Interviews are fun (I promise!)

I spoke about this topic at codebar Monthly December ’17 and many people asked me to blog about it, so here are my tips to get over interview anxiety.

Panel discussion on getting your first job in tech at codebar Monthly. Photo courtesy of Laura Wilson

I love interviews, there I said it. But I am aware that I am perhaps unusual in this regard. I also realise that finding things easy, or enjoyable, or within your comfort zone often comes with lots of practice. I’ve been a front end developer for around 6 years now, and I’ve usually changed jobs around every two years (one time it was after two months and lots of frustration, but we’ll quickly gloss over that one). Each time I’ve changed jobs I usually interview at around 3 to 5 places, which amounts to a fair few interviews in total, so I’ve had lots of interview experience, and I’ve never not been offered a job after an interview, so I’d like to think that I’m not too bad at them! With this in mind, I’d like to go over the techniques that I use to combat interview anxiety and how you can knock your next interview out of the park.

I’ve suffered from anxiety for most of my life. One of the coping techniques that I was taught is to take your worry to its logical conclusion. I call it the ‘What’s the worst that could happen?’ approach. Once you’ve faced down your worst fears, you can start to reason about the likelihood that they’ll actually occur, and hopefully, will quickly realise that they’re pretty improbable!

The things that scare me most about interviews are:

  • Meeting new people
  • New scenario and/or new place
  • Potential to make a mistake
  • Potential to be judged

So I’m going to talk through each one, take it to its logical conclusion and, I hope, help you to start facing them down too.

Meeting New People
Meeting new people can be daunting, but what is the worst thing that could happen? What if they turn out to be a jerk? Well, you are absolutely within your right to leave. You have as much control and agency in this situation as they do.

Most interviewers will be keen to meet you, they’ve already spent time and energy on choosing your CV (résumé), getting in contact, organising a meeting etc. They’re already invested in you. They’ll want you to do well and they want to get the best out of you that they can. They’re not trying to catch you out (and if they are, well you can just take that as evidence that they might not be the best people to work with).

Try and forget for the moment that there is a job offer involved and just enjoy talking to someone with similar interests to you who can likely teach you new things. Think of it as a potential to meet other people in the tech industry, who want to talk to you about the things you’re doing and the tech that you use.

You can help yourself out here too. If they tell you the names of who you’ll be meeting beforehand then do a little bit of research about them. Check their LinkedIn and their Twitter profile etc. I’m not talking full on Facebook stalking here, I just mean get some information about their job roles, anything they’re particularly passionate about. If they’ve shared or written interesting articles give them a read.

If they’ve not told you who will be interviewing you it is OK to ask beforehand. Drop them an email, or ask your recruiter if you have one. That way you can walk into the interview feeling a little more confident.

New scenario and/or new place

If you’re worried about getting lost, you can ask your interviewer for directions or an explanation of where to go from the station. Personally I like to look up any walking parts of a route to a new place on Google Street View so that I have an idea of where I’m going and what it looks like.

Make sure you’ve at least looked up and timed your route beforehand and packed whatever you need.

There’s nothing worse than turning up to an interview stressed or sweaty because the route took longer than expected, and turning up late doesn’t start you off with the best impression.

Another point on making an impression; clothing, I’ve never worked in a place that requires a shirt/tie any of that, and that is my choice, but some places do, you can ask beforehand about dresscode if you’re worried.

I tend to dress smarter for interview than i would expect to on the actual job, but the important thing is that you feel good in what you’re wearing. If you feel uncomfortable, you’ll look uncomfortable and will probably act uncomfortably. If you feel good in what you’re wearing then it is one less thing to think about, reducing your cognitive load while you’re interviewing

You can help yourself to feel more comfortable by doing some research on the company you’re interviewing with! Read their about page, any articles about them on social media or in the press, find out about their size, their products etc, you might not get asked about it, you might have a chance to ask them more about it, but it is always good to know a little bit about the place where you might end up working! It is horribly generic, but lots of companies fall back on the ‘and why do you want to work here?’ question, it is always better if you have learnt something about the projects they’re working on and can work that into your answer than ‘because you’re gonna pay me..’

Potential to make a mistake

So, you make a mistake in the interview, what is the worst that could happen? Is it likely they’ll laugh at you? Not really. Might they scribble things on a piece of paper? Maybe, but so what, you’ll never see that paper again after the interview, breathe, move on and wow them with your next answer.

Making a mistake is ok! it certainly isn’t the end of the world. If you get an answer wrong, a good interviewer will explain the answer that they were looking for and you’ll learn something new, for free!

