You’ve put in a lot of hard work to get your foot in the door - years spent in education, countless hours spent perfecting your portfolio and honing your coding skills. Now for the final, and oftentimes most daunting, step - you just have to prove to the person on the other side of the desk that you’re the right person for the job.
We know this is often easier said than done, so we’ve put together this guide to help you go into that interview prepared and land that dream role!
Do your research
You can make interviews a lot easier by knowing exactly what you’re walking into.
That's why on Haystack we combine lots of information to give you the best picture of the company, including the company culture, Glassdoor ratings, and perks and benefits.
A big part of this is researching the company before the interview. You should study the job description to know exactly what you’re interviewing for and who’s likely to be interviewing you. There’s loads of great resources out there to help you figure out what the deal is with a particular company - sites such as Glassdoor can help you ascertain what a company’s culture is like, for example.
Remember, you need to get across how you can be of benefit to that company - this is a lot easier when you’ve got a good understanding of what they’re all about. If your answers can loop back to the company’s history or culture it’s definitely going to score you some points and put you ahead of your peers!
Our CTO Rob says:
“Be aware of the type of company you are approaching. Startups and younger companies will generally have different mindsets and priorities to large corporations who have been around a long time and have more rigid ways of working steeped in decades (or more) of history. Startups are likely to value more qualitative skills like communication and collaboration, and traits such as enthusiasm for your projects and a keenness to learn. Larger corps are likely to focus more on ability and results. Both these mindsets occur in both instances, just typically in different quantities.”
One of the worst things about interviews is the great unknown. However, there are certain things within your control that if you can prepare in time before the interview, you can make your life a lot easier! For example, sorting out what you’re going to wear, or researching exactly where you need to go for your interview and how you’re going to get there, can eliminate a great deal of stress from the day of your interview.
Anything you can sort out in advance is one less thing to worry about on the day. Do yourself a favour and prepare accordingly - don’t leave it all to the last minute!
Be on time
An interview is your opportunity to present a solid first impression of yourself.
One of the most important things to Hiring Managers is reliability and punctuality. If you can’t make it to your interview on time, that first impression could well be a negative one and leave them wondering how you could be relied on if they were to employ you. This ties in to our previous point around preparing accordingly - make sure you leave yourself plenty of time to get there, and know exactly where you’re going and how you’re getting there.
Occasionally, things happen outside of your control - if this happens, clearly communicate with your interviewer what’s happened and what time you expect to arrive. It goes without saying that no one likes being left in the dark and proactive communication can turn a negative into a positive!
This is your opportunity to shift the conversation towards what you want to talk about - don’t waste it! Having nothing to ask at this point can make it look like you haven’t done your research, or aren’t particularly interested.
You could use this opportunity to get something about yourself across that you believe will make you stand out from the other candidates, or demonstrate your understanding of the company's history or culture. We’d recommend having at least 3 questions prepped in advance as you don’t want to leave yourself under pressure or scrambling to think of something - make it as easy as you can for yourself!
Some Hiring Managers believe they learn just as much from the questions a candidate asks as the answers they give. Take the opportunity, be smart about what you ask and make yourself stand out.
Our CTO Rob believes you should:
“ask specific questions based on your research of the company and, if possible, their tech. The “What will a typical day look like?” question is fine but it won’t distinguish you much from the crowd.”
No matter what gets thrown at you, the most important thing is to stay as calm and clear headed as you can.
Hiring Managers will be looking at your ability to both work under pressure and think on your feet and if you start panicking you’re not going to give the best impression of yourself. It’s easy to place a lot of pressure on yourself and build up an interview to be something much bigger than it is beforehand, particularly as you’re likely to have had at least a few days (if not weeks) prior to think about it. Overthinking like this isn’t likely to help you - remember it is only an interview and whatever happens, it isn’t life and death!
Gavin at Waters Corporation spoke to us about this in the context of technical tests:
“If you're working on a coding problem during an interview, try to stay composed throughout. Explain to the interview panel how you view the problem and what options you're considering. This shows both communication and critical thinking. It's okay to "get stuck". If this happens, go back to the problem statement. Re-read it, pause for a moment, and consider what you know and why you're stuck. Communicating this is useful as shows the interview panel that you're capable of taking a structured approach to problem solving. It might also get you "un-stuck"! Staying composed can be difficult, but it's something you can think about ahead of time and prepare for. It's okay to pause and take stock of where you are.”
