How not to interview for a programming job

Posted on Aug 20th, 2014 | News and opinion

We’re expanding rapidly at the moment and so we’re regularly recruiting and interviewing potential employees. Lots of these interviewees are for technical positions, and some of them make some pretty baffling and easily avoidable mistakes during interview.

As loads of our clients are also working in technical roles – be it as developers, designers, IT Contractors, consultants, or just about anything else – we thought we’d pool our collective interview no-nos to provide a handy list of things to avoid.

Don’t be too early

Punctuality will always count in your favour, but we’ve had several candidates arrive for interviews up to 40 minutes ahead of schedule. You can argue that this shows enthusiasm – why wouldn’t you want to demonstrate that you are really keen by being super early? However, it could end up backfiring on you and might make your prospective employer think you’re not very good at planning.

It might also come across like you expect the interviewer to be able to drop everything at that moment and start the interview early, even if your intention was to wait around until the appointed time. This causes stress, as re-arranging schedules and re-booking meeting rooms at short notice is not often possible.

For those finding themselves early for an interview, go get a coffee and come back 5 minutes beforehand.

Dress appropriately

We’re by no means a stuffy company – it’s pretty rare to see a suit at Crunch HQ – so we don’t expect everyone to wear a suit and tie to interview. We’re not particularly unique in this, casual dress seems to be par for the course for most modern businesses. However, there’s definitely a balance and wearing clothes that will become a point of discussion is not advisable.

Here’s a couple of ideas to help you:

  • If you arrive by bike, change before you arrive at reception. Cycle shorts or motorbike leathers are slightly distracting in an office environment.
  • A light shirt with your favourite band t-shirt underneath is like a window into the soul – think about whether that’ll work in your favour or not.

Allow for extra time

Make sure you allow yourself and us enough time for the interview. If it’s going well the interview could very well overrun, or we might throw in a fun little technical test. So make sure that you aren’t sitting in the interview worrying about catching a train, or pop out halfway through to put more money in a parking meter – it’s usually pretty obvious if you’re distracted.

Do some preparation

We are an accountancy firm with some very clever online accounting software.

If you can say something along those lines when we ask “What do you know about Crunch?”, you’re heading in the right direction. But, we are also a company with a good website, a fabulous blog and a charismatic founder who is interviewed frequently. We pride ourselves on being different from the rest of the accountancy firm and accountancy software crowds by offering the best of both worlds – if you can tell us something along those lines you’ve really hit the mark.

It’s important to really understand the company you’re interviewing for. Not just what they do on a superficial level, but their history, values and culture. Read some press coverage, their blog, and maybe check out a few of their senior staff on LinkedIn.

If you’re coming for a technical job (software or accountancy), read the job spec and prepare. We’ve had candidates who refused to take a technical test because they didn’t prepare beforehand. We will only know how capable you are if you show us.

Have an opinion

It is not uncommon for interviewees to nod along in agreement with whatever their interviewer says, but that makes for a very dull interview (for everybody involved).

Companies like ours are looking for people who aren’t afraid to express opinions and, particularly in technical disciplines, we want people who can explain why they like one approach but don’t like another. Even if you tell us you hate a methodology or technology we use, we’ll respect you for expressing that opinion – we might even end up agreeing with you.

Understand how a company works

It’s fairly well-established that job descriptions should include details of software, methods or skills that you should be comfortable with if applying for the role. For example, we go pretty crazy over agile methodologies – in particular we use Scrum and Kanban.

Our job adverts for developers mention agile, and we are active in the local agile community. This stuff is important to us and it’s pretty likely that our questions will cover agile methodologies in some detail.

Ideally you will respond with working knowledge of agile, at which point we will quiz you a lot harder – it is important that you at least understand the principle. Doing some research pre-interview will work in your favour massively, especially if you know the difference between Scrum, Kanban and XP – that will really blow our socks off.

Know what you put on your CV

Curriculum Vitae means ‘course of life’, not ‘highlights of life’, so make sure your CV is just that – a continuous course from education to now. If jobs were long ago and the experience was not relevant, give a very brief precis. If you took a career break, tell us. Of course we don’t need to know about your paper round at age 15 but it is always useful to get an idea of someone’s career journey in order to understand the extra skills they may have picked up along the way.

Come prepared with some example scenarios to really demonstrate your skills and make sure you can remember what you’ve put on your CV, it may even be worth bringing a copy in just in case.

Make sure links and websites are helpful

If you include links on your CV to websites you have created, some code you have online or your blog, make sure they reflect your current abilities. A website you created many years ago might not be the best advertisement for your talents. If you do include links then be prepared to answer questions on the technological decisions you made or elements of the functionality – don’t be afraid to show off your creation.

Critiquing your work – saying what worked well and what didn’t – is also a great way of demonstrating that you know what you’re talking about and are always striving to improve.

Don’t panic

We’ve had enough instances of interviews that started badly but ended up being great that we would question the wisdom of interviewers making their decision in the first 7 seconds of an interview.

The advice about maintaining eye contact, using a firm (but not crushing) handshake, sitting up straight or remembering the name of your interviewers is good stuff, but if the interview starts badly, don’t panic. All is not lost.

We know interviewing is nerve-wracking and part of our job is to put you at ease so you can articulate yourself well. Have confidence in your ability to do the job well and it’s likely we will too.

Join Crunch Chorus:
The free community for the self-employed

You'll get access to a range of benefits, such as invoice software, jargon-free business guides, great networking opportunities, discounts, plus much more

Written by Laurence Barry

Useful tools and resources

Business guides

From understanding expenses to starting a limited company, we've a range of jargon-free business guides for you to download and keep.

Invoicing software and templates

Create, send and store sole trader invoices in a snap with our free invoice software. You can also download a selection of invoice templates for all business types.

Take-home pay calculator

Use our Take-Home Pay Calculator to work out your true earnings and see if you could save money with a different company set up.