can sense that. It's normal to get nervous, especially if you haven't been to many interviews before.

My advice would be not to try and paint a picture of this in your head before hand. Try to go into the interview with a blank state of mind.

Imagining that you are meeting your friend's parents for the first time or your friend's friend might help as well.

If it's a physical interview (not a video call), PLEASE do a firm handshake. Nobody likes to hold a dead fish in their hand.

Do your research

Before going on the interview, find as much information about the company as you can, so you can ask the right questions. Companies love candidates that come prepared and ask smart questions.

Search around on the Internet, on the company's website, LinkedIn, Twitter and write down a set questions. Search for news, announcements, tech blogs. Do some research on the space the company is in.

Write down all your questions, but don't bring them to the interview of course. The writing part is just for your mind to process and internalize them.

Tell me about yourself

Most of the interviews starts with this question. It's a tough one.

Make sure you can give a short sales pitch about yourself. It should be no more than five sentences and provide a clear picture of what you are about. A summary, if you please.

Try writing one down and then ask a friend for feedback by reading it out loud to them. When satisfied with results, try to memorize it.

Listen actively

The best interview is a dialog. Try to listen actively and ask follow-up questions. Always save a few questions to the "Do you have any more questions?" part at the end of the interview.

Know your strengths and weaknesses

I cannot stress this highly enough. Questions such as:

  • Name a few of you strengths and weaknesses
  • What do you consider yourself good at
  • Why should we hire you?

You will get them sooner or later. I've met way too many people that stumble on this one.

My best tip is to do a Myers-Briggs personality test. Seriously. There are plenty of free ones on the Internet. They will tell you in great detail about your strengths and weaknesses.

Use the results and try to weave them into your story.

Do not hesitate to answer straight away

When asked a question, start answering before you know the answer. The best thing to do that is to paraphrase the question. It will give you some extra time to figure the answer on the way.

Why? You will appear more self-confident and avoid the sometimes awkward silence.

What it important to you in a job? What do you value?

This is the question I always ask. Free lunches and beer pong is not the right answer.

Know what's important to you and what you value.

Be honest

Never lie about your skills. Honesty lasts a long way. If there is some technology you haven't worked with before try to find an angle. Maybe you have worked with similar technology before. The principles are, after all, universal.

Often it pays off to be honest, because you appear vulnerable. You admit that you don't know things, and that's OK. Remember that I told that people often are not looking for skills, but for fast learners? If you convinced the people across the table that you are one, saying no should not be a problem.

Create a timeline of your professional career

Most of the people will use you resume as a base for the interview. One question I like to ask is to draw a timeline of your professional carrier. Workplaces you have been to and what you have done there.

This is not a bragging contest. Keep it short and to the point. If you accomplished something special, sure, tell that.

People like statistics. If you have any interesting numbers to share feel free to do so.

If you don't have any professional experience yet, try to prove that you are a fast learner. Maybe you have done some school projects or some gigs on the side. Try to weave in time constraint factors here.

Show how you helped other companies succeed

People often want to know how you helped other companies. Don't talk so much about yourself. Concentrate on your work projects and tell interesting details about them.

Never complain or say bad things about your previous or current employers or bosses. You don't want to be that person. Trust me on this one.

Ask smart questions

Always save a few questions till the end. Try to make mental notes during the interview and come back to them later.

Never ask direct questions about bicycle parking possibilities and similar. If it's important to you, try to do it indirectly.

Sell yourself

If you are meeting with other developers or a team lead you have to make them feel that you will be a valuable addition to the team.

There are countless times where I've heard: He is a little junior, but we think he's got potential!

You want them to say "I really liked the candidate" after the interview.

If they are not sure, they are sure. Make them sure.

Black Hat tip

If you want to speed up the whole process and create a sense of urgency, tell the interviewer that you are currently involved in another recruitment process too.

Just don't tell them I told you!


Interviews are hard. There is not right or wrong. It's a lot about personal chemistry and psychology.

Interviews are all about finding the right candidate with right skills and culture fit, as they are for you to find the place where you can grow.

Remember, companies are looking for help just as much as you are looking for a job.

Don't get discouraged if you don't pass the interview. Maybe it wasn't the place for you anyway.

Mistakes are your best teacher.

Reflect, adjust, move on.

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