Getting a Web Development Job For Dummies (2015)
Part V. The Part of Tens
Check out www.dummies.com/extras/gettingawebdevelopmentjob for top ten tips on creating a portfolio site.
In this part …
· Prepare for questions frequently asked in job interviews
· Find interesting places to search for web jobs
· Decide what to do when you don’t want to work for “The Man”
Chapter 19. Ten Frequently Asked Questions in Web-Developer Interviews
So you got the interview! You’re getting ready for a phone screen, or a series of sit-down, on-site interviews at the company location where you hope to be working soon. What are they going to ask you? How best should you respond? We’ve prepared a list of ten frequently asked questions in job interviews, with our helpful — or simply snarky — comments.
What Is Your Greatest Strength?
This question is always “in the air” in a job interview, whether or not it’s asked explicitly. Always try to answer this question during the interview, even if you have to work the information into general discussion or your answer to another question. This question relates back to the “angular versus well-rounded” comparison between people that we mention in the previous chapter.
This is not a question to answer with a single word or a short phrase. (A disconcerting way of answering questions that many of us techie types seem to enjoy inflicting on people.)
Take the question to mean, “What is your greatest strength? Why? Please give an example of how it’s shown up in your recent work or personal life.” Answer each of those questions, briefly, and then stop talking.
When you provide a greatest strength, it should be work-relevant if possible. Whether the strength seems like something that’s work-relevant, answer the implied question, “Why?” in a work-relevant way.
For instance, say that your greatest strength was being physically strong. This is not work-relevant for most daily tasks that you encounter in a web development job.
So you can do a couple of things. The first is that you can look within the strength for something that’s work-relevant. For instance, you might be strong because you’re very well-disciplined about working out. So you can answer that your strength is self-discipline. It shows up in your physical strength, but also in ways that are directly relevant to work.
Or, you can answer very directly. Here’s an answer that includes all the pieces of a good answer to this question — not just the simple answer, but something about why, and a work-related example: “My greatest strength is that I’m physically very strong. That’s mostly genetic — my family is full of very fit people. My main work-related strength is self-discipline, which is part of how I keep my strength up. That showed up in a recent project when we were getting near a tight deadline. Two weeks before, I started deferring non-essential activities, and I postponed a training class scheduled three days before the deadline. I was able to make the deadline with only a small amount of overtime, and with really high-quality work. I was then able to help out a couple of my colleagues who had gone over the deadline and needed the help.”
What if you’re interrupted?
Many of us have been taught that it’s never polite to interrupt people. We think that’s a bad way of looking at things, and never more so than during a job interview.
You’re trying to give complete answers to questions and show your best side in response to each question. Interviewers know how much they need from you. So it’s perfectly natural for you to tend to give long answers — and for your interviewers to politely interrupt you when they’ve gotten the kind of information they wanted, or they aren’t learning much new from the direction you’re going in.
The key word there, though, is “politely,” and politeness is in the eye of the beholder. Complicating this subjective and important point is the fact that web development is very international and multicultural, so expectations around values like politeness can vary tremendously between a given interviewer and a specific interviewee. Try to be forgiving of what might seem to you like bad manners on the part of your interviewer.
And don’t worry about being interrupted. If you want to reduce interruptions, answer in bursts of one or a few sentences, then pause and look at your interviewer for a signal as to whether to go on. After a minute or two, stop and say, “Is there anything more you want to hear about that?” And, after doing that once, finish what you have to say and then stop — even if the interviewer takes a couple of seconds to respond. This returns control of the conversation to the interviewer.
But, whether or not you try to make your responses brief and to invite the interviewer to let you know when you’re finished, a good interviewer is still likely to interrupt you at least a couple of times during the interview. Be ready for it, be gracious when it happens, and give your full attention to the interviewer’s next question.
What Is Your Greatest Weakness?
This question might even be more common than our first example — but we put that one first because they’re a logical pair. It’s common for an interviewer to throw this in near the end of an interview, and it feels like an attempt to trip you up.
