Interview Advice For Candidates13 February 2018
About 9 months ago I wrote some advice for candidates based on reading a lot of CV’s. We are hiring again at Open Energy Market and I have carried out many interviews over the last month. A couple of stand out candidates made the process engaging and fun. Most didn’t for a variety of reasons. So I thought I would share, publicly, some feedback.
Research the company
When interviewing for a company it is rude to know nothing about it. Every company has a website, files accounts or registers with professional bodies. The information available varies. But, you should be able to answer the question “What do you know about our company?” The answer should also be better than “You work in industry x” and should prove effort on your part. You should be able to provide evidence that you have done your research in your answer. Who does the company work with, what is the company vision, how are they different from their competitors.
Just to be clear “Not a lot really” or “Nothing” are unacceptable answers. (Both of which were provided during the latest interviews).
Research the role
You will have a job description for the role. Use it to prepare.
Prepare to answer questions about the technology stack used. Your knowledge of that technology will be interrogated. Brush up on any parts you use less often. Prepare to answer questions about the technology’s ecosystem and architecture pro’s and con’s.
Have examples of how you have solved problems using the technology stack. It can sometimes be useful to have code snippets. These can act as conversation starters. I expect candidates to explain how their experience is relevant to my role. Be honest. If you have tried solutions that haven’t worked as expected, share and be clear on how you overcome the issues.
There is nothing worse than asking a candidate a question and getting yes/no answers. A good candidate will engage in a conversation about technology and share opinions.
You are not an island
When discussing a technology or library, the answer “I have my own version that is better than x” is usually a red flag.
Why do you think your framework is better than Bootstrap? Why is your ORM better than EF or Dapper? What makes you better than an open source community or a corporate development team. Obviously, this should be applied on a case by case basis. But, it tells a lot about a developer who makes that kind of statement.
(FYI if you are Linus Torvalds, Guido Van Rossum, John Resig or DHH this section probably doesn’t apply to you.)
For a recent role, we interviewed two candidates at the polar ends of a long spectrum. One candidate took 22 minutes to introduce themselves and provide a “brief” career history. They literally didn’t take a breath. The very next candidate was the opposite. They said nothing more than the very least they could get away with.
There is a middle ground. Answer questions in a considered and detailed manner but do not bore people. Remember that the interviewer will want to know how relevant you are to the role. Being told about your paper round is of no value. If you do not know an answer then be honest and do not stumble to a bad answer.
Developers like flamewars and arguments. They are by nature opinionated people with strong views about everything technical.
Be flexible in the discussion. Don’t forget that interviews should be a two-way process. If you disagree with a statement or opinion of the interviewer, then counter. Do so in an educated manner and provide context for your opinion. The interviewer may even throw a curve ball question in to see how you react.
If something is a deal breaker for you then wrap the interview up there and then in a professional manner.
Keep it calm and polite.
Have a working environment
At Open Energy Market we carry out interviews via Hangouts. The main reason we do this is that our development team is fully remote. That means that candidates should be comfortable with video calls. It is the main method of daily communication. Doing interviews this way proves a candidate can be comfortable working in this way.
If a candidate takes 15 minutes to sort out their sound or video issues it’s a black mark. Hangouts is not a cutting-edge new technology. It is extremely easy to set up and if you are attending an interview using it you should be tested and ready to go.
A recent candidate was unable to operate Hangouts at all. Instead, they invited us to use their existing employers Skype for Business service. Not a good impression.
So, that is a brief summary of advice from 20 or so interviews. Every interviewer is different and the approach taken varies on the role. However, if you are prepared and can calmly and clearly explain how your skills and experience fit the role requirements you will standard a fair chance.