Programming Interview Job Tips

Interviews aren’t something that most people usually look forward to.  It’s a stressful process, which often ends with being turned down for the job.  Many developers may not have the right resources or skills to feel prepared for a programming interview.  We’ve all been through this.

I remember my first interview for a SQL Developer like it was yesterday.  I drove almost an hour away to what appeared to be a run-down corporate center.  Next, they asked me to complete coding questions on a whiteboard and got I stuck.  Unfortunately, I didn’t communicate clearly and speak my thoughts out loud about what I was doing either.  I was sure I had bombed the interview.  I wasn’t prepared.  Guess what?  I didn’t get the job.

Let me be clear on one thing, I wasn’t completely unprepared for the interview.  Since I had experience interviewing others for years, I knew how to pass behavioral questions and be professional.  What I wasn’t prepared for were the technical questions and how to handle myself when I got stumped on a problem.  I eventually got better and learned how to prepare better to improve my interview skills.  I wrote this article to share some tips with other IT professionals to help them nail the interview process.

Prepare for A Programming Interview By Practicing

I recommend working on your resume to tailor it for the specific job that you’re applying to.  Be prepared to elaborate on any skills, experience, responsibilities listed on your resume.  Once you’ve received a call to schedule an interview, make sure that you bring at least two copies of your resume with you as well as a pad-folio if you have one. For additional tips on how to improve your technical resume, read my article.  If this is your first IT job, then I recommend bringing projects you have worked on with you as well.

Google some interview questions for the role you’re interviewing for.  Try practicing mock interviews with a family member or friend.  I make sure that I always write down four or five questions to ask the hiring manager at the end of the interview as well.  The questions can be anything from “what is the culture like here?” to “how do you establish deadlines?”.  Trust me on this, you want to have questions prepared to ask the employer.

Working on practicing your answers to prepare for your programming interview.  By having answers ready for any technical or behavioral questions that might come up, you will be less likely to ramble.  The more confident and prepared you are with your answers, the more confident you will come across to the interviewer.

Make sure that you research any company that you are going to interview at.  Research how many locations they have, when they were established, what they specialize in, etc.  For extra points, you can even look into who their competitors are.  Spending the extra time to do this will show the hiring manager that you are actually interested in the position.

Phone Screen Interview

Most employers will conduct a phone screen interview before bringing you in.  This is usually a formality to weed out candidates that are definitely not a fit for the job.  The recruiter or hiring manager will typically review your background and ask you to elaborate on certain experience or skills.  They will also usually focus on asking technical questions to ensure that you’re qualified for the job you’re applying for.

The good news is that if you’ve made it this far, you’ve already gotten past the first part of the screening process.

Actually, I personally don’t think that phone screens aren’t a difficult part of the programming interview process.  In fact, I use them to my advantage to make sure that I’m interested in the job as well.  Keep in mind that during a phone interview, the hiring manager isn’t able to see you.  This means that you can refer to your notes during the interview.  If you spend some extra time to prepare prior to your phone screen and write down some possible questions they may ask, you will have a leg up by having your answers right in front of you.

In Person Programming Interview

The next step to the programming interview process is to bring you in for a face-to-face interview.  This is the most nerve-wracking part of the process, but it’s also a chance to show-off and prove you’re the best fit for the job.

Occasionally, companies will bring you back in for a panel interview with multiple people.  These can be a little stressful to say the least.  Sometimes, even the director of the department will sit in or the boss of the manager you will be reporting to.  Personally, the biggest thing that I focus on when it comes to panel interviews is my behavior.  I try to make sure that I’m aware of my eye contact and that I’m looking at everyone in the room, and not one single person.  If you get nervous during the panel and lose your train of thought when answering a question, ask “that’s a good question, would you mind if I refer to my notes?”

A lot of the time, interviewers aren’t going to write you off because you get stuck on a question.  What matters is being able to handle a difficult problem the right away.  A lot of times, there’s more than one right answer.  The Muse has a great article on how to prepare for solving difficult questions.  Be confident, explain your thought process and most importantly don’t let one tough question ruin your attitude for the entire interview.  If you’re clearly fixated on a single question or problem, you probably aren’t coming off as someone with a business-oriented mindset.

Be Professional and On Time

The most important thing is to ensure that you arrive to an interview on time.  In fact, I always make sure that I’m 15 minutes early at least.  If you show up late to your interview, you are already getting a huge strike against you.  Being late to an interview makes an employer think you’re irresponsible, careless, or unreliable.  Do you want them to think that you will be showing up to work late?  Walk into the office exactly 10-15 minutes prior to your scheduled interview.  I do not recommend walking in any earlier than that, because that can also be an annoyance to hiring managers.  Would you show up to a doctor’s office an hour early?  No.  So, don’t show up to an interview an hour early.  If I arrive to an interview more than 15 minutes early I sit in my car and review my notes.

In addition to being on time, make sure that you are aware of who you will be meeting with.  You don’t want to walk into the lobby and forgot the name of who your appointment is with.  I always write down the name of who I’m meeting with inside my pad-folio.  This is all part of how to prepare for an IT interview.  When you are greeted by the hiring manager make sure that you smile and shake their hand.

Don’t spray a ton of cologne or perfume.  I once interviewed someone who literally sprayed themselves with a whole can of Ax.  How do I know this?  Well, other than the overpowering smell – the admin told me that he was literally spraying himself in the lobby.  I felt so bad I bought her lunch that day.

Dress Appropriately

Another thing to keep in mind is how you put yourself together for an interview.  I can’t stress enough how important first impressions are.  I always dress business-professional, even if I suspect that the dress code for the job is more casual.  Wear a suit and tie.  If you don’t have a suit, then a nice button-down dress shirt with a tie should be fine.   Women should aim to look natural and avoid wearing too much makeup.

Just remember to dress to impress.  It’s always better to over dress than under dress.

What To Do After An Interview

At the end of the interview, I will typically ask when I can expect to hear back.  In addition, I ask what the next steps are.  I like to do this because it gives me a better idea of their time frame and whether they still may have other applicants to interview.  I also know that if they respond and say within a week, I’m not going to follow-up and see if they’ve made a decision two days later.

If you are really bold, you can even ask for the job at the end of the programming interview.  I’m not going to lie, I usually chicken out of this step.  I’m being serious though, it really does work sometimes.  You could say something along the lines of “I’m really interested in the job.  I think I would be a great fit for the job between my technical skills and being a cultural fit.  Can I have the job?”.  Don’t be surprised if they’re taken off guard and laugh it off.  Regardless, whether they say yes or don’t give you an answer you are probably pulling a confident move that other candidates are not.

I also always write thank you notes after an interview.  If there is more than one person sitting in on the interview, then I will ask for their business card at the end.  You can keep the message brief.  It’s a really great way to show that you appreciate the time that they took to bring you in and also that you’re still interested in the job after the interview.

Key Takeaways

Interviewing doesn’t have to be scary.  It’s just a process between you and a company to determine whether you’re a right fit for the job.  Try to think of the process less like you’re being judged, and more like a formal conversation for both parties to determine whether a business agreement will work.

Overall, practice is the key to nailing your programming interview.  The more you practice and prepare for a programming interview, the closer you’ll get to perfect.   Also, the more you practice the more confident you will become.   If you are prepared and try your best, then you know that if you don’t get the job it was because it wasn’t a good fit.  I hope that this information is useful and can help you nail your interview.