Teachability: A must-have quality for software candidates

In discussing and preparing for software interviews, people typically focus on the technical aspects: Algorithm design, data structure selection, performance and complexity analysis, and so on. As our interview process has evolved and matured at Course Hero, however, the factor that probably rules out more candidates than any other, is this:

Teachability.

Everyone is going to learn and grow into a new position. Nobody is a perfect fit when you first meet them. The question, therefore is: How much of an investment do we need to make in this person, and how much will it pay off?

Junior candidates will require more mentorship than senior ones, but in both cases, some will be required. Even for people who already are skilled programmers, they need to learn our process, codebase, and conventions. In our interview process, we’re looking for signs that this mentorship will be productive. It really boils down to two questions:

  • Is this person interested in learning?
  • Is this person capable of learning?

There are a few ways to demonstrate that you are teachable in an interview setting.

  1. Receive and incorporate feedback from your interviewer. If they suggest a way to approach a problem, listen. They’re not trying to trick you. (If they are, I suggest you interview somewhere else.) Respond to that feedback and try to incorporate it into your work. You might know a better approach, but if you decide to say so, you need to be right.
  2. Apply things discussed earlier in the interview to subsequent questions or problems. This is a great way to demonstrate you’ve learned something.
  3. Communicate and have an active dialogue as you work through things. Good communication is an indication that people will be able to have productive work sessions with you.
  4. Talk about projects where you’ve tried to learn things, beyond strictly what was asked. Show that you’re self-motivated to learn, improve, and share knowledge with others.

Presenting yourself as a teachable team member can really set you apart — in your next interview and throughout your career as well. By nature, “being teachable” means that you are receptive to testing and trying new approaches. Your mentors and colleagues will be eager to share their unique perspectives, and you’ll learn how to attack projects from a variety of angles. This experience — and your willingness to learn — will be invaluable at your current position and beyond.

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