There are two things to avoid when answering this question. First, don’t give a deeply personal answer. It really isn’t appropriate in the workplace, and interviews aren’t the time to suddenly go all Oprah confessional on people. Don’t talk about how much you like prescription medications or that time you couldn’t stop lifting items off the shelves of convenience stores when you were a teenager.
The second is to not try to turn the question around with a ridiculously positive answer. Some people will recommend that you offer something like, “My greatest weakness is that people love to work with me so much that it’s agonizing to move to a new employer. For instance, I’m dreading the wailing, tears, and rending of garments if you hire me away from my current job.”
To answer this common question constructively, think of the old saying, “Never take a problem to your boss; only bring solutions.” So, think of an actual weakness that really does affect you at work. Then describe the things you do that keep it from being a problem — and which, in and of themselves, are good habits that make you a better employee.
For instance, say that you like to track a million things at once. This keeps you very well-informed and plugged in, which benefits not only you, but your entire team. However, this same tendency has sometimes made it hard for you to focus when there’s a big chunk of work to be done.
So, for instance, you use an online timer to do big chunks of work in half-hour chunks. You only check email every two hours during these focused times, and you minimize meetings.
All of these techniques allow you to overcome your tendency to multitask, while still allowing you the benefits of being very plugged in and well connected.
Why Do You Want to Leave Your Current Company?
This is one of the trickiest questions for many people. Your new employer will want you to be a positive, loyal, upbeat person who can make the best of any situation. Yet it wants you to leave your current employer.
In academia, this kind of situation is called problematization. Which simply means, identifying the reason something needs to change, or to be done.
Don’t only answer this question in terms of how great the new company is, without any reference to your current employer. That could make your employer think that you’d be willing to leave even if it does all it can — that you’ll jump at the next bright shiny object. Be ready to discuss a problem or lack that is pretty strong at your current company, and one that you have reason to believe that the new company will resolve.
So identify an actual problem with your current employer that you believe will be better at your new employer. The easiest answers to this question, if they happen to be true, relate to obvious differences between the two as places of work — preferring a small company to a big one, or the opposite; strong salary and benefits versus a poor compensation package; use of newer technologies versus long-established ones; an exciting project versus a less exciting operational role.
It’s common for a prospective employer to change a job description radically, offer you a different job than the one you came in for, or wait several months to offer you a job — which could be the same job, a somewhat different job, or a completely different job.
It’s great to try to get inside information before interviewing. Part of the reason is that it’s important to know how people at a company see themselves. For instance, a big company may see itself as nimble; a small one as stable; a company in an established industry as innovative. If you tell people that what you love about the company is its large size and stability, and they think of themselves as the innovators in their industry, they might conclude you’re in the wrong place.
Use the techniques described in Chapter 17 to find inside information — including personal networking, networking within your work discipline, networking around technologies you use, or visiting the employment website Glassdoor (www.glassdoor.com) and looking for comments. From this information, put together an idea of how people in the company see themselves. And, at the same time, leave some room for questioning; many companies have employees who are considered to have “drunk the Kool-Aid” of management’s vision for the company, whereas others are skeptical.
All of this will be invaluable to you in deciding whether you want to work at a company — and, if you do, in helping you reply to interview questions using your interviewer’s own frame of reference. With this extra effort, you’re more likely to be able to walk in the door that you want to walk in through, and to be happy staying there a good long time with your new employer if that’s what you want.
With that in mind, consider not tying all your excitement about leaving your current company, and coming to the new one, in terms of a specific role, a specific coworker, or a specific technology. (Unless the technology in question pretty much dominates the workplace at the new company.) Instead, mention these things where they’re relevant, but look for things you like about the company as a whole to talk about as well.
Tell Us about an Accomplishment You’re Proud of
This question is a version of “What is your greatest strength?” which we discuss previously. It’s pretty easy to answer, if you’re prepared.
