I got my first job interview!



  • Hello all. After about a year of lurking here anonymously I registered because I desperately need some advice :-)

    have a job interview tomorrow for the position of "programmer /
    business analyst" for a mid-size web development company (50-100
    people). Truth be told, I never had a real job interview before. Ever.
    So I have no clue what to expect. All I ever did was a short interview
    at a logistics company for a practical term when I was still studying
    at the university. After I graduated I ended up working there without
    an interview and I've moved with the company each time it was sold.

    The job description is kind of vague (typical HR-speak) but it looks
    like it's for a position in a small team of programmers that builds the
    toys and framework that the rest of the company uses to build websites
    for clients. They ask for 3 years programming experience (language
    unspecified) and knowledge of PHP, XML, MySQL and HTML.

    What else do I know? Uhh... I'll be interviewed by their senior HR
    droid (a very nice sounding lady) and the senior/lead programmer. And
    they either want me real bad or they have trouble filling positions
    because I was called for an interview within two hours of sending my CV
    and motivation (for a different position -- junior programmer) and they
    hadn't bother reading my CV (because the HR lady kept asking me
    questions I answered in my CV, like "Do the terms PHP and MySQL mean
    anything to you?" -- WTF?).

    So, what can I expect? I've never had a job interview, let alone for a
    programming position (I'm educated as a business engineer). What kind
    of questions could they ask me? What should I bring, except for a spare
    copy of my letter, CV and a notepad + pen? Suffice to say I'm pretty
    nervous about all of this :-)

    Sorry for the long (first) post and thanks in advance for any tips! 



  • Just be yourself and go for it.

    A copy of your CV (twice, as the interviewer sometimes forget those) never hurts anyone. 



  • @Sander Marechal said:

    So, what can I expect?

    Lots of questions, plus a lot of time spent listening to one of the interviewers explaining things you do not understand yet. 

     

    I've never had a job interview, let alone for a
    programming position (I'm educated as a business engineer). What kind
    of questions could they ask me?

    What have you done before, what is your experience with xxx, can you do xxx; how much money do you want, when can you start. 

    Maybe they will do some test to check your knowledge skills. Anyway, if they want you really bad, keep calm - your position might be stronger than you think.


    What should I bring, except for a spare
    copy of my letter, CV and a notepad + pen?

    If you have examples of programs you have written before, it can't hurt to have them with you. Some related UML diagrams might be impressive, too.

    Be sure you are able to explain that all in detail, otherwise it looks like you are bullshitting with somebody else's code. 



  • 1) research the business and possibly their framework. Act interested in what they do, and ask questions about it. It's especially good if you say something along the lines of "I was looking through your website and I noticed your framework does X -- how do you accomplish that? Do you use Y or Z method? What's your structure like? etc.

    2) If you know your stuff, don't worry about the technical questions. It'll come to you or it won't. If you don't know it, don't be afraid to tell them you don't know -- interviewers respect honest ignorance more than they respect trying to fake it -- especially if you can demonstrate that you can figure out how to answer the question with appropriate materials.

    3) Relax and be chatty, but don't chat about inappropriate topics.



  • Thanks all. Good advice so far. 

    @ammoQ said:

    Maybe they will do some test to check your knowledge skills. Anyway, if they want you really bad, keep calm - your position might be stronger than you think.

     Are practical programming tests commonplace? Like, where they sit you down at a PC and give you some problem to solve in a relatively short time? I've read about the big guys (MS, Google) doing things like that, but how about smaller companies?
     



  • @Sander Marechal said:

    Thanks all. Good advice so far. 

    @ammoQ said:

    Maybe they will do some test to check your knowledge skills. Anyway, if they want you really bad, keep calm - your position might be stronger than you think.

     Are practical programming tests commonplace? Like, where they sit you down at a PC and give you some problem to solve in a relatively short time? I've read about the big guys (MS, Google) doing things like that, but how about smaller companies?
     

