Braving That Interview

It never fails. Techie job seekers often equate preparing for an interview with immersing themselves in technologies and frameworks they’ve never used.


I’ve been there too, and it can be a fairly unpleasant aspect of what ought to be an otherwise pleasant search for a suitable next engagement. Remember: you’re a programmer… a coder… a developer… a software engineer… but most importantly, a human being.

Or as my kids might put it, a HUMAN BEAN.

Whatever label you choose to tag yourself with, the one attribute you share with the broader species is potential. That’s right: POTENTIAL.

That means you don’t have to know everything. You can’t. All you need to convince your interviewer of is that you can solve any problem in reasonable time, and if possible, in progressively lesser time as you go about it. And there’s no better way to make that case than to be yourself, preferably the best version of yourself.

YOU are the valuable asset they will be hiring, not the current snapshot of your knowledge. In fact, you don’t want to get a job at a place that only needs your knowledge. Such a shop wouldn’t care about retaining you. They just need what you know – the commodity that is your knowledge. And if/when their needs change, you’re dispensable to them. They should be dispensable to you.

Here’s a laundry list of what I believe you should and should not do when you prepare for your next interview with any firm out there.

KNOW the basics

You should be VERY familiar with the basics of your core development platform. If you’re looking to be hired as a Java developer, you’d better have a decent understanding of classpath and Hashmap and exception handling and the ubiquitous String class and a plethora of other foundational concepts. If you don’t, this might be a good time to strengthen that foundation rather than pick the next framework named after some arbitrary workman’s tool or vegetable or yard pest.

Interviewers worth their salt will want to hire someone who knows how to peel the layers off of a complex application and work with the raw concepts, and if needed, dive down to the wire. That someone is a human resource who can change direction at any time no matter what framework or tool is thrown at them. Knowing the basics makes you flexible and adaptable in ways only your employer can appreciate.

KNOW well what you claim to know

You SHOULD NOT be studying frameworks you’ve never used. You should rather spend your free time solidifying your understanding of the frameworks you HAVE used, and ONLY to the level you’ve used them. If it’s on your resume or on your tongue during the interview, you better know it well.

DON’T be afraid to say: I DON’T KNOW

Technical interviewers hate BS. They LOVE a quick IDK. And here’s the big kicker: Say I DON’T KNOW anytime you don’t know the answer, and as much as you need to. The chances are you will eventually be asked if there is anything you do know. That will let you drive the interview and focus on the things you are good at, technical and otherwise. An interview is a conversation, and sometimes an interviewer needs to be pulled back. Don’t be afraid to be the one pulling back.
And if you don’t get the job because you couldn’t answer any of the questions, you’ve accumulated valuable knowledge for your next interview. You’ve also saved yourself from a potentially bad match. Always think win-win, because it is.

KNOW yourself, know your master

Okay, nothing sufi here. I suppose all I’m saying is: do your homework. If the job requires skills you don’t have, or if you don’t really want to be doing any of the stuff advertised in the job description, don’t apply to begin with.

If you’re working with a recruiter, let him/her know how you feel. You’ll be surprised how much they appreciate that sort of information. In fact, it sharpens their saw as they hack through the forest of opportunities out there to find the job(s) that might be a good fit for you.

Alright, enough with the cheesy KNOW  aphorisms.

Get excited about problem-solving

Beware the scourge of what I’ve come to call Stackoverflow programming. I’ve been victim to it too at some time or another, and I fondly remember my peers who mocked me on account of it. If you’re always reaching out to find a solution on the internet, chances are you’ve grown a bit rusty at precious old-fashioned problem-solving.

Lose the habit. Your first response to solving a problem should be independent thinking. Stackoverflow will be there for you if you need it once you run out of ideas. This is critical for you on your current job before you start looking for your next job. I can’t stress it enough: Get excited about problem-solving.

Don’t be afraid to code

Get used to being thrown a code snippet and being asked to fix it. That’s what you’re getting hired to do. So be ready for it. Expect it. Get ready if you’re not there yet.

Get into the habit of thinking in English

This can be a challenge for non-English speaking programmers who often think symbolically in their own vernacular. This is nothing to be ashamed of. At an interview, you will most likely need to articulate your solution as you think it through. Often times, the questions you’re asked at interviews may not have an answer, let alone a correct one. Some questions are asked to see how you demonstrate your analytical skill in understanding a problem and devising a solution for it.

That’s all that comes to mind right now. Hope this helps someone. I have a couple friends looking for jobs, and that got me thinking about what I consider to be an ideal candidate.

I’ll sign off with this. The ideal candidate MUST BE BRAVE while interviewing. That is the sort of courage that comes from being honest to ourselves, from knowing what we know and what we don’t, and being okay with it all.


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