Top 10 Interview Mistakes That Cost Developers Their Jobs

This is a guest post by Evgeny Shadchnev, co-founder of Makers Academy, a highly-selective, 10 week full-time course that teaches web development. Their applicants are usually entrepreneurs who want to be their own tech-cofounder, people looking to change careers, freelancers looking to diversify their skill-set or people that are simply passionate about learning to code. Makers Academy have a
new cohort starting each month.

I still remember one of my first interviews as a software developer many years ago. At the end of it, I was asked about my salary expectations. Instead of naming my price, I just refused to do so. Why? Because the recruiter that I was working with told me it would be in my best interests if he negotiated my salary for me. I was inexperienced. I never made the same mistake again

Years later I was hiring developers at Forward Labs, the first startup foundry in London, and InvisibleHand, the world’s most popular price comparison browser extension. I saw my share of interviews that went well and not so well, so I’d like to share with you what I consider top 10 mistakes that can cost a developer an interview.

1. Lack of online presence. The first thing I do when I get the application is to google the name. Every web developer worth talking to leaves a trail of content online: blogs, open source projects, conferences, social media, personal websites etc. I remember that I was once sent a link to the website of Pete Harris, a front-end developer. When I saw his website, I realised that he was a decent front-end dev and ever since I remember Pete as “the guy with ants on the website”. Having a popular blog or a track record of speaking at conferences also helps.

2. No interest in what the company is doing. This is a big red flag for me and many other developers who are recruiting. However good you are, you probably cannot afford to not to show interest in the projects of the potential employer and the technologies they are using. Therefore, “Why did you decide to apply to work here” is one of the most interesting questions that I always ask because I expect the candidates to do their homework.

3. Dress code failure. I’m only mentioning this because I’ve seen this happening. Don’t get me wrong, I’m extremely liberal when it comes to dress code. At Forward Labs some developers were wearing flip flops and shorts to work. I favour t-shirts and hoodies myself but when one candidate turned up to the interview wearing a tracksuit, I felt it wouldn’t go well. I immediately felt that this candidate wouldn’t fit in. No other developer at Forward would think of wearing a tracksuit to work. A hoodie and jeans would be just fine.

4. Lack of clear goals. A sure fire way to not to get a job when I’m interviewing is to answer “I don’t know” when asked about professional plans for the future. Of course the future is unpredictable and all plans are subject to change but not having clear goals tells a lot about the candidate’s mindset. I want to work with proactive people who set goals and strive to achieve them.

5. No questions for the interviewers. An interview is supposed to go both ways. If the candidate has no questions to ask about their potential place of work, they either don’t care or are desperate to accept any job offer. Neither of those is a good sign. The best questions evolve into a discussion about the reasons the company works in a certain way, which helps both the candidate and the interviewer to understand if this person is right for this job.

6. No pet projects. One of the most common questions at tech interviews is about pet projects. What you do with your skills in your spare time speaks a lot about you. The lack of any pet projects speaks even more though, so if you have anything to show please do so (I remember a interview with a candidate who had a porn site as a side project but I digress).

7. No passion for software. From time to time I interview developers who are happy to admit that they don’t really care about software, they are only doing it because it happens to pay well. This doesn’t give a good impression because passion for the craft is a prerequisite to achieve good results.

8. Being too opinionated. Some interviewees are happy to badmouth technologies that they don’t like for some reason. Even though no two technologies are equal, they all exist for a reason. A mature and experienced software developer is expected to be able to objectively compare different technologies, highlighting strong and weak points. Every developer has preferences when it comes to software but blindly dismissing tools that you don’t like may give an impression of lack of experience.

9. Pretending to know. If you don’t know an answer to an interview question, please admit so. Make a best guess but make it clear that you don’t pretend that you know the answer. People who admit their lack of knowledge have the biggest capacity for learning.

10. Not being aware of latest developments. If you are being interviewed as a Ruby developer, for example, it’s reasonable to expect questions about the recent release of the new major version of Ruby. If you weren’t interested enough to learn about it, you probably won’t be interested in learning about new tools on the job. Of course a candidate won’t be expected to know everything about all the latest releases but lack of awareness of what’s happening in the industry may be a reason to turn them down.

One thing that I haven’t mentioned is the CV. It’s becoming less and less important for developers: a LinkedIn (or any other) profile, a personal website or significant online presence make having a CV unnecessary, so many developers are right to not to bother about it.

The demand for software developers is at all-time high and growing. Many companies are desperate to hire developers but it doesn’t mean that they are hiring without an interview at all, so avoiding the most common mistakes will pay off.

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Mario Zorica
8 years ago

Really nice read, I've got few questions which I hope you can answer. Regarding the 4., I have many personal goals (regarding to programming) but the only professional goal I have is to eventually run my own team, that is pretty much it… I feel that is not what you're aiming for when asking this, am I right? Can you provide some more details about this, what exactly are you looking for? Regarding the 6., I'm not sure about this… The lack of pet project(s) does not necessarily mean the lack of passion for programming. For example maybe the candidate… Read more »