    Depends on. Some companies do those tests, others don't. At least you can expect that they show you a piece of code in the language you are supposed to know and you have to explain what it does. Some kind of anti-bullshitter-test. In one companies I work for, the test included finding syntax errors in a short piece of code. Experienced people typically find between 50% and 80% of all errors. 



  • @Sander Marechal said:

    the HR lady kept asking me questions I answered in my CV, like "Do the terms PHP and MySQL mean anything to you?" -- WTF?).

    Remember, those terms probably don't mean anything to the HR lady :)    She just has a list of questions in front of her that she has to ask you for pre-screening. 

     

    @Sander Marechal said:

    What kind of questions could they ask me?

    Expect to answer basic definition questions, then probably write some code on the whiteboard.  Often it will be something basic like "write a function that reverses a string (or a linked list)"   Since they're asking for MySQL experience, they might ask you to write a couple relatively simple queries for them. 

    Since you're also looking at a business analyst portion to the job, they might have some questions like "The customer has asked for a specific feature, but you know that what they are asking for doesn't make any sense, how would you go about figuring out what they really want?"

    And they're almost certain to ask "Do you have any questions for us?"   Since you'll be a bit flustered in the interview, you might want to make a few notes now about them that you want to ask about.  

     

    @Sander Marechal said:

    What should I bring, except for a spare copy of my letter, CV and a notepad + pen?

     

    You can't go wrong having a few copies of your CV handy.  If you have some code that you're particularly proud of, maybe print off a copy and keep it with you...some interviewers like to see code samples, others don't care.  Notepad & pen are fine, though you'll probably forget about them right away :)   Breath mints are good too, not just for minty fresh breath, but they'll help keep your mouth from drying out too much.  If they offer you some water/coffee/soda, accept it.  Again, a dry mouth sucks in an interview.

    Good luck!  Make sure you post and tell us how it went.

    -cw



  • Always have questions for the interviewer, even if you know the answer; it shows that you are interested.  I always come up with a list of a few generic questions ("Where will this position take me in five years?", and "Can you tell me what tools I will be working with?   [Then give some example tools you are comfortable with]")  and a few about the company I am talking to.

     
    I've found that the more questions I ask, the better my chance of getting the offer.  Also remember, you are interviewing them, too!
     



  • Thanks for all the tips. I have a bunch of questions for them too, read up on their business (got chamber of commerce excepts) and read up on their news of the last two years.

     I'm off to bed now and get a good night's sleep (usually I don't get much because I code too much). I'll check back here in the morning before and after the interview.

    Cheers!
     



  • @Sander Marechal said:

    What else do I know? Uhh... I'll be interviewed by their senior HR
    droid (a very nice sounding lady) and the senior/lead programmer. And
    they either want me real bad or they have trouble filling positions
    because I was called for an interview within two hours of sending my CV
    and motivation (for a different position -- junior programmer) and they
    hadn't bother reading my CV (because the HR lady kept asking me
    questions I answered in my CV, like "Do the terms PHP and MySQL mean
    anything to you?" -- WTF?).

    The answer to that one is "Recruiters like to ejaculate things into resumes that weren't there before, because they get paid when you get hired, regardless of whether you're a match or not and regardless of whether you stay."

    It's entirely possible that she had read your resume, and was making sure that you actually knew what was on it. If you had answered "I never made a sequel, what are you talking about?" she'd know that something was up. Not all HR people are clueless, mind you.

    As far as what to know, it's more a matter of being able to sell yourself. DRESS NICELY! Unless you've been told not to or have had it suggest that this is a bad idea. You don't need a suit and tie, but DEFINATELY wear decent pants and a dress shirt. Jeans do not count as decent pants, no matter how well ironed. Make sure that you know what they're about, or at least have some idea. If you haven't yet, read over their company website, and see if you can find a question or two to ask the interviewer. That shows that you're paying attention, and have some sort of interest.

    WEAR THE NICEST SHOES YOU HAVE! They don't have to be sooper shiney, but they should certainly not be sneakers! You WILL be judged at least partly by your shoes, as rediculous as that sounds.

