How To Prepare for Your Next Senior Developer Interview
To get ready for your interview, you’ll need to do research, research, and more research
Last year, I faced the most depressing six months of my software developer career.
None of the senior developer position jobs I applied to responded to my CVs.
For almost all of them, I wrote personalized cover letters along with customized CVs suited for the positions. I even taught myself lots of new skills just to include them on my CVs.
If I wrote this article six months back, those would be the things I would have written as tips to my fellow developers. Well, they don’t work. At least not for senior developer interviews. And here’s why.
Senior Developer Hiring Is Different
When hiring junior devs, companies go out shopping for developers. When hiring senior devs, it’s the developers who have to sell themselves.
Every senior developer hire is vetted through interviews that test their:
- Minimum qualifications (talent acquisition interview).
- Coding abilities (live interview/offsite/CoderPad-Codeshare).
- Architectural abilities (aka a systems interview).
- Team/managerial abilities (interview with teammates /CTO /CEO).
- Fit for the company culture (additional HR interview).
This is in contrast with junior devs, who are often taken onboard en-mass from hackathons, campus interviews, or online coding competition events.
The hiring cost of a senior dev is thus exponentially high, given the amount of time invested at every stage. And money, if an external recruiter is involved.
You better justify it with your CVs and cover letters and first phone calls. And the key to do this is to sell yourself.
Below are four tips for senior developer applications.
Research, Research, and More Research
Marketers often research their customers before approaching them. Authors do the same with their publishers. It’s only programmers who write the same boilerplate application letter to 90 employers located from San Francisco to Sydney.
A programmer can detect boilerplate code, but it doesn’t require a programmer to sense a boilerplate cover letter. The only way to avoid boilerplate and personalize your cover letter is to do intense research.
1. Research about what they do
“I’m extremely passionate about high-performance UX, especially with animated gif and video content.”
A software firm hosting a yoga video marketplace might like that line in your cover letter for a front end dev position. If it’s a video compression engineer position in the same company, that line might do well without the extremely passionate part. It’s completely unnecessary if you’re applying to a stock trading algorithm application.
Vet every line that you wrote in your cover letter. What does it say about you that also intersects with the product division you’re applying for?
Only keep what’s darn important, and remove the rest.
2. Research about why and how they came to exist
This is especially true for applying to startups.
Startups often discuss their own founding stories. What moved them, what pain points they saw, how they came up with the solution, and how passionate they are about making a difference.
When they hear the same thing from someone who aspires to be part of their startup, they feel validated.
Imagine their joy — they’re not only getting a developer, but also a walking evangelist. Someone who can push their story to potential stakeholders. Someone who will write viral tweets about how great it is to create the next-gen VR game/AI-backed database/front end framework. Tweets that reach a deep-pocket investor.
Always remember: People buy with their hearts, and justify it with their minds.
Cater to what their heart wants, but just make sure you feel it yourself. Don’t sound phony.
3. Research about who you’re applying to
This is a rather insignificant bit, but it’s not unimportant.
While sending out your application to a hiring manager, do primary research about where they’re from, what they’ve has worked on, and etc. Checking their LinkedIn never hurts. If they would be coming for you, they would do the same.
It can land you a distinct advantage, or it can protect you from harmful cover letter gaffes.
For example, if you’re British, and the email recipient is also British, being sarcastic about London weather might break the ice. But if you’re not British, it might lead to an instant rejection from a prejudiced person.
4. Read between the lines (address nice-to-haves)
Last year, I applied for a senior dev position in a leading bank in a Scandinavian country.
They happily welcomed me on their premises, but I ended up being rejected, possibly due to my dumb answer to a boilerplate question: How many test cases have you written? I said, ‘some, not many.’
I knew it was a job requirement, but just a bonus one. I didn’t think it carried much importance.
I applied a year later with a lot of new skills. I was rejected again, even before the interview.
Then, I bumped into their former developer at a developers’ meet. He bragged about how he quit that bank for being forced to write stupid test cases.
That happened eighteen months before. Just before my interview with them.
When they posted that job again, I put up a Github repo specifically demonstrating my automated test case writing, and I mentioned it briefly but specifically in my cover letter.
After just two weeks and one super-simplistic interview round, I was offered a team lead position.
Moral of the story? Nice-to-have skills are often must-have requirements, and you should never, ever ignore them.
In the case of the bank, it was their intrinsic belief in test cases being a developers’ responsibility, no matter how small it was.
The violation of that belief hurt them. The validation of that belief led to checking off all the required boxes.
It’s the salesman principle revisited: People buy with their hearts, and they justify it with their minds.
Software firms hire senior developers not just for programming purposes. They often hire them to sell their vision/product to other devs, and eventually, to the outside world.
If you know enough about selling yourself, your cover letter can stand out enough to get you an interview invite.