Our CTO Rob says “In an industry which works increasingly in a fully or semi dispersed fashion, communication is more important than ever. Being able to articulate the what, how and why of your work and explain technical issues effectively are valuable skills. The good news is if this doesn’t come naturally it can be practised!”
Use your skills to your advantage
It can be difficult to demonstrate everything you know without vocational experience. Therefore, you need to use everything you can to demonstrate your abilities. We spoke to Peter at The Verve Group, who emphasised the importance and value of using tools like GitHub to show what you can do before you have applicable experience:
“My main piece of advice would absolutely be to make the most of tools like GitHub - it’s gold dust when it comes to an application. There’s no expectation to have any experience (understandably so!), so whether it’s work from university, code from a tutorial you’ve followed or the next big thing in the form of a side project, upload it to GitHub and share that as part of your application! Anything that shows what you’re interested in, what you’re learning and what you can do speaks so much louder than a traditional C.V.”
It’s also not just about your skill level or coding ability - for most companies, coming across as someone they’d enjoy working with is more important, particularly with entry-level roles.
Marek at PayPoint believes the most important things when interviewing are “enthusiasm, willingness and interest in solving a problem”. Put some thought into what you want an interviewer to remember about you from the interview, and how to get this across. Remember, anything you can do to make yourself stand out from the crowd is only going to help!
Our CTO Rob says:
“At entry level the primary focus is on your potential, not what you’ve accomplished to date i.e. what you know is less important than how you learn. If you can clearly explain your approach to how you have learnt your skills so far, learning new skills and upskilling in existing ones you will instil confidence that you are up to the task of obtaining the required skill set to quickly become a valuable member of any development team.”
Practice makes perfect
Ultimately, interviewing well is a skill and like all skills, this will take some practice. Don’t worry if your first interviews don’t go as planned - just try to learn something from every experience you have. Look at every answer you gave rationally and think about how you could improve on it next time.
The more you interview, the more comfortable you will feel with the process. This is especially true at the start of your career when you have little experience of interviews. Take any opportunity you get to interview, even if you’re not convinced the role is right for you - any practice you can get is going to be of benefit to you, and if nothing else will give you more insight into how different companies work and present you with an opportunity to build your professional network. Take any opportunity you get to interview and what once felt intimidating and daunting will start to become second nature!
Don’t just take it from us - we spoke to Shirin, a Talent Acquisition Manager at Onecom, to see what she looks for when interviewing candidates:
“As a Talent Acquisition Manager, I’m always looking for candidates to demonstrate their eagerness to learn and show they’re proactively committed to developing further.
Whilst I’m sure from the candidate’s perspective, it can feel like you get lost in the noise, there are some key things I’d recommend to make your search for a great role more likely to end in success.
- Be really clear about the skills you’ve harnessed, whether that be self-taught or through traditional education.
- Be specific about the type of role or environment you’re looking to work in. This might also include particular interests and sectors you’re passionate about.
- Detail projects you’ve been part of, what tools you’ve used, how you applied your skills to get to an end result and provide any links or resources to demonstrate the end result. This will show your skills in action.
- Perhaps you’ve not taken on any work-experience or freelance projects yet. Reference your involvement in the opensource community, and equally make sure you keep this live with links to your profile so it stays relevant.
-Reach out! If you’ve seen a great role advertised, have applied for a position or just really want to work for a particular company, seek out the Recruitment Team and make an effort to connect and message them expressing your interest.
The above applies to roles you may have seen advertised on other platforms, like Haystack. Seeking out to connect with the team you’re keen to join demonstrates you’re actively invested in your job search and you’re keen to capture their attention.
If you’ve not been successful in securing a role with a company, don’t be hesitant to ask for feedback. It’s useful if you’re clear about the type of feedback you’re looking for help with: Perhaps some pointers on how to improve your profile for future or maybe an indication of the skills you could focus some more time on developing.”
Ultimately, you have to remember there’s a reason you’ve been offered an interview in the first place - they must have seen something they liked about you!
Do your prep, stay calm and do your best to convince them you're the right person for the job. You’ve got this!