Impress Me – Tips for Developers Looking For Jobs

By | October 22, 2013

I just finished another round of hiring for the company I currently work for. This time, we were looking for entry level developers who had a sense of customer service. I found a couple of gems, but along the way I encountered some astonishingly bad things that I want to share as warnings to those entry level developers out there who want to maximize their chances of getting hired. I list these below.

1. Show Up

It’s amazing that I have to say this. If you schedule a time to go meet with a prospective employer and cannot make said meeting for whatever reason, call them and let them know. The worst that can happen is they will not want to meet you; the best that can happen is that you will reschedule with them. If you simply don’t show, you can be assured of never having a chance there, and if your name ever comes up in idle conversation amongst hiring managers, your no-call no-show will most certainly come up.

2. Don’t Text

There is a notion of boundaries between you and your boss. Texting a hiring manager about needing to reschedule a call or meeting shows the manager that you do not have a good sense of boundaries and raises the question of how you would handle client communication. As in item one above, call them. A phone call shows that you are wanting to explain and listen to the hiring manager’s response; a text (or email) shows a certain amount of laziness.

3. Ask to Code

Our interview process is pretty light. We start with a 30 minute phone screen. If this goes well, we then call the applicant in to speak with myself and the rest of our dev team, so as to assess fit. We also administer a code test. I have had multiple applicants either beg off when they hear about this test, or simply not show (see point 1 above) when their scheduled test time rolls around. This, to me, is crazy, especially for those just out of school or just entering the field. It’s even crazier when you realize that we allow applicants to use the Internet when taking our code test. The final depths of craziness are reached when you realize that we actually tell the applicants what some of the problems are, using a script along the lines of the below:

“You won’t have to write a compiler or anything like that (insert token laugh here). We will ask you basic stuff, like how to sum a list of integers, or how to find the minimum and maximum from a list of numbers.”

There’s been a lot of blather about how companies shouldn’t administer code tests, how they’re not a true test of what an applicant might bring to a company. I agree that a code test doesn’t capture the totality of someone’s potential contribution. That said, show me an applicant who doesn’t know how to write code to sum a list of integers, and I’ll show you a person who certainly isn’t ready to take on a job as a developer.

If you apply to a company for a developer position and they don’t ask you to code, ask them why they don’t. Ask them if you can. Ask to see how they code by pairing with one of their developers. Code is our lingua franca, and we (both applicants and potential employers) should want to see how the other communicates here.

4. Use Your Cover Letter

All hiring managers are busy, and you don’t want to waste their time. You also want to get their attention while conveying what you think you bring to the table. Think of your cover letter as your elevator pitch. If you happened to take the elevator with the hiring manager, how would you sell yourself? Don’t restate the resume, but don’t provide a canned letter either. Highlight something you’ve done that relates to the company’s goals. Expand on your long term career plans. Keep it succinct, no more than three paragraphs. No cover letter says you’re lazy; if that’s the effort you’re putting into finding a job, what kind of effort can I expect when I hire you?

5. Resume

There’s a whole industry built around resume writing, so I’ll simply call out some of the problems I’ve seen in this hiring run. First, if you include links to a personal website, ensure that the website isn’t just a “coming soon” or “under construction” message. Second, get a real email. You’re in the technology field; anything short of a gmail address simply won’t cut it. Third, all hiring managers know that references are available upon request, don’t restate this. Fourth, if you say you’ve worked on “improving performance” identify just how much you did. If you can’t remember exactly, then ballpark it. In other words, provide just a bit more detail so that the person reviewing your resume kens that you actually know what the bullet point in question means.

6. Present Yourself Well

Come dressed well. A suit and tie is best. Anything less will raise eyebrows, and while you can certainly recover, why hurt your chances? A suit and tie says you take the interview seriously, and that you are able to raise your game a notch when the situation warrants. Know what you wrote in your cover letter and in your resume, and be able to speak cogently to all points contained therein. Visit the company’s website and have an idea about what they do. If you can find current articles about said company, even better – it shows you know how to use Google and that you’ve done your homework. I always ask if the applicant has had a chance to check out our web site to see what we do. A yes is always better than a no here. Again, not a deal breaker, but why hurt your chances?

Remember, you are the one looking for a job. If you can’t impress me during the interview process, how do you expect to impress me after you’ve been hired?

Impress me.