Think of an actual accomplishment you’re proud of — and make sure it’s work-related. If you answer, “my children,” or something similar, you might really put off a work-oriented interviewer. (You would certainly put us off.)
Again, this question is not one to which you want to give a one-word answer or a short phrase. Talk about the accomplishment; how you made it happen; what skills you showed; and relate it to something you expect to do or face at the company where you’re interviewing.
Tell Us about a Problem and How You Handled It
This question is a version of “What is your greatest weakness?” which we also discuss previously. Like that question, it’s pretty easy to handle, if you’re ready.
Describe a work-related problem and how you resolved it. Also describe the skills you showed and relate the issue to something that you know of at the company where you’re interviewing.
Your interviewer will probably think of several relevant issues at the workplace that you won’t yet have had the opportunity to learn about. You might even ask the interviewer if he or she has had a similar experience to what you’ve described; the answer could be quite informative.
Why Do You Want to Work at Our Company?
Use the information and approach that you developed to answer the previous commonly asked question, “Why do you want to leave your current company?” to prepare for this one.
If you’re asked this question directly, have perhaps three reasons ready. They should cover opportunities for growth, cultural fit, or technical interest.
If you’re well-prepared, this question is a softball, and you can knock it out of the park if you’re ready. Here’s an example of a solid answer to this question:
“I looked into your company a bit before coming here today. I hear that you treat people well, and I’m looking for an environment where that’s valued.
I’d like to develop myself into a management position at some point, and I think the supportive environment here would help. I also understand that the company is growing, so that provides more opportunities for people like me to grow with it.
Finally, the technology set you use is the one that I’ve become comfortable with because I believe it’s the right solution to the technical problems that you face on this project. I look forward to showing what I know, and learning even more about it.”
Alternatively, if the employer is using a technology set that’s new to you, a good answer could include this: “Finally, the technology set you use is new to me, and I look forward to learning it in depth. I believe it’s the right solution to the technical problems that you face on this project, and for similar problems as well.”
Where Do You See Yourself in Five Years?
The length of time cited in a question like this might be 10 years, or even just two to three years in a fast-moving environment like Silicon Valley. The idea behind the question is just to get a feel for how you think of yourself going forward.
What makes a question like this difficult to answer, if you’re surprised by it, is the invitation inherent in the question to think beyond the job actually being offered to you. Here you are, trying hard to get a job offer, and your interviewer asks what you would want to do next if you got the job. A tricky question indeed!
Also inherent in the question — and a very lively topic for web developers — is whether you see yourself on a technical track, growing in ability and knowledge. Alternatively, do you see yourself on a management track, focusing on herding the cats: that is, managing the people on a web development team? And do you see yourself doing that at the company you’re applying to, or elsewhere?
This question is only likely to be useful to you if you think through your answer beforehand. Decide if you’re interested in a management track, or a technical track, at this time. Include that focus in your answer.
Also identify what really gets you going in the job that you’re applying for. It could be delivering improved functionality; making things look great or work great; innovating technically, either in the visible delivered website or in the tools and techniques used to make it; and so on.
If you figure out what it is that really drives you, considering this question might be a big help to you in your career.
However, whatever new insights you encounter, if you’re like most people, you should be quite tentative in your answer. There are big potential rewards in both the technical and management tracks in web development, and many jobs that blend elements of each. You are quite likely to trim your sails to suit your cloth — to be opportunistic about opportunities that present themselves to you. During a job interview is exactly the time you’re least able to understand, and least interested in sharing, what your opportunities over the next few years will be.
Sometimes interviewers ask you about your future because of difficulties with a previous or current employee who was too ambitious — or, conversely, who refused to take on the manager role when it was offered to her. They may be seeking to grow their manager ranks, or be flattening out hierarchies and shedding managers. It’s easy for there to be a hidden agenda in a question like this, and very hard to meet it. So keep your answer low-key and tentative so you can get the job and then figure out what’s up.
