Making the Most of Your Web Developer Interview

Having just run the interview gauntlet (again) myself, I thought it might be useful to share some of my tips and tricks for getting through technical interviews. While your mileage may vary, I’ve found these tips to be pretty standard across all industries that employ Web Developers.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Even though you’re not trying to get to Carnegie Hall, you have got to practice. Have a friend or loved one drill you on questions you think you’re going to get. Know these answers backwards and forwards to avoid awkward pauses, ums, and uhs. If your interview is on the phone (as many initial interviews are), make yourself notes. And I mean physical notes. It can pretty bad if they hear you clicking away at the keyboard.

Memorize or have a copy of the job description handy. These are the items that your interviewers are going to want to hear.

Common General Questions

Why are you looking for a new job?

This can be trickier than you might think. If you got laid off, be honest. It’s not your fault. Explain what happened and that you’re eager to get back in the game. Things get trickier when you have a job. You need to find an answer that does not make you sound like you’re just hopping from job to job. Some ideas include

  • You’re looking for a new challenge
  • You’re looking for more responsibility
  • You’re looking to expand yourself as a programmer/developer/whatever
  • You’re looking for something with a better commute

Do not say you want more money or that you hate your current job. Never ever bad mouth your past/current employers. Ever. It makes you sound shallow and vindictive.

What were you doing at your last job?

Be prepared with a 5-10 minute pitch of what you were doing at your last job. Make sure you include keywords from the position’s job description. Include highlights from the last few years, especially anything that got you recognition inside or outside the company.

What is your biggest strength?

Be honest, but also be creative. Don’t just say “Coding.” That’s vague and they already know you’re a programmer. Talk about your creativity or your ability to problem solve. Are you flexible as a coder? Able to adjust and learn new languages? Go with that.

What is your biggest weakness?

This one’s tough. Half the time, they want you to be honest. The other half they want the “I work too hard” cliche answer. What I like is something like “I’ve been working on getting better at X.” Where X is a genuine skill that you are (or should be) trying to improve. Usually, this can be an intangible skill like being more assertive, communicative, or adventurous.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

This can be tricky, especially if you want to move up the corporate ladder. By saying, “I want to be a manager in five years,” you’ve just declared your interest in your boss’ job. Caution! Still, even that’s better than “I don’t know,” which just shows you’re rudderless and have no long-term plans.

What’s your ideal job?

“This one.” That’s too easy, isn’t it. This is kind of a BS question. They’re looking to see if you fit in with their current structure. Try to match your answer to the job description as best you can.

Do you have any questions for me/us?

I blow this question more than anything else. It’s the end of the interview, I’m tired and just want to get off the phone. I write down one or two questions so that even my half-baked brain can manage something. Also write down any questions that come to mind while they’re talking. Some ideas:

  • What’s it like working there?
  • What’s the next “big thing” that you’re working on?
  • What’s your timeline for making a decision on this position?

Common Technical Questions

Other people have covered this in great detail, so I’ll just pass some links along here for the common languages. In fact, I think most interviewers are pulling their questions from these sites.

javascript-iconJavaScript

php-iconPHP

CSS

html-5-iconHTML

Know your enemy

Employers are going to use Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, and the like to find out more information about you. Do the same to them. Odds are you are working with a recruiter to set your interviews. Ask them the names of who you will be speaking with. LinkedIn is invaluable in finding out information about your interviewers.

What to know about your interviewers

  • Shared connections (friends/coworkers)
  • Past places of employment
  • Technical passions (OSes. dev tools, etc)
  • Passions outside of work
  • How old they are (This comes in handy if there is a large disparity between your age and theirs – up or down)

Dress for success

This should go without saying, but after having interviewed more than a few young developers, it’s clearly not obvious. Wear something that’s business formal. Do not go in wearing jeans and shirt. Always go in looking better than the people who are interviewing you. You want them to be impressed/intimidated by you, not the other way around. Look sharp, be comfortable, and be confident. Smile and shake hands with a firm, but not vice-like grip.

In Conclusion – Be Prepared

Do as much as you can ahead of time to be prepared. You won’t know everything that’s coming, but if you go in forewarned and forearmed, you can turn the tables and be in control of your interview.

Image Courtesy of SportSuburban@Flickr

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