Job interview: Good tips for beginner programmers
It is quite hard to find a job, when you have no experience - yes, even, if you are a programmer. Back in the days, when economy was blooming, it was a different thing - sometimes, you could walk in the door, say that you just finished school, studying programming, but have no experience - that was still enough.
Now it is different - if you already have experience for some years and are valuable, you can get used to personal job offers, but not without experience! So - you must leave a good impression and the most important is to show, that you learn quickly - leave the impression that you have no experience, but you are going to be a great programmer! On the first interview, if you are a beginner, they probably aren't going to do detective work to get detailed information about your skills. Depending on the company, if you leave good impression on the first interview - you might be asked back to a second interview or they might give you a test exercise.
- Writing a cover letter for a programming job
Tips and guidelines, how to write a cover letter and differ from other appliers.
Before the interview - resume/CV
At first you will have to get to the interview! You must leave a really good impression among the competitive software engineers, who already have experience. Your resume/CV (Curriculum Vitae) leaves the first impression of you. What to keep in mind:
- Spelling! Even if you are really good in grammar and spelling and usually make no mistakes - just in case - you should let someone else read your resume/CV. There might just be typos, that change the word into something not very professional. For example, the following sentence: “Demonstrated ability in multi-tasting.” or “Dear Sir or Madman”. Funny? Yes! But not, if you are the author! If you don't even get this first paper correctly - well, for a programmer, it is not a very good characteristic.
- Structure! The resume/CV should be well-organized and readable. The person reading it, should immediately find all the information, he/she is looking for. If your resume/CV is a big mess, possibly the employer can already imagine your messy code!
- Content! You should only include information related to the job. No point in writing, that you worked in a bar for 5 years, if you are applying for a job as a software engineer. Really. The resume/CV shouldn't be too long. If possible, make it only one page, if not - two at most.
- Only important things! No point in writing, that you know, how to use Excel, Word, Search engines etc. Remember - you are applying to be a software engineer. Also - don't mix impressive details with unimpressive ones. If you write too much unimportant stuff, the overall quality of your resume/CV falls.
- Other information! You should also include your education, contact information, languages you know, other IT-related skills.
- Use facts, when describing yourself! Don't say that you developed very good results really quickly - say that you increased the speed of application X by 15% in a week.
- Be honest! No point in writing stuff in the resume/CV that is not true. You might try saying that you have done all kind of projects and are a really experienced software engineer. But if you go to the interview and they ask you all kind of technical questions and give you test exercises during the interview - well - you are screwed!
If you are a beginner without experience, after all this, you might think that you have nothing to write at all! But since you are a beginner programmer - there must be some programming languages that you must know! Even, if you learned yourself. If you have no certain project - write one! It is good to know, that an employee likes to write some code outside the school/work just for fun - it shows that the person really is interested! And then you already have something to show.
Before the interview - long-term preparation
To get a really good job really quickly and without preparation - I guess it is possible. But highly unlikely. No-one is going to offer you mountains of gold and chests filled with jewels - you have to show that you are worth it!
If you are one of the programmers, who saw the first line of code in school and the last line you wrote was also in school - better start preparing. Employers prefer the kind of people, who are actively interested in programming. Most of the schools give you theoretical knowledge. It is good, if you know all the fancy terms, but really - probably you are not going to need them.
What can you do then - start programming on your own! If you want to get a job as a software engineer, you should also have some interest in it. Think about some cool applications, you would like and start programming!
One good idea is also make yourself a website - programmers visit card. You can also google yourself and see what you can find - if the only result is Facebook page with lots of party pictures - might not be so good. Probably some programming forum with your professional answers might be much better!
Before the interview - short-time preparation
If you are a beginner, it is much harder to get a job. If you also are really bad in communication and don't get a word out of your mouth during the interview - even worse! So - practice before the interview!
- Practice, using as similar conditions to the real interview as possible. If you are called to the interview, you can ask, in what form is your interview going to be. If you practice the interview alone in your room, you might be quite nervous, finding yourself standing at the whiteboard, 5 people watching.
- Don't let minor mistakes ruin your interview! Don't concentrate on the mistakes you make, they are done already, nothing to do about them. Let the mistakes go and think about the next question/problem to solve.
- Think through about the salary question. Probably the employer is going to ask, how much do you want to earn. You can try to let them tell you a number, but probably it is not going to work. Don't be satisfied with too little, but don't ask too much - remember, that you have no experience. Ask the software engineers you know, how much do they earn and earned at first. Be ready to argue about the salary.
- Since you are a beginner and don't have much experience, you probably aren't going to be asked very hard technical questions. But since you are applying to be a software engineer in some company, you should know the basics at least, if they ask.
- Wear comfortable and polite clothes. Try to look neutral. If you are going to a goth party in the evening - don't dress up before the interview... Also - if you hate wearing high heels or ties - don't! Think about something else. If all you think during the interview is, that your tie is hanging you or the high heels are killing your legs - not good! Usually people can tell, if someone is feeling uncomfortable.
The interview. Most commonly asked questions
And now it's finally the interviewing time!
Some things to keep in mind:
- Don't tell too much information! If the interviewer asks about some project, don't start telling, what could have been and how everything is your college's fault etc. Focus!
- Be polite to your interviewer. Nothing more to add here.
- Say hello! Don't look nervously around and mutter confusedly. Smile and say "hello". That is the first time in real life to leave impression and it's even more important!
Some common questions, they are probably going to ask:
- Some basic technical questions - they might ask or let you do something simple.
- Why are you fit for this job?
- Why do you want to work here?
- Tell about yourself.
- Describe a perfect job.
- Do you like working alone or in a group?
- What is your greatest accomplishment (IT-related)?
- Your pros and cons.
- Where do you want to see yourself after 5/10 years?
- What motivates you to work?
If you think everything through and prepare and you really are interested - everything should be OK!
How to stand up in an interview?
After all this, you are almost ready to get the job! There is one more thing - probably some of the other candidates are also well-prepared with a good resume/CV. The employer must somehow remember you!
- You must be confident. If you aren't, you must at least seem confident. Make eye contact, stand and sit straight - confidence shows! Think through the possible questions and don't mutter - be sure of what you are going to say.
- Be social. Not in a too friendly way, but don't be afraid of human contact. Unfortunately it happens, that programmers don't feel very comfortable in interviewing situations - that is your chance to stand up! Employers prefer employees, who are pleasant to work with. Make small talk, if you feel that it's the right moment. It gives you both a moment to relax and break the ice before the questions. Might also happen, that the employer is thinking, who to hire, and among the other resumes/CV-s, you stand up - "Oh, that's the one, who also likes X". But don't get too friendly! It is still a job interview.
- Do your research about the company. Employers are impressed, if you know a lot about it - that shows that it's not just another job interview for you, that you really are interested in this certain place. Use the knowledge in answering questions.
- Ask some questions yourself! Usually at the end of the interview, employer asks, if you have any questions. Prepare some, even if you don't have. That again shows real interest!
- Be honest, if you don't know something - employers usually understand, if you are trying to get away from the question. In technical questions - if you really don't know, it's better to say confidently that you don't know the answer, than to start guessing.
- If you are offered tea/coffee/water - take it! Even if you don't want at first. Why? It gives you some extra seconds to think. This might save your job, if you are asked an unexpected question. Take a sip first, think, and then answer.
Using these tips is a possibility to differ from other appliers, since it happens, that programmers often don't feel very comfortable during the interview and don't prepare the communication side of the interview.
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