Interview Tips: Basics

I’m in the process of interviewing new software developers for the company I work for, and while we interview for a range of Junior to Senior developers, these tips may help any level of experience. The tips are not solely for developer or technical roles.

A lot of what I’ll say here isn’t ground-breaking. It’s the basics. The really, really basics. I’ve noticed that a number of candidates do not have these down yet, so here’s a few items I feel might help you if you’re in the position of being unsure how to go into an interview.
In brief, these suggestions can be broken down to:

  1. Prepare
  2. Positivity
  3. Plan
  4. Listen
  5. Extra steps

Prepare

If you have an in-person interview, be prepared to show the best side of yourself. Set out what you’ll wear beforehand, find out where the building is, go in earlier than the appointed time, get a good nights sleep and double check there’s nothing in your teeth before showing off your pearly whites on introductions. Good first impressions make a huge difference to how your interview will go.

For remote interviews this is much the same. It still helps to dress and look your best (even if they can’t see all of you). Similar to finding the building and getting there ahead of time, I cannot stress enough how important it is to be aware of the method you will be using to have the interview. Test conference call links in advance, log into any software early or keep your phone beside you.

Positivity

This is a broad topic, but always try and be positive. It starts with a smile. Even on phone interviews, a smile can almost be heard. This extends to being positive in what you say, and not selling yourself short or coming off as too cocky.

If an interviewer asks you “What do you think you could have done better on our assessment?”, they will be looking for you to sell yourself through critical thinking and being realistic. Answering “Nothing, it was perfect” is too much, answering “It was awful and I don’t know how to fix it” is also bad.

Find ways to instead show yourself in a positive yet humble light “I feel that I could have done section B a little better if I had used technique 1 instead of technique 2, however I am happy with my choice of using technique 3 in section A because it has these advantages over technique 4”. Analytical, critical thinking, understanding of positives, negatives and willing to change previous thoughts.

I’ve had candidates out right say that in times where their ideas conflicted with others, rather than find a positive compromise between two colleagues, they “couldn’t do anything. It’s a lot easier to let the other person have it their way”, even if the other person was perhaps in the wrong. This is a negative way of selling yourself.

Plan

Go into an interview with a mental plan of questions and answers.

You will likely not know what you will be asked to do or talk about in an interview but you can plan ahead for what you would like to learn about the company, the life of the employees and whether the company will be a good fit for you.

The common interview format tends to be questions around your previous employment, understanding your experience, how you deal with situations that the company itself handles and learning about your character (soft skills).

You can somewhat plan ahead for these. Think of specific situations that you have had. Was there a time you worked under pressure? Conflicted with a co-worker? A time of success, or where you overcame a challenging problem? These are frequently used interview questions that you can plan ahead for. You may never be asked to talk about these, but if you have the situations in mind, you’ll be prepared for those questions, anything similar, or able to take parts of those experiences and use them for other questions that may be asked of you.

(I will do a follow up post on preparing and planning for technical interviews at a later time)

Listen

This might seem like a no-brainer. When you are being interviewed, listen to the interviewer. Ask them to repeat or clarify anything you don’t understand or didn’t hear. Take time to repeat any questions back to them if you need time to think. This is a strategy you will see employed by others in positions where they are asked frequent challenging questions (CEOs & politicians).

Repeating a question is a great way of giving yourself time to think of an answer and process what the question actually means in order to give specific, insightful and interesting answers. It also highlights to the interviewers that you have listened to their question and you are paying attention because you care about the interview. This is good.

Extra Steps

  • Remember an interview is a conversation, not just a series of questions fired at you. You are also learning if the company you are applying for is for you. Ask questions as you go.
  • Thank any HR members or interviewers for their time. While they may not reply, it goes a long way to be courteous and polite. Maybe this is personal preference, but if I get a follow up e-mail from a candidate with thanks and/or even highlighting some parts of the interview, I’m more likely to remember them positively.
  • Body language is important. If you slouch, cross your arms, lean back like you’re on a beach somewhere or give off any strange signals, interviewers will pick it up whether they realise it or not.
    Sit up straight, keep your hands in view without fidgeting, smile and keep your body relaxed without looking lazy. If it seems appropriate, you may mirror body language of an interviewer. This is something we often do without realising it, but it creates a human-connection between two people that shows you are attentive and in a situation you are comfortable and can handle.

 

Hopefully through reading these tips you’ll either have learned something new or reinforced what you knew before. Give it your best shot and good luck.
Feel free to leave a comment if you have anything additional to add or wish to discuss anything posted here.

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One thought on “Interview Tips: Basics

  1. Pingback: Whiteboard or Pre-Interview Technical Challenge | James Euesden

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