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Developer Careers Guide 16: How to manage an interview

How to present yourself at interview is crucial. You need to think about how to sell yourself as effectively as possible and conclude an interview professionally.

There are three different sections to an interview, and you need to think about how you act in each section:

  • First impressions
  • The interview – interview questions
  • How to conclude 

First impressions

First impressions go a long way with anybody, including an interviewer. If you give a good first impression then it will start the interview in the right way and make the interviewer predisposed to like you. Give a bad first impression and you will find yourself on the back foot, trying to claw your position back through the rest of the interview.

The best way to handle an introduction is to be natural; do not try to be extremely confident, assertive or over friendly. Ensure that you offer a firm handshake and a smile. Retain eye contact and introduce yourself politely, such as: “Good afternoon; it’s nice to meet you”.

You want the first few minutes of the meeting to be as smooth as possible. Although many interviewers are experienced and good at helping candidates settle into a productive interview, it is a good idea to have enough small talk prepared in case of awkward silences. This is easy to do by asking simple questions – How is your day going? Have you had many people in for interview? etc.

Building rapport

Despite what you may read, the single most important part of any interview is to build a rapport with the interviewer. If you do this then the interview will very quickly become a relaxed conversation between professionals and will give you the best chance to sell yourself as well as you can.

The easiest way to build a rapport is to ask questions. This is where the preparation mentioned in our previous post comes in, as you should have a series of genuine questions that you have an honest interest in. People love to talk about themselves, their products and their companies. Technical staff will love to talk about their products and interesting projects they have worked on. Human resources staff will love to talk about their recruitment processes, the bigger picture of where the company is going and how happy their staff are. Whenever there is a natural chance, ask a question that the interviewer will be interested to answer and listen attentively to their answer. If you do this you are well on the way to building a strong rapport.

Why are we stressing the importance of listening attentively to the interviewers responses? It is too easy in an interview to become anxious and start think of what to ask next, or anticipating what their next question will be. This quickly makes the conversation awkward and uncomfortable, and can destroy the rapport you are trying to build. Ask questions that you care about and make brief notes of their responses. Don’t force things, but give yourself time to think, so you can ask questions based on their responses and try to build up a strong understanding of the company and the opportunity.

Top 2% question – If you get a chance, the single greatest question to ask to build rapport is:

“How did YOU get started in this career/role/company?”

Generally after asking that question the interviewer will smile or laugh, lean back and think for a few seconds before telling you their story. The question will work on anyone, in or out of an interview. Try it on the next person you see, ask them how they got started in their career and watch the effect it has. It can enable you to build a rapport with almost anyone immediately. It is a great way of reminding the interviewer that they once had to be interviewed at this company, which is what you are currently doing. It is a subtle bond, which will most likely mean that you will be remembered. Last but not least, it is a question that can also give you insights into what it is like to work for that company.

If you feel you are building some rapport (and if you know the interviewer has been with the company for some time) you can follow this question up with: “As someone that has worked their way up within this company, what advice would you give someone in my position?”


Interview questions

How to respond to questions

Interviews are a two-way street. We have said above that you need to be armed with your own questions and the interviewer will, of course, have many questions to ask of you. While it is essential to think in advance about how you would respond to likely interview questions the obvious response is not always best. Many people make the mistake of saying what they think the interviewer would want to hear. They prepare their answers like a script that they recite immaculately and believe they have done well. This is not what any interviewer wants to hear.

Interviewers want honesty. If an interviewer asks a question like: “What skills could you offer to the company?” and you immediately come back with “I am hard-working, punctual and have very good communication skills” it is clearly a prepared answer. It may have all the right attributes but any candidate could say something like that – it gives the interviewer no insight.

Answer the question as if it were a friend asking the question. Think about how you speak in conversations, if someone asks a question about you, you would stop for a few seconds to consider your answer. So when your interviewer says: “What skills could you offer to the company?” start by thinking honestly about what skills you have that the company could want and how you can back that up. This is where the preparation on yourself comes in. A better way of answering would be something like this:

“Once I get started on a project I don’t stop working until I have finished and I have a passion for solving problems, I remember once, working for my last company, we came across a problem xxx and I couldn’t sleep for trying to think about how we could solve it. When I finally did it was great and we finished the project just after.”

