4 Tips on How to Stand Out in an Interview as a Software Engineer

Well done! You are now shortlisted for an interview after submitting a killer application for a software engineering job. Indeed, a special feeling comes at such a time. The only thing is that there is the risk of getting complacent when that happens. For that reason, you need to appreciate that there may be a few hurdles to jump going forward and that proper preparation is not an option.

Remember that interviewers will consider various aspects, in this case, before selecting the ideal candidate. On the other hand, other shortlisted candidates will also be seeking to give the interview their best. You also need to understand that the growing demand for software engineers increases the number of people gaining the skills necessary for pursuing high-paying opportunities.

That explains why multiple candidates compete for prestigious jobs at big firms like Microsoft, Facebook, and Google. Currently, the tech industry is setting for the fiercest competition in the job marketplace. As such, tech firms offer exceptional benefits, perks, as well as substantial salaries. Such offerings attract many job candidates. Often there are 100s of applicants per job, sometimes even thousands.

The high-demand tech job market encourages graduates to put their best foot forward to secure available openings, and you need to do the same. That means that each interviewee will be focusing on landing the job at the end of the day. So, how can you distinguish yourself in a software engineering interview?

Here are a few tips that can help you ace a developer interview.

1. Show off Your Communication Skills

Differentiating yourself from a sea of job applicants by presenting interviewers with your polished brand is possible. Although tech skills are critical, effective communication can be a game-changer — employers value soft skills, especially for specific roles such as software engineering manager and product manager. Other roles sometimes require you to present frequently (e.g. Data Scientist), therefore you want to make sure you highlight these skills, and not just your technical know how. They also want to know if they can work with you — this is crucial.

In that case, learning how to express yourself adequately in the workplace is paramount and effective communication can help you stand out in a tech-driven job market. Therefore, you cannot afford to imagine that possessing exceptional communication skills is an option. Also, most interviewers will find it impressive if you can explain complex ideas to a non-technical personnel. For example, could you “explain to me the difference between machine learning and AI” as if I’m a 5 year old?

In general, here are some of the strategies you can use to improve your communication skills in an interview:

  • Speaking clearly, slowly and deliberately. Cut out the “umms” and the “ahhs”
  • Read the room. Who is interviewing you? Are they technical or not? Adapt accordingly.
  • Avoiding the use of tech jargon.
  • Tempering your expectations about how much information non-technical persons can absorb in one sitting.
  • Creating a technical-term cheat sheet for listeners.

So, you need to show the interviewer that you can express technical ideas to potential stakeholders without difficulties. For instance, during the interview, you can share an example of a time you had to explain something complex using layman’s terms. You can also take a highly technical skill and explain it to your interviewer if you do not have a practical example.

Your responses to questions can also showcase your communication skills during an interview. Also, ensure that you remain receptive to following up on everything you say, speak clearly and slowly, use examples to back up your claims, and enunciate your words.

2. Highlight your experience

In a bid to identify the ideal candidate, the interviewer or recruiter may present you with several challenges. The objective, in this case, is to assess whether you can transform concepts into high-quality code. So, you should modestly point the interviewer to proof of your existing projects (side projects are considered even better as it shows passion) instead of rambling off a list of your skills.

You are in competition to win a job after-all, you’re allowed to brag (to some extent!). So make sure the interviewers know your biggest successes e.g. try to answer questions with your successes in mind. Often though you won’t need to bring this up yourself — the interviewer will likely ask you about your CV, so make sure your successes are top and centre in your CV as an interviewer will notice such achievements when checking your profile before an interview. That way, you will have a segue to talk about such details during an interview by saying that you value sharing your work with the public. Where possible, you can contribute to a high-profile open-source project that you can mention during an interview.

You can also maintain a blog and publish articles highlighting some of the interesting things you are learning in your software engineering journey. Most tech experts do not have a blog, and that is why it can help you stand out from your peers. Also, consider mentioning that you share tips and findings on your blog for the benefit of your audience.

Doing so portrays you as humble and thoughtful, and it will also serve as additional proof of your work history and qualifications.

3. Revise fundamental topics

You can expect interviews to ask you about software engineering fundamentals during an interview. The questions that interviewers ask may cover various topics, including foundational subjects like data structure, algorithm complexity analysis, and class design. Also, note that there are pros and cons to how you present solutions for different issues, even as interviewers seek to see how you address problems so you may want to go back and remind yourself of some basic software engineering principle which are easily forgotten (e.g. inheritance, abstraction, static methods etc) . For questions which are potentially opinionated you don’t want to give a polarised view — instead discuss the pros and cons where possible.

4. Prepare some answers for common competency questions

An interviewer may also ask open-ended questions to test your competencies and soft skills. Firstly, you want to avoid rambling in these situations. Give your opinion and demonstrate your though process but don’t go on for too long.

In general it’s difficult to prepare well for these questions as you don’t know what they’ll as you but often they are common questions such as:

  • Tell Me About Yourself.
  • How Did You Hear About This Position?
  • Why Do You Want to Work at This Company?
  • Why Do You Want This Job?
  • Why Should We Hire You?
  • What Can You Bring to the Company?
  • What Are Your Greatest Strengths?
  • What Do You Consider to Be Your Weaknesses?
  • What Is Your Greatest Professional Achievement?
  • Tell Me About a Challenge or Conflict You’ve Faced at Work, and How You Dealt With It.

Developers rely heavily on different tools (e.g. stack overflow!) to tackle various coding problems. However, you need to demonstrate your knowledge without such resources during an interview. For example, you should not allow a simple interview question like “Can you write a recursive function to reverse a string?”. Easier said than done. The most important thing to do is to explain your though process. The point of the interview isn’t whether you can complete a coding challenge, but instead to understand your thought process.

Conclusion

Understand that the idea behind the interview procedure is not seeking perfection but an opportunity for interviewees to show that they can solve problems. Also, organizations are not typically looking for software engineers who are experts in everything since it’s impossible to know everything in this field.

As much as that is the case, you should keep mistakes to a minimum and ensure that you are exceptionally well-versed in a handful of relevant skills for a specific role. Ultimately, these tips when implemented correctly will help you stand out in an interview as a software engineer. Good luck!

This article was original posted on 4 day week — Software engineering jobs with a better work life balance 🎉

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Phil from 4 day week

Phil from 4 day week

Founder @ 4dayweek.io - jobs with a better work / life balance.