The Complete Guide to Nailing Your Next Interview
So you applied for a job as a developer or designer, and now they’ve asked you to come in for an interview. Congratulations! But now the real work begins. How do you make sure you make the right impression – and get the job? Here are some tips to help you nail your next interview.
Preparing for the Interview
Get to know the company
You probably already took a good look at the company’s website when you wrote your application letter. Now it’s time to dive deeper into the company by checking out every page, and also looking elsewhere for more information.
Try to see what the company does and what they value. Search for the company name to see if you can find out a bit more about the company’s history. Take notes, the information you find will form the basis of any questions you may want to ask.
You might find some negative information about the company. If during the interview something is mentioned about this, feel free to ask more about it. Depending on what it is, it could be something sensitive which they would prefer not to talk about. So don’t push harder then necessary.
It’s also good to research your interviewer. Maybe you have common interests which you can mention during the interview. If you’re both fans of the TV series Game of Thrones, for example, you could mention that to give you something to talk about which is not work related.
Keep Up to Date
Make sure you are up to date with the latest news regarding your current skill set. If you are a PHP developer, you should know about hot topics like PSR, Composer, Behat and Laravel. If you are more into HTML and CSS, make sure you know everything about Sass and LESS.
One of the best ways to keep yourself current is by following people on Twitter who have significant influence within your industry. Another great way is to sign up for the SitePoint newsletters or the daily newsletter Versioning.
During the interview it’s fine to use technology jargon. For instance, you can mention you worked on a PHP project which was fully unit tested and PSR compliant.
Prepare a Portfolio
Having a portfolio prepared should be one of your top priorities. Nothing is better than showing what you are capable of. I can tell everyone in the world that I am the best designer, but without any proof, this won’t mean anything.
A personal website is the best option. Don’t ignore this requirement by saying, “I suck at design”. These days, you can find free or cheap themes online, and everyone’s able to install a WordPress website. Make sure you can show off your designs, or you can show your development skills by linking to a Github page.
If you’re unable to show anything online, send them something you created or bring your laptop with you. Make sure everything is prepared so you don’t lose time opening everything up in the interview. Are you an app developer? Great! Make sure those apps are installed on your phone or tablet and working flawlessly for a demonstration.
If you prepared your portfolio well, you can point to that during the conversation about your skills. If the company values unit testing code, then show how you unit test your code.
Ask the interviewer if you can show them work you have created. By taking the initiative, you show you’re confident with what you created.
Choose Appropriate Clothing
The way you dress can make a big difference. The best thing you can do is to check out the team page of the company and try to match the style you are seeing. Are they a more formal company? Then you should consider wearing a suit. Are they more of an informal company? Then casual dress will be good to go.
Even if it’s casual, it’s still good to pay some extra attention. Wearing flashy clothes could distract the interview from you as a person and your skills. It’s good to pick some neutral clothing without distracting images or text.
Be on Time
This can’t be stressed enough. Before you leave for the interview, make sure you know what the address is, where you can park and how long it will take you to get there. It’s better to be early and have to spend 15 minutes killing time, than it is to have the company waiting for you. Their time is more precious.
Questions You Will Be Asked
When you’re in the interview, expect to be asked a lot of questions so the company can get to know you better as a person. You need to prepare.
Here is a list of very common questions and the best answers you can give.
Some obvious things to prepare for include:
Start off with your current situation: your age, your current marital status, and where you live.
Then tell them about parts of your life that are related to your job. Begin with your school career, explaining what you studied. Continue on to the jobs you’ve done, explaining your function and responsibilities within a particular company.
In between, you can tell them anything you’ve done in your spare time: courses you completed or open-source projects you worked on.
Why Did You Leave Your Last Job?
If you left because you were looking for a new challenge, make it clear what that was. If you were made redundant because of financial reasons or a change of strategy, tell the truth. In the end, you can’t help it you got kicked out.
If you were kicked out because of something you did, you have two options. You can play fair and tell the truth. Make sure you always are capable of explaining why this won’t happen again and what you learned from it. Or, you can say you prefer not to talk about it. But in that case, you are probably not scoring any points with the interviewers.
In general, it’s always best to be as honest as possible. There is a chance the interviewer will contact some companies and might find out the truth in the end.
What Are Your Strengths?
Try to be unique. Most people answer with, “I can work independently as well as in a team,” or, “I am good at Photoshop.” Instead, try to say something that matches the job description. If they’re looking for someone who’s really good at creating APIs, don’t tell them how good you are in HTML. You should see if you have any strengths that match the job, and emphasize those.
What Are Your Weaknesses?
This question forces you to focus on negative aspects of your personality. But note that every negative aspect can also have a positive side, and you can also explain how you learned to deal with a given weakness.
If you are an impatient person, then it’s fine to tell them that you have learned that not everyone can respond to you immediately. This way you are showing that you learned from your weakness and that you can deal with it.
Try to have a look at your CV and see if you can find the weak spots. Make sure you prepare answers for any questions on these weak spots.
You might receive questions like:
- Why didn’t you finish university?
- You switched your job six times in 2 years, why? Were you fired each time?
