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How To Interview More Betterer

Maximilian
Software engineer based in London & Winchester. I write about tech, code and my journey through the tech industry.
Updated on ・6 min read

I've had the pleasure of recently interviewing for my first job in tech. Moreover, I've had the unexpected privilege of recently sitting in on a load of interviews for jobs in tech, ranging from junior to 'tech lead' positions, from front end only to full stack, and from gut churningly awfully awkward interviews all the way up to the final hiring decision.

I feel very fortunate to have had this experience, so I'm doing what I believe everyone in tech should be doing, and that is sharing what I've learned in the hope that it will benefit someone else!

So without more waffle, here are my takeaway dos and don'ts.

The didgeri-dos

1. Smile. You're on camera.
We're not all extroverted, ear-to-ear sparkling-teethed grinning Colgate adverts, but, the interview is as much about personality as it is ability (whether you think this is a good thing or a bad thing, it's a thing). People get refused jobs all the time due to 'culture fit' and no, it's not an arbitrary reason. A group that gets on will do more and better work than a group that doesn't. It's important - so play nicely!

On a similar note, call me old fashioned, but even if you're used to wearing a hoodie at work, and even if you know you can wear a hoodie at the place you're applying to, just put on a shirt. It evokes a sense of professionalism and self respect. I hate wearing suits and shirts, but they still have their place and, IMO, an interview is one of them. There's no need to go nuts here, a smart-casual one will be fine, and you can keep the top button undone!

2. Ask questions.
Prepare them ahead of time and know the business you're applying for. If all your questions have been answered by the things you've read (which I doubt!) then ask questions you already know the answers to. It shows you care, it shows you're interested and it gives you things to talk about. You also never know what follow-on questions it could spark in you.

During your tech test, ask anything that you're unsure about or get stuck on. The interviewer (in my experience) would much rather help you over a small hurdle for you to demonstrate a wider knowledge, than watch you struggle for 10 minutes over something trivial.

3. Repeat your interviewer.
A great way of establishing that you've understood what's being asked of you during your tech test, and equally, a great way to give the interviewer an opportunity to fill any gaps in the task that they may have missed, is to reaffirm the interview question. I.e., after the interviewer has finished explaining the problem (e.g. "Dave, I want you to write a for loop that iterates over a number array and returns all the prime numbers"), you respond with, "Ok, so you want me to iterate over this number array using a for loop and return all the prime numbers?". In doing this, you give yourself a bit of time to think of any questions (like, should this loop be inside a function?). Equally, as the interviewer's hearing back their question, they may realise that they forgot to mention that they want you to log out the returned values, for example.

Doing this is a great way of solidifying what is being asked of you, whilst giving you a few seconds' breathing space before attempting the solution.

4. Be passionate.
I'm yet to meet a full-time developer that doesn't enjoy writing code. Of course, nothing is 100% nirvana, but you're a developer for a reason, right? Talk about it! The candidates that I saw get the furthest, were ones whose eyes lit up when they got to talk about tech and code, who had side-projects and hobbies that related in some way to tech (even things like music and photography). It's all relevant and it's what makes you you!

5. THE BIG ONE: Know what you say you know.
I was a part of interviews with people who described themselves as, and I quote, "a full stack Javascript engineer of tech-lead standard" who couldn't run the code they wrote in the interview. This didn't happen once. This happened 3 times. If you put 'Javascript' as the first thing on your CV (resumé) and you describe yourself as anything above a Junior, you'd better know Javascript.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with having things on your CV that you may have dabbled with (in fact, this is a good thing), but if you're pitching yourself as x, you should be x.

6. Communicate during your tech test.
This is a difficult one, or at least, it was for me. You're so focused on trying to nail the test and all the internalising that comes with that on top of worrying how the interview's going, how quickly they're expecting you to solve this problem etc. that communicating your thought processes is the last thing on your mind, and yet, is the most important. By communicating exactly what you're thinking, the interviewer (assuming they're on a level) can help guide you towards the best answer. The last thing the interviewer wants to do, is watch your panicked little eyes for 10 minutes solid in total, awkward silence, while you think of a solution that's 5 miles off the mark because you overthought the problem!

A tip that helped me was to practice solving coding puzzles whilst talking out loud.

As an example of how bad a lack of communication can get... I sat in on multiple interviews where the interviewee got so wrapped up in their solution, they failed to realise that they had accidentally muted the interviewer. They also weren't looking at the video window, so couldn't see the interviewer waving. Their phone was on silent too, so couldn't hear the interviewer calling. 45 minutes into the tech test, the interviewer had no choice but to hang up due to not being able to help them with the solution, not to mention that they were out of time! From the interviewee's point of view though, the interviewer went completely silent which must have seemed so intense!! So... eyes up, ears open and communicate!

The Didgeri-Don'ts:

1. Don't be arrogant.
There's a fine line between showing what you can do and showing off. One of my favourite expressions is: walk softly, carry a big stick. In other words, let your work and your results do the talking. Your job in the interview is to point the interviewer towards your work and what your work achieved. This is different from talking about how great you are and how much you have achieved. Aside from it benefiting your learning to be humble, in the context of a job interview, no one wants to work with someone who comes across like they think they're better than their colleagues.

2. Don't be late.
I would have thought this goes without saying, but it doesn't. What's weirder to me is that all the interviews I was a part of were virtual. Go figure.

3. Don't worry!
As someone that's anxious at the best of times, this advice sucks. How could you not worry?! Well, you're either right for the job, or you aren't. Your work experience is a match, or it isn't. There's not much more to say. Try and enjoy it and most importantly, try to learn something from it. One thing learned from an interview makes the interview worthwhile. Focus on what you can learn and the rest will fall into place.

4. Don't be afraid to say, 'I'll think about it'.
In high pressure situations like interviews, one is apt to say something or agree to something that they later regret. If you find yourself in this position, instead of reaching for an answer in under 1.5 awkward seconds, stop, breathe and say these magic words: 'Do you mind if I have a little think about that and come back to you?'. This also gives you the time and opportunity to ask someone else for advice before you commit to anything.

5. Don't talk negatively about other jobs.
The last job you had may have legitimately been the worst job you've ever had. Your manager could have been the worst person in the world and treated all of their staff like garbage. This story might seem like a funny anecdote to talk about during an interview, but here's the kicker... whoever's interviewing you doesn't know your last manager or company and to them, you're likely coming across as someone who's difficult to work with and who may talk about people behind their backs. This is actually a lesson I learned from a friend of mine. In passing, they referred to their previous boss (in jest) as 'a psycho'. FYI, they were. But it cost them this job. How do they know? Because they got hired by the same company later on and they told them! Lesson learned.

Outro

I hope this post helped you with your interview prep. If you have any tips or experiences from your previous interviews that you'd like to share, drop them in the comments section below and if you are prepping for interviews, my fingers are crossed for you!

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