    DON'T LIE. Period. Interviewers will have very little patience for someone who is clearly hemming and hawing about something they've been asked. "I don't know" is a perfectly acceptable answer if it's the truth.

    Make sure you've eaten breakfast/lunch/etc, and make sure you had time to digest it. When your stomach is taking blood to break things down, that leaves less of it for your brain. Even a breakfast bar will help, but try and have it at least half an hour before you come in.

    Interviews are naturally stressful times. A competant interviewer will recognize this, and attempt to place you at ease.

    Basically, try and represent yourself as well as you can, and truthfully as you can, and if you don't get hired, don't get too stressed out.



  • Assuming you are posting under your real name, you might want to be prepared to explain what you mean by "HR droid" and "very nice sounding".  It's not uncommon to be the subject of a quick google search.  Don't know if your post will make it before your interview (if at all)....



  • @LoztInSpace said:

    Assuming you are posting under your real name, you might want to be prepared to explain what you mean by "HR droid" and "very nice sounding".  It's not uncommon to be the subject of a quick google search.  Don't know if your post will make it before your interview (if at all)....

     It's my real name but I think I'm good :-) I don't think Google works quite that fast, and googling my name (in quotes) brings up 12.700 hits, all me except one entry halfway down page 11 (I checked the first 20 pages) :-)
     



  • PS: If one of them is a regular at The Daily WTF or LXer, I might have some explaining to do though :-/ Oh well, I stand by what I say or write, even if it later turns out not to be the smartest thing. That's why I always use my real name.



  • @Volmarias said:

    WEAR THE NICEST SHOES YOU HAVE! They don't have to be sooper shiney, but they should certainly not be sneakers! You WILL be judged at least partly by your shoes, as rediculous as that sounds.

    This is funny because most of the candidates that have come in lately have been wearing sandals. In winter!!!

    @Volmarias said:

    Interviews are naturally stressful times. A competant interviewer will recognize this, and attempt to place you at ease.

    Stressful? In my experience it's the interviewer who is stressed! I honestly don't know what to think of these "new age" candidates. We had this one guy fill out his paperwork in a conference room, and when we walked in he quickly pulled his feet/legs off the table! Yes, sandals and all. He had his feet and legs all up on the table...like he was lounging at home! And he was grungy too. I just don't get it. Either times have really changed, or we're scraping the bottom of the barrel. Ugh.



  • Well, I'm back!

    All in all I think it went rather well. It's been a nice talk and the senior programmer and HR lead were both really nice people. The job description is slightly different from what they advertised on their website but it sounded really good to me. There was only one question I had trouble answering. At some point they asked me how I was and I responded like "enthousiast,  hard-working, flexible, etcetera" and also that sometimes I was a bit stubborn, which is good at times and not so good at other times. They asked me for an example where it had turned out not so good and I couldn't give a decent example. I told them about one time when I disagreed with a certain project implementation. I got overruled but it turns out I was right in the end anyway. They didn't really seem to like that example. The rest went well. I got compliments for doing some research on the company beforehand and apparently I was the first programmer to bring printed code samples :-)

    Thanks all!



  • @CPound said:

    Stressful? In my experience it's the interviewer who is stressed! I honestly don't know what to think of these "new age" candidates.

    They stress you out?   I'm kind of picturing Cartman from South Park murmuring in his sleep "Ehhh...hippies...hippies...they're everywhere...they want to save the world but all they do is smoke pot and smell bad..."

    @CPound said:

    We had this one guy fill out his paperwork in a conference room, and when we walked in he quickly pulled his feet/legs off the table! Yes, sandals and all. He had his feet and legs all up on the table...like he was lounging at home! And he was grungy too. I just don't get it.

    Sounds like you need to have a talk with your recruiter/HR person to make sure they are setting the appropriate tone for the interview.  At microsoft, they send out an email before the interview giving an overview of the process and saying "dress casual" (but then they keep you there for 7-10 hours, which will start wearing the sharpest creases down...) you guys could send out a "remember, this is a professional interview, dress appropriately" message.  At least if they show with unwashed feet in sandals you'll know they should have known what was expected.

