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Smashing Magazine

September 18, 2013 View Original Article

Land Your Next Web Development Job: The Interview Process

By Dean Hume

During my career as a software developer and manager, I have been involved in many interviews. Whether the interviewer or interviewee, I have always paid special attention to the interview process.

In my current role, I spend a lot of time interviewing potential employees, so I’ve seen my fair share of good and bad interviews. Some candidates stand out from the crowd immediately, while others are just another face in a million. In this article, I’ll give you a few tips and a head start on your next interview. Whether your next interview is your first or twenty-first, hopefully these tips will help you along the way.

Interviews can be scary, especially when you attend your first few or haven’t attended any for a while. Preparation is the key to success and can take the stress out of the dreaded process. You can do a few things before even walking through the door. If you are prepared and your mind is ready, then the whole process should be a breeze. I like to break the interview process into three steps: preparation, interview and post-interview.

Preparation

This is the most important stage in the process and could determine whether you appeal to the recruiter. A CV won’t even make it past the review stage if it doesn’t meet certain criteria, but by preparing beforehand, you can maximize your chances of making it to the interview stage.

UPDATE YOUR CV

Spend time creating a great CV. Some great templates are on Guardian Jobs. If you have never created a CV, try to mirror the layouts of some of the people who inspire you. I drew some inspiration from both Scott Hanselman and Paul Irish. For example, Paul’s CV contains testimonials from other popular developers in the community, and Scott’s CV contains highlights from his presentations, qualifications and open-source contributions. You might not have the same experience or work history as the people who inspire you, but you can always get new ideas from their CVs. Who are the leaders in your field?

I follow a few rules when creating a CV:

  • Don’t lie.
    Never claim anything on your CV that you can’t do, because if an employer questions you and you don’t have the answers, you could lose the job and look like a fool in the process.
  • Steer clear of buzzwords.
    I have noticed a trend of candidates adding a load of buzzwords to their CVs to help recruitment agents find them. Only add a skill if you have used it before and feel competent enough to answer questions about it. Also, steer clear of buzzwords such as “dynamic,” “synergy” and “creative.”
  • Have your CV reviewed.
    Get your mother, sibling or friend to review your CV before submitting it. The extra pair of eyes might spot a few areas for improvement and help you finely hone the document into the perfect CV. Remember that your CV is the first point of contact before you walk in the door. You may be the greatest programmer in the world, but if your CV isn’t up to snuff, no one will want to interview you!
  • Spellcheck.
    And then spellcheck again!

PUT YOUR CV ONLINE

If you haven’t done so, create a LinkedIn profile. It’s a great way to get your profile out there and to get potential employers looking at your CV. Simply upload a copy of the CV that you created earlier, and, with a little tweaking, LinkedIn will format it for you. I often use LinkedIn to see whether a candidate knows someone I know or have worked with in the past. Professional connections are a good indication of a person’s working background. You might have a friend who works at the company — a referral always helps.

Another great website for developers is StackOverflow’s Careers 2.0.

Much like LinkedIn, Careers 2.0 lets you post your CV, but it is more developer-focused, allowing you to link to your open-source projects and any technical books you may be reading. Once you have created your online profile, both LinkedIn and StackOverflow will let you export a PDF of your profile, which could serve as a CV. So, if you like the format and layout, simply download and use it for your next job application.

GET SOME CODE OUT THERE

If you are a Web developer or designer, then an online presence is vital. If you have any side projects or even snippets of code, get them onto a social collaboration platform, such as GitHub. Seeing that a candidate builds things in their spare time or even contributes to open-source projects instantly piques my interest. It’s a great indicator that they are passionate about what they do. Include your highest-quality work in your online portfolio. Tinkering with projects in your spare time also helps you to learn and grow, and hopefully you will be able to bring that knowledge into the company.

A few great code-hosting services are GitHub, Bitbucket and CodePlex. Once you have uploaded your code, put it on your CV! It could help you to stand out from the crowd.

If working on an open-source project isn’t for you, then you could always contribute onStackOverflow. The community is great, and the more questions you answer, the higher your score, or “reputation.” While this doesn’t necessarily indicate that a candidate is qualified, it does show that they have an active interest in the community and are willing to learn.

GET A BLOG UP AND RUNNING

If you have the time, writing a blog can be a rewarding experience. It will teach you the ins and outs of SEO, website deployment and social promotion. You could go down the route of writing your own blog engine (which would give you something to deploy on GitHub!), or you could use one of the awesome blog engines out there that are ready to roll. I quite like TumblrSquareSpaceand even WordPress.

Again, don’t forget to add the blog’s URL to your CV! Blogging isn’t for everyone, and it takes time, so if you feel you might not be able to commit or update it regularly, get yourself onto Twitter and start following people who inspire you. As an employer, I always like to see what a candidate is interested in, talking about, etc.

