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Udara Weerasinghege
Udara Weerasinghege

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Interview Guide for Software Developers - Part 1: Landing the Interview

Searching for a new job can be a daunting experience. It’s extremely discouraging to apply to dozens of positions online only to hear back from one or two, if any. In this post, I’ll walk through how you can leverage your network to land an interview instead of relying solely on online applications.

Most people default to applying through a company's career page when searching for a job. While this is the most common and the easiest way to apply, it’s also the least effective. You are one of the hundreds if not thousands of applicants for a single position. You're relying purely on the strength of your resume to get through to the interview stage. Even with a lot of relevant experience and a great resume, there’s a chance that yours will not be looked at due to the sheer volume of applicants.

In my experience, the best way to land an interview is by getting a referral from an existing employee at the company you’re interested in. While online applications come in the hundreds, referrals are rarer and carry more weight.

Due to the large volumes of online applications, there’s a good chance that yours is missed or overlooked. Referrals get around this problem. Referrals will generally be looked at first by the recruiter or manager hiring for a position. This gives you an immediate advantage. Referrals also carry a seal of approval that is absent from an anonymous online application.

If you submit 10 online applications, and you get 10 referrals, all else being equal, you'll probably hear back from a higher percentage of the referrals.

Asking for a referral can feel pushy and uncomfortable. However, most companies have incentives -- often financial -- for employees that make successful referrals, so the referrer benefits as well. Additionally, most people are just happy to help in any way they can if they believe you’d be a good fit for the position.

Let’s look at a couple of ways of securing referrals.

Find existing connections at the company

Friends, mutual friends, classmates, and ex-coworkers are all great sources for obtaining a referral. If they know you personally and know the quality of your work first or second hand, all it takes is a polite message asking for a referral to the position you’re interested in. You can check the company’s LinkedIn profile to discover your mutual connections. If you only have 2nd level connections, see if you get an introduction from your mutual connections. Don’t forget to look for company alumni, who are direct connections as well! They will usually still have friends at the company, and they can help you get an introduction.

Reach out to engineers & recruiters at the company

Employees at a company are often happy to talk about the work they do. You can use LInkedin to find developers at the companies you’re interested in. If it's a large company, try to find someone in the department that's related to the position you want. Employees who have something in common with you -- highschool/bootcamp/college/previous job/shared interest/hobby -- are the best candidates for reaching out, as they’ll be more inclined to reply to your messages.

Tell them you're interested in the company and the work that they're doing. Be genuine, mention anything common you have with them, and ask them if they have 15-30 minutes to chat to talk about their work (pre-COVID I’d have recommended meeting them for coffee). If they respond positively, schedule a time and send over a calendar invite. Don’t forget to add a meeting link to the calendar invite, or get their phone number.

During the call, ask them about their work, company culture, and anything you’re curious about. This is a great opportunity to learn more about the company first-hand. Also, let them know a bit about your experience and why you're interested in the company. If the call goes well, as you reach the end of your meeting time, politely ask if they would be comfortable referring you.

If you can't find any engineers that respond, reach out to a recruiter directly. While they may not provide you with a referral, they might be able to expedite the resume review process if they believe you are well suited for the position. Everyone loves initiative!

The process of finding individuals and reaching out doesn't scale if you’re applying for 100s of positions, or if you have tight timelines. I recommend choosing a handful of companies that you're most passionate about and reaching out to them.

You may find yourself unlucky with no responses. In this case default to applying online. Any application is better than no application.

When you begin your next job search, I encourage you to leverage your network to help you get referrals. They take more effort to secure, but you almost guarantee that your resume will be looked over and considered. Very few people actually use their network in this way, so this is an easy way to stand out. It might seem scary at first, but the worst that could happen is you don’t get a reply and you apply online, which you would have done anyway.

As you rack up industry experience, your network and the strength of your connections will naturally grow, making this process easier and easier. Early on in your career, you’ll have to work hard for referrals by scouring LinkedIn for the right people to message, but I promise it’s worth the effort!

If you liked this post or found it useful, keep an eye out for my next post with tips for Acing The Coding Interview

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