    @CPound said:

    Either times have really changed, or we're scraping the bottom of the barrel. Ugh.

    Actually, there's a long and storied history of code slinging new-age hippy types.  I've worked with more than one person who wore sandals every single day.  With guys (and girls) who didn't shower but once a month.   Google "Hackers in Sandals" for examples.  If anything, times have changed in that people actually expect computer whizes to be well dressed, relatively clean shaven, and to generally interact with other humans on something resembling a similar playing field.  In the before time, we knew better. :)

    -cw



  • Actually, there's a long and storied history of code slinging new-age hippy types.

     If they get the job done then I'm all for it. Techies in suits always start at a disadvantage with me when I first meet them. They'll have to prove to me first that they're not the enterprisy in^H^Hconsultant type responsible for the majority of WTF's on this site. A geek in sandals usually have the skills to make up for their lack in appearance. So far I've only really met one techie in a suit who really turned out to be worth his salt. He's my current boss :-)
     



  • @Sander Marechal said:

    So far I've only really met one techie in a suit who really turned out to be worth his salt. He's my current boss :-)
     

     Does that mean you got the job?

    -cw



  • @CodeWhisperer said:

    @Sander Marechal said:

    So far I've only really met one techie in a suit who really turned out to be worth his salt. He's my current boss :-)
     

     Does that mean you got the job?

    Nope. I was talking about the company I am currently working for. I won't hear until Friday whether I get a second interview or not at the place I went this morning. 



  • @Sander Marechal said:

    Well, I'm back!

    All in all I think it went rather well. It's been a nice talk and the senior programmer and HR lead were both really nice people. The job description is slightly different from what they advertised on their website but it sounded really good to me. There was only one question I had trouble answering. At some point they asked me how I was and I responded like "enthousiast,  hard-working, flexible, etcetera" and also that sometimes I was a bit stubborn, which is good at times and not so good at other times. They asked me for an example where it had turned out not so good and I couldn't give a decent example. I told them about one time when I disagreed with a certain project implementation. I got overruled but it turns out I was right in the end anyway. They didn't really seem to like that example. The rest went well. I got compliments for doing some research on the company beforehand and apparently I was the first programmer to bring printed code samples :-)

    Thanks all!

    Well, you could have certainly done better, but it doesn't sound like you bombed interview #1. Next time, try to offer up "ways I've screwed up" with a follow-up example of how you have recognized that screw-up, how you are working or worked to correct it, and how you plan to avoid it happening again in the future.  Obviously an example like "well I was right about management's bad decision in the end anyways" demonstrates that you're elitist to the interviewer, not that you are capable of noticing your own mistakes and working them out on your own.  Just an interviewing tip from someone who has been through a lot more interviews than you. ;)  Good luck!

    By the way, be very observant about every little detail about the office they want you to work at, the people you'll be working with, and how they approach the topic of compensation. The less professional any of those details look, sound, smell, or feel to you, it'll make that issue about 10x worse in reality. Trust me, this has been true of the 5 different jobs I've held in the past 8 years, and that's only been in 2 different companies. Pretend that taking on a new job is like getting married. You're prepared for bliss, but you MUST also be prepared for all those little things that look like they might annoy you now to be issues that will annoy you 10x as much once you're hired/married.

    For instance, if the HR droid hadn't even read your cover letter but called you so quickly after you answered the ad, chances are that HR will be 10x more harried and less willing to actually read anything you talk to them about once you're hired, AND the business is probably dying to get someone in there now to clean up a mess or finish off a badly lagging project ASAP - so be careful. Granted, this is 100% typical of HR - HR SUCKS! - but notice these kinds of things with the people who you'll be eventually working with or for as you interview. If you get along great with them and things click - that's good; if the discussion is forced and the head programmer glares at you the entire time - that's bad. Just a heads up as you continue on in your interview process.
     


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