What is important, while you’re making your wrong answer is that you talk it through. Don’t be silent if you’re unsure. If you think you know the answer but aren’t sure then talk through the bits you do know, let your interviewer understand your thought process.

If you genuinely, truly, have no idea about the answer then just say that you don’t know about that subject, your interviewer will thank you for not drawing out a long, rambling incorrect answer!

Potential for Judgement

No one likes to be judged poorly or harshly, we generally want people to like us, especially those who are interviewing us. The thing to remember here is that you’re being judged on your suitability for a particular role, not on your skills as a developer or on yourself as a person.

It is OK if you don’t fit that role perfectly. It isn’t a reflection on you. You will find another role that you do fit.

The other thing to remember is that an interview is your chance to get a feel for the people that you’re going to be working with. You should scrutinize the place, the atmosphere, the people as much as they do you. Interview is a really great time to work out whether your initial impressions of a place are good or not. I’ve definitely had interviews where I was put off by an interviewer or the state of an office.

Another place where we worry about judgement is when talking about ourselves. Talking about yourself is difficult, especially for women, we’re socially engineered to believe that self promotion is not an attractive quality, but at an interview it is absolutely imperative that you promote yourself. You have to be able to tell them what you’re capable of and why you’re the person for the job. If you don’t, someone will come along after you who can talk about themselves and they might be less capable than you, you owe it to yourself and your new employer to talk about your own achievements.

Get a friend to run through practice interview questions with you, even if they’re just boring generic questions that were the first result when you searched ‘interview questions’. Even if it feels silly. Practicing a thing once makes it much easier the second time and more and more the more you do it. I certainly don’t stand in front of people to talk without running through my talks first, and I would expect an interview that I’d practiced for to go much smoother than one I’d not. Speaking answers out loud will help you to straighten out thoughts in your own head that might bubble up haphazardly in interview.

Final thoughts

I hope you’ve found at least something here to take away, interview nerves are absolutely conquerable. I’ve a few final tips for when you’re in the interview -

Be curious, people like being asked about their work and what they do, I’m sure that you’ll have questions about the way that they work, or what they’re working on or who you’ll be working with. Ask lots of questions. If you’re drawing a blank then here are a few questions to keep in your back pocket for when they ask you ‘is there anything you’d like to ask us’

  • Could you describe a typical day in the role?
  • What is your favourite thing about this job?
  • Tell me about the tech stack and why it was chosen.
  • When was the last time you worked late?
  • Could you give me an example of someone who recently received training and what form it came in?

Be interesting Easy to say, right? But what makes you interesting? Anything that makes you stand out from the other candidates. Do you attend tech events? If so, talk about them, if not consider attending a few and see what comes of it. If you’re nervous about attending events then please get in contact with event organisers, they’re usually happy to arrange a buddy to show you the ropes. Check out their code of conduct too, to make sure it is a place where you’ll feel happy.

Read around your subject, find online magazines and journals, podcasts, follow other developers, being involved makes you interesting. If you can talk about how you stay up to date with tech you interviewer will want to hear it.

Non-Tech experiences still count! If you’ve not worked in tech before, or for long, then you can still draw on experience from other walks of life. If they ask you about the last time you worked in a team, dredge up memories of school projects if you have to, or your summer job in a coffee shop, whatever it is, you can talk about times that you solved problems, times that you faced a deadline, times that you made things that you’re proud of.

Use the ‘nugget first’ method to keep your answer on track. It is often tempting at interview to change the direction of your answer to be what you want to say and not what the interviewer asked. Sometimes this happens accidentally, especially if you’ve got something in particular that you want them to know about, or if you don’t know the answer to something. Instead, take time to consider what they’re asking and how you can compose an answer that fits. If you’ve not heard of it, the ‘nugget first’ method works well. Give a 3–4 word answer to the question, then follow it up with a longer description. It should help you to keep your answer focused.

Ask for clarification if you’re unsure. This counts for technical and non-technical interviews alike, if you’re not sure what they’ve asked you, or you don’t understand the question, ask for clarification, it is much better than answering the wrong question.

Be yourself. You can only be who you are, don’t lie on your CV, don’t claim to be able to do things that you can’t, but also be honest about how great you are! You are able to learn the things that you don’t know, you can solve problems and you are proactive in looking for solutions. Be yourself, believe in yourself and you can’t help but wow them.

I hope you find these tips helpful, if you’ve any questions about interview techniques or applying for your fist job in tech please do get in touch! You can find me @thisisjofrank on Twitter or post a comment below. Best of luck with your next interview!



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