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RE: CONNECTION SERIES: 5 Tips for Acing a Software Engineering Job Interview

In our “Re: Connection” blog series, we’re revisiting articles from years past to see what has changed and what remains the same. A few years back, we offered tips on how to ace a software engineering job. For 2021, we asked Vittoria Merry to share her thoughts. Vittoria is the Director of Talent and Agile Solutions at CDIT, a company that provides enterprise-scale information technology and management services with a focus on software development. Merry agreed that most of the core ideas from the past blog remained relevant, but elaborated with some additional information.

Be Prepared to Ask Questions

As more interviews—especially those in preliminary screening rounds—are handled remotely, distinguishing yourself from the pack can be a challenge. Most of these exchanges are conducted via some sort of video platform, but a traditional phone interview is not out of the norm. Since a phone call can be rather flat—as the interviewer relies only on your voice without seeing body language—Merry suggests requesting a video call. Most of these initial interviews consist primarily as a way for companies to detail the job requirements and share the company’s culture along with posing some questions to determine your qualifications and character. “As the interview begins to wind down, you will more than likely be asked if you have any questions,” said Merry. “Personally, I’m looking for the candidate to ask questions and it’s a big red flag if they don’t. Since we are hoping to gain insight into the character of the person, the type of questions posed will help me make a decision about moving them into the next round of interviews.” Merry suggests asking about the company’s culture, the type of management style leadership employs and how they approach projects. It’s much better to discover answers to these questions early in the interview process rather than during the final stages.”

Be Prepared to Discuss Your Challenges

Merry said that today, most companies don’t ask the traditional old-school question, “So, what are your weaknesses?” Most companies such as CDIT may ask about challenges you have overcome, or to explain a situation when you had to face some adversity. You should be prepared to dig deep and demonstrate in detail how you overcame these challenges and learned from them. Your response will be key.

Programming Language is Important

Sharing your proficiencies in programming language is important. Listing that you regularly use GitHub, Jira, Devops Tools, etc. can show your skills and technical prowess. During your questions with the company it is also prudent to find out in what languages you may be asked to program and then go practice if you’re a little rusty. In most cases, companies will provide you with a test to program at home. There will usually be multiple steps—easy, medium and hard. Be prepared because you may be accustomed to writing on a white board in person and now you will need to take an assignment and provide the code back a couple of days later. Ultimately, be honest about your skills. If you have three languages then quantify that. If you’re a beginner admit that, but employers also like to hear that you are actively studying. “Let an employer know that you are either learning new programming or going deeper in the ones you already know,” said Merry. “If you are currently more front-end, but studying back-end, I’d like to know. If you’re learning how to make sushi, I want to hear about that, too. Overall discovery and a commitment to lifelong learning are important traits in a software engineer.”

Showcase Your Soft Skills with Examples

Most software engineers are proficient in their technical skills, but today’s employers are looking for those who possess business acuity often known as “soft skills” such as problem-solving, collaboration and oral/written communication competencies. During an interview, it’s important for a candidate to showcase these skills as a complement to technical abilities. “When you’re explaining your soft skills, don’t just say, ‘I’m very organized’ and leave it at that,’ give specifics,” said Merry. “For example say something like, ‘On my last job I was responsible for handling a multitude of change orders, so I made a spreadsheet and devised a method to keep these organized.’  Personally, I value my communication skills, so I would share that I’m good at working through challenges with clients. I thrive when my employer gives me a user that’s experiencing difficulties because then I have the opportunity to help someone and get customer feedback.”

A Portfolio is a Benefit

While you can spend time talking about your technical skills, showing your actual work speaks louder than words. Merry recommends assembling a portfolio. “If I’m a front-end person, then I would have my own website and some links for code I’ve written,” she said. “Showcase it on GitHub with links as proof that you are organized and can code neatly.”

BONUS TIP: Practice. Practice Practice.

Now that you have questions to ask, thought about examples of how you faced adversity, beefed up on your technical abilities and outlined specifics on your soft skill competencies, it’s time to practice. “Sit down with your spouse, kid, friend—whoever is willing—and have them play the part of the interviewer,” said Merry. “It’s like practicing a speech or a presentation and it’s a must, especially if you have not interviewed in a while.”

Best of luck on your next software engineering interview. We hope these tips give you an added edge. Go get ‘em!

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