By Marcell Lipp November 7, 2018

How to Behave at a Developer Job Interview

Job interviews are really stressful for most programmers: You only have about an hour to show your best. That’s not easy at all, especially if you are not an experienced interviewee. Fortunately, there are some tips and tricks that can help a lot.

Everything here is based on my own experiences. I have been through many interviews as both an interviewer and a candidate. In this article, I will summarize my experiences and suggestions for a successful interview.

The Interviewer Is Searching for a Nice Person

In most cases, the interviewer is looking for someone who will be a good addition to their team. You would meet every day, solving tasks together, sit in the same meetings, probably pair-program, and spend most of your time together. So it is really important to behave like a nice person: Be friendly, communicate in a clear way, do not frustrate the interviewer, and so on.

This is imperative, since programming is not the sport of lonely wolves anymore. Teamwork has become one of the most important skills. Be honest and open-minded. Look motivated: Have a positive attitude, ask questions, and make the interviewer sure that you are really interested in working with them. That’s half your success, right there.

Stay Calm and Confident

During the interview, stay calm and confident. The interviewer may attempt to make you feel uncomfortable, but try to stay calm.

Your interviewer might ask you uncomfortable questions such as:

  • Why would you like to change your job?
  • Why are you better than the other candidates?
  • How is your connection with your current boss and colleagues?
  • Would it be OK to work with PHP: Hypertext Preprocessor?
  • Do you usually document your code?

It is good if you prepare some answers for these questions before the interview. They should be honest, but politically correct. So it is not a good idea to answer “I hate my boss, because he’s a bad boss” It’s better to say “Sometimes, it is a bit difficult for me to get my boss to listen to my ideas.”

One more typical question is “Why are you the best candidate for this position?” When you get asked this question, be really confident and mention every skill you have that is connected to the position.

Whatever the question is, stay calm and give your answer. Don’t let yourself get stressed.

Never Lie About Your Knowledge

Mention everything that you can do, but don’t lie. Your interviewer will know, and that will make for some really uncomfortable situations. Even if you can survive your interview by lying, if you manage to get hired, your employer will know the truth once you have started at the company, and that’s really inconvenient. Lying marks you as unprofessional, and it makes the interviewer think that it is totally a waste of time to talk to you: It’s obvious you’ll lie as an employee as well.

So, if you don’t have a good answer for the question, give the following answer: “Sorry, I don’t know; I have no experience with that.” You can save a lot of time for the interviewer and some uncomfortable minutes for yourself. Plus, it demonstrates humility and a willingness to learn and be honest.

At most interviews, it is not a problem if you don’t know everything, but it’s a problem if you say something that is totally not true.

It’s happened many times in my experience. When I ask the candidate, “Do you have experience with QT Signal-Slot model?” I usually get the answer “yes.” And then I ask the follow-up question: “How does it work?” I don’t get a clear answer, just some nonsense. This is quite disappointing, and in such cases, I usually have the feeling that I’m just wasting my time with that interview.

If you’re really frustrated by having to say “I don’t know,” you can give answers like “I don’t have experience with this technology, but I have more experience with XY technology, which has the same purpose.” That way, the interviewer can see that you have some idea about the topic even if you can’t answer their specific questions.

Evaluate the Company as Well

A job interview is like dating: Both sides try to make sure that they are a match.

It is really bad to start at a company and realize after a few weeks that you are not fitting in at all. So use the interview to check if the company fits your needs or not. If the interview has a strange atmosphere and you don’t feel comfortable, think twice about whether you really would like to work there every day.

An important way to evaluate the company is to ask questions. At the first part of the interview, let the interviewer do the asking, but after that, the interviewer will ask if you have any other questions. And yes, you should have questions!

Ask about the position, ask about the company, ask about the technologies they use. That way, you can have a clear picture about the opportunity and you can decide if you want to join them at all.

This tactic also gives the interviewer the impression that you have real interest in the position. A win both ways!

Don’t Stress Before the Interview

On the day of the interview, don’t stress.

Find some matching and appropriate clothes. (Follow the dress code of the company. Check their website for pictures of what their employees wear at work.)

Most importantly: Get there on time. Plan your arrival for 20 to 30 minutes before the start of your interview. A lot of things can happen: There are no parking spot close by, you get stuck in a traffic jam, your train is late, or you can’t find the address.

But if you arrive too early, don’t enter the building. Use this time to walk around the building and check out everything of interest: Where are the parking spots? Is there a place where you can eat? This can all be useful information for you before your first working day if you get the job.

Enter the building around 10 minutes before the start of your interview. Go to reception, introduce yourself, and say that you came for an interview. First impressions begin with the receptionist. And never forget the name of your interviewer (if it was in the invitation).

Your situation is the best if you still have your old job and you can think about the whole interview in the following way: “Yes, I have a good job now, maybe I’m getting a better offer, but if not, it’s not a big problem.” If you think like this during your interview, it makes you much more relaxed and self-confident.

If you are stressed because your current employment situation is bad and you really do need the job, the interviewer will see it. Later on, when the topic of salary is introduced, they will know that you’ll take a lower salary to get out of a bad situation.

On the other hand, if you are relaxed, you can talk in a clearer way and there’s a better chance to find the best answers. Stressful behavior can really give a bad impression about you, and it can change the result of the interview.

Buy Time During the Interview

At the beginning of most interviews, you will be asked if you need water. It is good to say yes. You can buy some useful seconds during the interview by drinking some water. In the meantime, you can think about an answer.

Another way to buy time is to add introductions to your answers. For example, you can use sentences like, “Yes, I had to solve such a problem at my previous project. It was quite complicated finding the solution …” and this stalling gives you more time to respond.

Or just one more example: If the question is about how locks work in multithreading, you can start with what locking is and why it is necessary at all. At the end, you can explain how they work, but you had some time during your introduction to formulate your answer.

This is useful because thinking silently about the question for a whole minute can give a bad impression about you and your way of communication. And you’ll demonstrate that you have a clear overview about the whole topic.

I’ve met quite a lot of people at interviews who were working on the same project for years, but they did not have the big picture of what they were doing exactly and why it was needed for the project. It gave me the impression that the interviewee could follow only some commands. And most companies need intelligent developers, not ones who follow all commands blindly.

Try Your Best and Be Prepared for Your Interview

In my experience, at least 70 percent of your success in a job interview depends on the previous points, and the other 30 percent is based on your skills and experience. So make sure to be prepared, calm, and confident; communicate in a clear way; and always be honest.

You can be a really good programmer, but if you are not following these steps at an interview, you could decrease your chance of getting the job. If you are not so talented as a programmer, but are following these points, especially the ones related to communication, you can still have a good chance at landing your dream job.

I wish you all the best!

About the author

    Marcell Lipp

    Marcell Lipp is a software developer with 5 years of work experience. Currently, he is working as a software consultant in the automotive business. His professional goal is to find the best way of communication between the developers, management and the customers. He started a blog How to survive as a programmer?, where he writes posts that can help developers during their career and daily life.