Software developer
A software developer at work. Photo by Matthew Roth via Wikimedia Commons

By Jeff Winkler

Statistically speaking, a junior software developer rarely, if ever, nails their first job interview. It just never happens.

Today’s tech employers purposely ask ridiculous questions, like “how many marbles fit in a school bus?”, and require whiteboard exercises that are completely unrelated to the job that’s to be filled. The sad reality is, interviewing is a broken process that requires the will and inner fortitude to learn and improve with each attempt. However, there are seven things any wannabe junior developer can do to better prepare for and crush their next job interview – as absurd as it may be.

1. Research the company ahead of time

Jeff Winkler

Yes, it should go without saying, but you would be surprised how many developer candidates show up to interviews and don’t know a thing about what the company does or what the industry is all about. When a junior developer candidate shows up for an interview and knows the company mission, is able to hypothesize about where the industry is headed and discuss creative solutions, it immediately indicates to the interviewer that this developer genuinely wants to work there and gets the bigger picture. It also shows that perhaps this particular developer won’t be “junior” for long.

2. Utilize your network and reach out to employed alumni prior to the interview

There’s no better way to get an idea of what the interview process looks like than by reaching out to high school, college or coding bootcamp alumni that currently work at the company. LinkedIn and Facebook make this easy — whether the junior developer attended San Diego State University or my own Origin Code Academy. Those successful with this approach will gain the peace of mind knowing what is coming in the interview process and that it’s been conquered before. As importantly, it aligns junior candidates with an advocate inside the company. However, there’s one important thing to keep in mind when tapping alumni contacts. They’re more likely to help out if one has already secured the interview on their own, versus sending alumni the “can you get me an interview” email before you know them.

3. Bring a notebook

Here’s a true story on why this is important. In a recent interview, two junior developer candidates were applying for the same job — but only one spot was available. After interviewing both, the company liked them equally, but still only had the budget to hire one. Ultimately the decision came down to the fact that one brought a notebook with questions they had for the company, and the other didn’t. The logic was that all things being created equal, at least they knew this person was going to research problems and solutions and take notes of lessons they learn while building their knowledge base. The lesson in all this is simple. Bring a notebook with perhaps a dozen questions and be prepared to fire off a few of them. It looks so much better when a junior developer candidate is prepared when the inevitable question is asked, “So, do you have any questions for us?”

4. Follow up with answers to questions that you didn’t know in the interview

As a junior engineer, one can expect to field a few questions that they don’t know how to answer. While that’s perfectly fine and completely normal, it’s important to send a follow up email later that same day answering those tough questions. (Another reason to bring a notebook is to capture these questions.) From the employers perspective, this initiative demonstrates the ability to follow-through and further separates the wheat from the chaff in the field of candidates. This is also great practice for two reasons. One, the junior developer who researches the answer will now know it the next time that it comes up. And second, it’s another chance to convey that they care. By researching something they didn’t know the answer to, which is 90 percent of the job as a junior engineer, they’ve put themselves at the head of the pack.

5. Ask for next steps

It’s always disheartening when asking a junior developer how their interview went and inquiring about next steps, only to get an empty response because they forgot to ask. Know exactly what the timeline of the hiring process looks like before leaving the interview. It’s common to have a hard time getting traction for the first month or so of applying to jobs — and then all of a sudden, you get multiple offers out of nowhere. While this is a “good problem,” perhaps there’s a more preferred third offer that’s still on its way. This can be an extremely difficult and stressful scenario for any developer to navigate if they don’t know the timeline for decisions.

6. Ask the right questions

Every company is hiring because they have a pain point of some kind. Perhaps they need a set of features, or a product built for their internal team, or some customer-facing functionality. That’s the reason they are hiring, so the job is to figure out what that specific pain point is and effectively communicate how to solve it. There could be a myriad of other problems involving UI/UX or industry knowledge as well. That’s fine, just collect that information and address in real time how to take that off their team’s plate. This will require asking some open-ended questions to get to the bottom of the true issue. Some good examples are:

  • “What’s the biggest challenge that you team is facing right now?”
  • “What would it look like for a junior dev in this role to be successful?”
  • “If there was someone in this role previously, what happened and how can I avoid/emulate that?”

7. Be creative when negotiating salary or benefits

Keep in mind that hiring a junior developer can be a risky proposition for a company — particularly cash-strapped startups. They’re investing valuable time and resources to bring one on board and gambling on the outcome. That said, don’t expect the six-figure salary. Instead be looking for the other personal gains that come with the job opportunity — like valuable experience, personal growth and skills that can be marketed down the road.

In today’s market where bootcamp students are more prevalent than ever, companies are trying to de-risk the hiring process by offering lower starting salaries upfront. It’s wise to take pause and consider the entire picture before instantly saying “no” to an offer, regardless of how disappointing it may be. Remember, this is a negotiation and companies want happy developers, so if you aren’t happy, suggest a solution that de-risks the scenario for them. The most common approach is to accept a smaller salary for the first 90-120 days, and then pending their approval of performance, an increase of 20 percent. Both sides win. Many junior developers have taken this approach, shifting the scenario where they initially wanted to say ‘no’, to being extremely successful within that same company just months later. Mitigate the financial risk they are taking by betting on yourself!

There you have it, seven proven ways that will significantly increase the chances of crushing the interview as a junior developer. Now go knock em’ dead.

Jeff Winkler is the founder and CEO of Origin Code Academy, a 12-week coding bootcamp based in San Diego that’s dedicated to job placement.