DO YOUR HOMEWORK

Before going to the interview, learn as much about the company as you can. How long has it been operating? What products does it sell? What is its culture like? Think about the challenges it faces and how you can use your experiences and know-how to help it build great tools. Nothing is worse than interviewing someone who has no idea about our company or what we do. You don’t need to spend hours learning the history of the company, but a basic understanding of what it does and its ethos is important. If you haven’t done your research, then an automatic “No” is almost guaranteed!

TECHNICAL TEST

If the job entails writing code, then certain companies will require you to complete a technical test. It could be a simple exercise that you complete at home, or it could be a test that you come into the office and complete then and there. If you are asked to complete the test at home, put as much effort into it as possible. I have received many tests from candidates that have a lot of JavaScript errors or that don’t compile. Make sure yours has no errors and that it works on platforms other than the one you develop on! If you get the chance, review the code briefly with someone you know. You might just find a few areas to improve on.

Another great idea is to deploy the test to a live server. You can sign up for a free starter plan onSite44, which enables you to create and deploy HTML websites from your Dropbox account for free. Both Amazon EC2 and Windows Azure let you set up free cloud websites in a matter of minutes and delete them when completed.

By deploying your application and showing a working version, you demonstrate an understanding of how to deploy software, which could give you an advantage over other candidates. In fact, I hire most developers who show me a live, deployed, working version of their code!

By taking that extra time to make sure your technical test is outstanding, you give yourself a clear advantage over other candidates.

The Interview

If you’ve made it this far, congratulate yourself. Your hard work and preparation have secured an interview, and the employer thinks you might be the right candidate. It’s time to nail the interview and finish the whole process in style.

QUESTIONS

Before going into the office for the interview, write down a few of your own questions about the position. This is your chance to learn as much about the role as possible. Having learned a little more about the company, you might even find that it’s not the place for you!

Ask about the working environment, the development stack you will be working on, and anything else related to the job. Interviewers love to answer questions, and it shows you have taken the time to think about the position. Going into an interview without any of your own questions is a bad thing! Remember that you are also interviewing the employer in this stage!

DON’TS

There are a few definite no-no’s in the interview process. Follow these simple rules to avoid any awkward moments:

  • Don’t ask about the salary.
    Bringing this up during the interview is not the best timing. Other members of the staff will often sit in on the interview, and your potential salary might not be intended for their ears. If you do need to ask at this point, do it privately with the hiring manager.
  • Don’t ask how you did.
    This is important because the people in the room will be discussing you after the interview. Other candidates might be interviewing before or after you, and the team will need a chance to compare you to them.
  • Don’t badmouth your former employer.
    No matter how mistreated you feel or how bad the job was, keep your thoughts about your former employer to yourself. Be as diplomatic as possible, because disparaging other people won’t win you points with the interviewer. Your attitude towards and description of your former employer is a good indication of the kind of employee you will be. If asked about your last position and why you left, explain the situation but save the ranting — you would only make yourself look bad!
  • Don’t lie.
    If you don’t know the answer to a question, just say so! The interviewer will respect you for answering honestly and will understand that you don’t know the answer to every question.

LAST-MINUTE DETAILS

Whether you are applying for the job directly or through an agency, check a few last things before going to the office for the interview:

  • What is the dress code?
  • What will the format of the interview be?
  • How long will the interview last?
  • When and where will the interview be held?
  • Who will be present in the interview?

Find out the address and time of the interview, and arrive at least 15 minutes early. This will give you a chance to relax and to avoid the stress of rushing about. By arriving early, you will also observe the staff coming and going through the reception area. Those 15 minutes could give you a good feel for the company.

Finding out these simple things before going for the interview takes some of the stress out of the situation. Preparation is the key to success!

RELAX

The interview process is as much about you finding out whether the job and company are right foryou. Feeling nervous is natural, but try to relax and enjoy the process. If you are relaxed, you will interview that much better and will come across as more confident. You’ve done all the hard work to get through the door — now, just keep up the good work.

Post-Interview

The interview is over, and you are eagerly awaiting the result. Depending on the company, it could take a few days to a week to get back to you. Rest easy, knowing that you have done all the hard work and given it your best shot.

If you wind up not being chosen, don’t be disheartened. The timing might not have been right, or you might need to brush up on a few areas. There could be any number of reasons why you weren’t offered the position, many being outside of your control. Interviewers will often give you feedback on the process and your performance; if you would like more detail, don’t be afraid to ask. Whenever I have been turned down for a position, I have asked the interviewer for areas to improve upon. It is an opportunity to learn and grow. Practice makes perfect, and the more you interview, the better you will become at the process. Once a few interviews are under your belt, it starts to become a piece of cake.

If you do get the job, well done! You’ve nailed your first interview and are on your way to starting the new job. You should be extremely proud of your achievement.

Remember

Interviewing is difficult! No matter how hard you try, you will not always be successful, and sometimes it just doesn’t work out. By following the steps in this article, hopefully you will become more effective at the process and seem a more attractive candidate. Finally, remember that the interview process is as much about you learning about the employer as it is about them learning about you!