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Developer Careers Guide 15: Preparing for interviews

Your carefully prepared CV has done its work and you’ve been offered an interview for a job you think would be right for you. Well done!

There are now two crucial things you need to be thinking about: preparing information about the opportunity and preparing information about yourself.

Preparing information on the company

What should you prepare, and what’s the point of doing all this preparation? Where should you look and what information should you be looking for? Should you:

  • Read the website?
  • Check out all the case studies you can find?
  • Check the latest news articles?
  • Speak to people who currently work there?
  • Download accounts for the last 5 years?

When preparing information about the opportunity you should be thinking about the questions you have about it… what you actually care about.

The fact behind this focus is that you may be successful and get a job at this company, and if you do it will have a profound effect on the rest of your career. Hopefully you will stay with them for at least a few years; you may even stay for the rest of your career. This job will occupy most of your time; some of your co-workers are likely to become close friends. When you start to think about the opportunity in this way the preparation becomes far more focused around “what I actually want to know” instead of “what I can tell them to impress them and show I’ve prepared”.

The simple strategy to adopt is to start developing a genuine interest in your career. Tell yourself “I want to get the right job for me” rather than  “I just want to get a new job”. So, how can you find out if this is the right job for you? Here are some good starting points:

  • What will I be doing Monday to Friday? What is a typical day?
  • What is the company really like to work for?
  • What is the industry like? Who are their competitors and what makes this company better than them?
  • What is progression like in the company – What will I be doing in 3 months, 6 months, 2 years or 5 years? What have previous hires gone on to do?
  • What is the team like? Is it a big team? Are they young/old? Sociable? Will I fit in?

These questions serve as the basis for your preparation. A lot of the answers to your questions you will find on the internet from reading their website, industry news, Google, blogs from other employees that have worked at the company and so on, but you should be left with a long list of genuine questions to ask at the interview.

Interviews are a two-way exercise and it is important to treat them as such. They will be a lot more genuine and much less daunting as they become more of a fact-finding meeting and a place where you and your potential employer can find out about each other, and whether you’ll be able to work well together; and less of a performance designed to persuade them to take you on.

Prepare information on yourself

You need to prepare information on yourself, not just on the company. This should not be a list of statements that you can recite word for word. It should simply be information that can be drawn on as needed, based on your careful review and honest consideration of your experience. At the very least you should compose a few bullet points to advertise yourself on each of the following:

  • Your technical skills and abilities
  • Your greatest achievement
  • A summary of your career to date, your career goals and your personal skills.

Top 2% tip: Have you ever left an interview and felt that you could have done a lot better? Preparation is key. The best way to approach preparation on yourself is to go through your CV, looking at your projects one at a time and doing a brief, personal, retrospective on each one.

  • What went well?
  • What didn’t go well?
  • What could you have done better?
  • What technical skills did you learn?
  • What soft skills did you learn?
  • Which of your skills were you able to demonstrate?

If you do this for each project and read it through before the interview it will ensure that you can perfectly articulate the project with a deep level of detail and a good focus on points that are most important. It is also something that you can save as an appendix to your CV for future reference.

How to beat nerves

Most candidates are nervous about interviews. There are very few candidates who have no nerves about attending an interview but it is important that you control them and do not let nerves get the better of you. There is a trick to controlling nerves for the future; it is in the way that you think about an interview.

The wrong way to look at an interview is to think of it as a presentation, in which you have to meet a stranger and convince them that you are the right person for the job.

As we have explained above, the right way to look at an interview is as a chance to meet with someone to find out more about an opportunity.

Do not think about trying to impress the interviewer with answers to their questions, just answer their questions honestly and sincerely. This way, if you are the right person for the job,  you will get the job. If your answers weren’t exactly what they were looking for, it is likely that you are not the right person for the job and would not have been happy in it.

Our next post will cover the interview itself, and what you can do to give yourself the best chance of success.

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