A very common reason that candidates are rejected following an interview is because they have tried to bluff their way through. It bears repeating that honesty is one of the most important parts to an interview. If you don’t have enough experience in a technology be honest and admit it, make a point of saying that you do not want to lie. The chances are you will be praised for your honesty, and it may help you to shine where others fail.

Top 2% tip Develop a way of coming back to questions in a positive way. Not only are the top 2% honest, but they follow up with a positive point finishing with a question. In a situation where you do not have experience in a given technology, the following example shows what I mean.

Instead of just saying:

“Unfortunately I do not have experience with <technology>”

They follow up with a positive …

“It is something I would really like to get into” or…

“I have done something similar with <another similar technology>”.

… and finish with a question

“Is <technology> something you have used in this company? Is it effective?”

It is a highly effective technique for turning a negative into a positive, diverting difficult questions and also moving the interview into more of a conversation.

Concluding an interview

There will usually be a point in the interview where the interviewer will ask if you have any further questions. It is at this point that you should (if you haven’t already) ask some questions that you have prepared before hand and that we mentioned in our previous post. These questions should be considered and not just simple questions like: “How long has the company been running?”, which you can easily answer through internet research of your own. Having researched the company there should be many things that you are curious about and now is the time to demonstrate your interest in your future by asking some carefully considered questions.

Finally you should always thank the interviewer for their time, and make sure you let them know that you are interested in the position. Many people miss this opportunity in their attempt to remain supremely professional throughout. Our advice would be to make a point of saying that you are very interested in working with the company. This sole line could make the difference between yourself and another candidate.

The top 2% – The best possible way to end an interview is to make the final question that you ask something along the lines of:

“What happens next in the appointment process?”

You may be lucky enough to be offered the job there and then. Far more likely the client will say something like “we still have some other people to see”, or “we will consider your application then be in touch with your agent”. No matter what they say you should follow up with a question about their thoughts on you: “Do you have any immediate concerns about me as a candidate?” It is a very difficult question to ask but potentially could be the reason you get the job.

Let us explain…

Most interviewers will have minor concerns in the back of their mind as to whether you could do the job. They are normally too kind to ever mention this at the time. However these minor concerns can grow into major doubts and effectively can become the reason why someone else is offered the position instead of you.

If you ask them their concerns, they will normally tell you. At this point you have a chance to change their mind.

An example of this could be that a client is has formed the impression that you will not stay at the company very long, because they feel you are young, ambitious and very keen to move forward in your career.

Scenario 1: Interview goes very well, rapport has been built and both parties leave feeling good although the employer has the mild concern that you won’t stay with them. The next candidate they meet comes across as far more steady and although they aren’t quite as good as you in other ways, the employer opts for the second candidate because they feel that they will stay with the company longer.

Scenario 2: Interview goes very well, rapport has been built and you ask the question to find out if the employer has any objections. The employer says that although they really like you, they are concerned that they are not a big enough company to keep you. At this point you can explain that you are just looking for a chance in a company that you can stay with for the next five years and are definitely not looking to be a job hopper. At this point the client is left reassured and you have turned a concern of theirs into a top selling point of yours.

Top 2% tip: If you haven’t yet been given one, ask for their business card, this will be important later on.

Final tips

  • Arrive in good time for the interview.
  • Always wear a suit, regardless of dress code. Always, ALWAYS wear a suit. Men should not wear open neck shirts. Even on the hottest summer day, always enter the meeting in a tie. Some interviewers will immediately say don’t worry, feel free to take off your jacket or tie. It shows that you have taken the interview very seriously and are interested in making a good impression. Some companies will not have professional dress codes, and won’t mind what you wear, but you are better off not assuming this. Without question, always wear a suit.
  • Resist the urge to smoke before your interview. Cigarette smoke is very overpowering to non-smokers. Even if you cannot smell the smoke yourself, the chances are your interviewer will.
  • Make sure you keep regular eye contact. It is known in body language that looking at your subject and keeping regular eye contact shows that you are interested and focusing on a subject; looking around the room and focusing on other things gives the impression of boredom. Likewise leaning forward is a good way of showing you are interested and alert where leaning back and slouching can give the impression of boredom.
  • Make sure you turn your phone off. Avoid putting your phone on silent. The hum of a phone that is on silent and relentlessly vibrating in someone’s pocket can be highly distracting.

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