A large part of what we do during our coding bootcamps is to prepare our students for “life after.” From a technical standpoint, our students have to be solid. On day one on the job, they need to be a contributing member of their development team. But in order to actually land their dream job in tech, they also have to interview well. So, what are you employers looking for? What aspects of an interview can help folks stand out from other candidates?
Here are some things we coach our students on that’s helped them land jobs at companies throughout Michigan:
1. Remember Your Manners
Smile. Make eye contact. Listen. These three things can take you a long way in a job interview.
Most people want to work with people who they like, or at least find pleasant. A genuine smile can put people at ease, opening the door to a more natural conversation and a greater connection.
Eye contact is also huge. Think about it. Have you ever been around a really nervous person who looks everywhere but at you? Didn’t it make you feel a little uncomfortable? Awkward even? That isn’t exactly a pleasant experience. Making eye contact shows you’re confident and ready for an engaging conversation. (Bonus tip: if you get nervous looking people in the eye, look in between their eyes.)
We all know listening is important. But really listen. Remember details to bring up in interviews with others at the company or so you can ask further questions. People like talking about themselves and they like people who let them do so.
2. Solid Small Talk is Important
The minute you walk into the building, your interview starts. While it might not be formal, the conversation with the receptionist, over lunch or on the walk into your interview are just as important. You should be prepared to engage in small talk that steers clear of getting too personal or political (“How about this election, eh?” isn’t an appropriate conversation starter).
I recommend taking the work angle, asking questions like “How long have you worked here” or pointing out a feature of the space and probing for some answers. Allow the employer to open up the door to more personal, “Any big plans for the weekend?” type-conversations. And when you answer, keep it professional. Working on your garden, playing in a soccer game, cheering on the Lions – all are fair game. Going to Happy Hour with your college friends – not so much.
(Bonus tip: If you need tips about how to get a conversation started, check out my earlier blog, How to Mingle (Not) Like a Five Year Old)
3. Preparation is Key
Come prepared with at least four questions to ask. It shows that you are prepared and there is no need to
For your actual questions, start with important company-specific questions. Company culture, innovative new projects, how your success would be measured, and core values are all awesome topics. I recommend steering away from more logistical questions like “where do I park?.” Not only is it a bit presumptuous, it doesn’t make your interviewer see your excitement for the job.
Do some research and try to cater your questions to the company. Ask about a recent product rollout you read about in Inc. or the company’s most recent philanthropic endeavor you came across. For example: “I saw on the BCBSM Facebook page that your team volunteered last week. I love that you do that. What level of community involvement does BCBSM have?”
Your last questions should be about next steps and a timeline. It’s important to walk away with a clear understanding of what you can expect next and it helps the company see your interest in the position.
4. Think Story Time
You should have three to four professional stories prepared and practiced that you can twist or turn no matter what the question is. These stories should shed you and your work in a positive light and highlight skills like teamwork and problem solving. You want the interview to end with the employer understanding everything that you could possibly contribute to the company.
I always tell our students that you want your interviewer to be able to imagine you on the job at their company. By being specific about the situation, how you reacted and the overall outcome, you’re leaving them with information they can later share with others. Most companies will have candidate conversations where they discuss you and whether you’d be a good fit for the role.
“Well, given how she reacted when the entire computer system went out at her company, I know she’d be able to handle the constant changes that happen at our start-up with ease.”
Nice, right? You’re getting your interviewer to advocate for you.
5. Leave Stories About Your Dog at Home
At Grand Circus, we often ask the question, “Tell me about a time you failed” to our prospective bootcamp students. Do you know what we often hear about? A failure of a relationship. While going through a divorce or friend break-up is hard, it tells me nothing of your ability to get the job done or your passion for technology.
An interview is not the time to bring up anything personal. Employers cannot ask you about your marital status, if you have kids or if you’re still living in your parent’s basement. Once you bring it up, though, they can start asking questions. So just don’t open the door. And let’s face it – no one wants to hear about your financial problems, a recent death in your family or that you moved to Des Moines for love during an interview. It can lead to a very uncomfortable conversation that can put both you and your interview in an awkward place.
Think back to my previous tip. Recreating a company’s hiring process to reduce bias is a better story to share than overcoming the sadness from your dog’s death.
6. Practice Personal Shoutouts, Reasons to Work at Company X and Salary Expectations
Practice answers for “Tell me about yourself” and “Why do you want to work here?” and “What are your salary expectations?” Why do you say that Chioke? Well, because they are questions that are asked a lot. I’ll break them down:
“Tell me about yourself” (or some variation of that) is not an opportunity to tell your interviewer about your childhood or favorite weekend activity. This is like a personal elevator pitch that sums up your career, skills and why you’re interested in the position. I suggest writing a short bio or reviewing your LinkedIn summary section as a basis for your elevator pitch.
Reasons to Work at Company X
You aren’t just interviewing for a job, you’re interviewing for a company. If you want long-term career growth, you most likely will not remain in the same position that you applied for. As stated before, do your research so you can explain your excitement for working at the particular company. What about their core values draws you in? What recent company project inspired you? How would their team structure allow you to grow as a professional?
Do your research on salary at the company, the role and the region. A project manager in New York City is probably going to have a higher salary than a project manager in Louisville, and your request should reflect that. Keep it open to further discussion and always shoot on the higher end of what your research uncovered. For our bootcamp students who are switching careers and moving into an entry-level position, here’s an example we give them:
“Well I always like to be transparent when it comes to salary. In my last position I was making $70,000. I understand I might be taking an initial salary hit as I am coming in to an entry-level position, but I hope to be back up in that range in the near future.”
It has been awhile since many of our students have interviewed for a new role. We always tell them to practice answering common interview questions many times before the actual day. While you don’t want to sound rehearsed, you want to be polished and be able to communicate everything you need to share. You can ask a friend to “interview” you over dinner or ask your mom to help you out under the guise of “catching up.” Ask them to give you pointers on the content of your answers as well as your body language. Are you slumped? Tapping your feet? Using wild hand gestures? Mumbling?
While there are many more tips and tricks we practice with our students, I hope these seven will help you knock your next interview out of the park. Let us know how these tips helped you and share ones you feel are important!