I have interviewed with at least 50 companies over the last five years. Sometimes I did well, sometimes I bombed. I learned from all of these experiences.
In this article, I want to talk about some of the biggest mistakes I have made in these interviews over the years as well as what I learned from them. I hope that you can learn from them as well.
Where to begin...
Mistake #1 - Getting Lost
Yes, I got lost driving to an interview that was about three or four minutes away from my house. I could not seem to find the coffee even though I had seen the sign for it in the past. I drove around and accidentally got on the highway ramp and ended up being 20 minutes late. I also was so flustered by the time I got there, that I forgot the questions I wanted to ask and even the names of mutual acquaintances. Needless to say I didn't get that job.
Since that interview, I have always made sure to scout out where I was going at least one day beforehand. I also started writing down all of the questions to ask the interviewer as well as any other important details so I could jog my memory should I go blank again. I feel silly event thinking about this experience but I became way more organized with my interview strategies after that so it was a net positive.
Mistake #2 - No Confidence
This is really something that has plagued me throughout my life. I have social anxiety and automatically default to thinking that people don't like me or see me as weird. I was especially bad at interviews for a while because of this.
I remember one interview in particular where they gave me a tour of the office and I just stared at people without saying anything. To be fair to my former self, I had lots of conversations going on in my head about things I could say, but none of them came out of my mouth. After that, I had a full-day whiteboarding session where I got so nervous that I sweat through my collared shirt and had to put my jacket back on inside. There were also some statements I made about the code that I felt stupid about later. I went home and couldn't do anything that night. Somehow they called me back and entertained the idea of me going to work for them, but I ended up accepting an offer somewhere else.
The only way I've been able to get past this is by taking a lot of interviews, having casual meetings with recruiters, and speaking at events. Now I feel pretty comfortable, like I can talk to them as if we are at the same level and interviewing each other.
Mistake #3 - Not Screening the Company Properly
This was my biggest mistake ever. Fortunately I learned my lesson when I had a really bad experience a few years back (here is an article I wrote about it). I changed the kind of questions I asked companies after that experience.
Instead of focusing on the tech stack, and maybe some mentorship or educational opportunities, I started drilling down into the company culture and how I fit into that. I haven't always chosen correctly, but I've been much happier with my decisions overall since realizing this problem.
Whatever you do, make sure you can speak candidly with other employees at the company before you work there. Also, ask the right questions, not just about technology. Again, here is the article I wrote about my negative experience which includes the questions that I recommend you ask.
Mistake #4 - Take Home Project Fail
After one of my first interviews as a developer, I was given a take home project. Looking back at it, I don't think the instructions were that clear and it was also somewhat above my head. I spent about 30 hours working on it, only to have to turn it in without the main parts of the application functioning. I had also not understood the goal of the project; I failed to ask any questions because I didn't want the interviewer to think I was dumb.
Now when I get take home projects, I read through every detail of the instructions right away, and take some notes if I need to. Then I reread it a few hour later to make sure I understand before I start. This gives me plenty of time to ask about things before it's time to turn it in. I limit myself to around five or six hours for any take home project and then just explain whatever I couldn't finish. If the employer wants me to do more than that, then they should hire me :) or find a better fit for the position.
I've also gotten much better at breaking down a project into steps and project planning. This has come from observing good project managers as well as working on side projects.
Mistake #5 - Sending in the Wrong Resume
I have done this several times, usually when I was on autopilot cranking out applications. I think it's almost muscle memory to hit send when you finish typing an email. Now, I very consciously pause before I hit send (I completely remove my hands from the mouse and keyboard) to reread the text and make sure I have the attachments properly uploaded.
I hope you learned something from this article. If you have any interview stories, please leave them in the comments below.
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