- So you went from video editor to PHP developer to graphical designer. What do want to do?
Try to be positive on every answer. Never blame someone else for not finishing university, for example. Keep it short, don’t spend five minutes telling a story about how bad the teachers were.
If you had career changes due to issues in your personal life, that’s fine. You don’t have to go into detail, just let them know you had a rough time.
Or, if you went on three different career paths, it shows you’re capable of doing multiple things, and now you’ve finally found your real passion!
What Do You Do in Your Spare Time?
Although this question sounds innocent, it does tell a lot about you and your personality.
You can nail this part if you show them that even in your spare time you are developing yourself. You read blogs, try out new tools and so on. As a developer or designer, you need to stay up to date with the industry.
When you’re talking about your spare time, make sure you have a varied number of subjects to talk about. It’s good to tell them you like hanging out with your friends, you play video games sometimes, and you like to visit your family every Saturday. Don’t stick to one single subject, show how diverse you are.
You can try to find out what the interviewer does in their spare time. Maybe they’re a huge fan of your favorite sports team. This will give you a better bond with the interviewer, and it allows you to talk about a subject that is “off the record”.
Questions You Could Ask
A job interview is a two-way process, so make sure you write down any questions you’d like to ask them.
Your questions could include:
- What is the atmosphere within the company?
- Who will I work with?
- What will my job be?
- What about my salary?
Check out this Forbes article for ideas for more general questions you could ask.
However, you should also ask job-related questions, not only to see if the job suits you, but also to show off your skills.
You can ask questions like:
- Which PHP framework(s) are you using?
- Which CSS pre-processor are you using?
- Which design programs do you use?
To nail this part of the interview, always ask open questions using interrogative words like: who, what, where, why, which and how. These can’t be answered with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’, allowing you you to leave the answer open to the interviewer. If you ask a question like, “Are you using Laravel as your framework?” you’re pushing the interview towards that topic, even though the company might not even be using Laravel.
But remember, by using open questions, the answers are also less predictable. They may suddenly mention a tool you’ve never used and then ask if you ever heard of it. If you haven’t, it’s fine to say you’ve used similar tools, or that you’re a quick learner.
During the Interview
The handshake is the first contact you will make with the interviewer. Make sure you give a firm handshake. By giving a firm handshake, you come across as a confident person. Make sure to make eye-contact with the interviewer.
Don’t say your name immediately, but wait for a few seconds, because your name will be remembered more easily then. Both of your brains are busy with the task shaking hands, which can mean your name will be forgotten.
Make sure you don’t forget the name of the interviewer! Say the name of the interviewer during your talk and use it when you’re leaving. This way you show you actually know who you’re talking to.
During the interview, the way you physically express yourself is important. Sit up straight and don’t lean back to much. Also, don’t put your arms over each other, as you give the impression that you’re a closed book. Forbes has an excellent guide to body-language you should avoid during an interview.
If they offer you something to drink, always accept it, whether it’s coffee or water. You will be talking a lot. Nothing is worse then having to scratch your throat all the time. Having a glass of water will allow you to keep on speaking clearly and can give you a distraction.
If you’re applying for a job as developer, there’s a good chance that you that you will be asked to do one or more coding tests.
Whenever you get one of many coding tests, try to think clearly. In most cases, there’s a small trick to it. Based on this, the company will rate your coding skills and your problem solving abilities. Make sure you feel confident before giving the answer.
Sites like interviewing.io are designed to help you practice this skill.
One of the most popular tests is the so called FizzBuzz test.
Write a program that prints the numbers from 1 to 100. But for multiples of three print “Fizz” instead of the number and for the multiples of five print “Buzz”. For numbers which are multiples of both three and five print “FizzBuzz”.
Here are solutions to the puzzle in a variety of languages, and here’s a comparison of the efficiency of various methods.
After the Interview
The first thing you should do is reflect on the interview. Did you like the company and the people? If you have a really negative feeling, let the company know you’re no longer interested. Not all jobs are what you expected or what you wanted. It’s fine if you’re not interested, but make sure to give the company a valid reason and thank them for their time.
Send an email
It’s always nice to send an email saying you liked the interview and you feel you could fit in with the company. But don’t sent this email an hour after you left the interview. Wait until the evening or the following morning before contacting again.
Score extra points by making some small suggestions to the company. During the interview, you might have talked about a new website they just created. Or maybe you talked about the new tool they are developing. In your email, add small suggestions like design improvements or libraries they should check out. Don’t go too far; keep it minimal and only when you have the feeling they accept outside suggestions.
Stay in touch
You should have set a date when the company will get in touch with you again. Maybe they told you they will contact you by the end of the week. If they don’t contact you in the set period of time, don’t pick up the phone the next day and start ringing. Maybe they just need a day longer. Contacting them a few days after the initial deadline is the best option.
These are some tips taken from my own real life experience as a interviewer as well as an interviewee. Preparing well for the interview is the most important part of the whole process. If you start off well, the rest will go much more easily.
Have you had any strange moments during an interview, either as an interviewer or interviewee? What are your top tips for the process? I would love to hear from you in the comments below.