So a good answer to a question like this goes something like the following: “Well, the thing I love most about web development is the opportunity to make life visibly better for users. I can do that either by getting better and better at my job, or by managing other talented people to create great new sites and site updates. Right now, the challenge of managing appeals to me, but I’m hoping to start a new job here soon. If I get this job, I’ll work hard to excel in it, and see what opportunities arise a few years down the road.”
Are You Willing to Relocate?
This is a strange question to suddenly bring up in an interview; the job ad or phone screen should have asked you about this previously, if relocation is truly a possibility with this role.
If that’s come up earlier in the process, you should have a pretty good idea of what’s behind the question, and gotten a start on answering it. If so, just repeat your previous answer — or give your new answer, if it’s changed.
A common reason for this question to be asked, relatively late in the game, is if you’re interviewing in an office of a company whose headquarters is somewhere else. It’s common for talented people to “move to headquarters,” and, if your interviewers are starting to get serious about hiring you, they may now want to ask this question.
Less commonly, your company might want to dispatch some people from headquarters to a regional location, or move people from one region to another.
Strategically, you want to keep your options open on a question like this, without suggesting that you’d abandon the office you’re interviewing in — and the people who are currently considering hiring you onto your team — on a moment’s notice.
You may believe at the moment that there’s nothing that would ever inspire you to move, and in some situations that’s true. If so, you should say that you’re highly unlikely to want to relocate. But many people have ended up voluntarily relocating, for the right offer, when they might have thought that they would never relocate — right up to the time when they decided to take the plunge.
Given these uncertainties, it’s not dishonest to leave your options open. If you tell the truth, but without saying a strong no (if there’s any wiggle room in your future plans at all), you give yourself the best chance of getting the job, and possibly having some exciting opportunities open up down the road.
On the other hand, if you’d be perfectly happy to relocate, you don’t want to sound too eager. The current hiring managers might want you around for awhile before you consider looking off to greener pastures.
If you consider yourself unlikely to relocate, but are aware that a great offer might tempt you — a pretty common situation — an answer like this one is appropriate: “I’m not looking to relocate anytime soon, and I really like this area. However, I’m pretty excited about future opportunities with this company, and if the right offer came up down the road, I might be willing to consider it.”
There are certain gravitational pulls that make everyone more likely to relocate to some places — and others that only affect certain people.
One of the authors (Smith) got tired, early in his career, of getting to know colleagues in Silicon Valley, only to see them move away after a few years. He developed the habit of asking each colleague where his mother lived. It was common for the colleague to end up moving to that city after either doing well, or more or less striking out, in Silicon Valley. Several married friends who had children ended up moving away soon after — often close to wherever the wife’s mother was located.
The draws that tempt a great many people tend to be oriented toward greater career opportunities, and include moving to Silicon Valley (especially in web development); moving to a world-class city, such as New York City, or a state or national capital city; moving to headquarters of the company that’s interviewing you (which is probably in a world-class or capital city); or moving overseas, if perhaps only for a few years.
There are also more or less random draws, when considered across a large pool of employees, such as where your family’s from; where your spouse or partner’s family is from, if you’re married or in a partnership; where you or your spouse went to college; or where a star former boss or mentor has moved on to.
Take account of the city you’re in when you’re interviewing; whether the location you’re interviewing in is headquarters; and whether there’s an attractive city or region, such as Silicon Valley, which has already siphoned good people away from your current location.
Then figure out if that’s a path you may want to tread yourself, and plan accordingly. Don’t tip your hand, though, and be wary of questions designed to draw you out on the topic. You want to keep your options open: You never know what will happen in the company where you’re interviewing if you get hired.
Are You Willing to Travel?
Like a willingness to relocate, this is a strange question to suddenly bring up in an interview; the job ad or phone screen should have asked you about travel previously, if it’s any part of the job at all.
If you can’t travel at all, due to family, health, or other considerations, say so. You don’t want to take a job and then lose it soon after because you can’t meet a basic job requirement.
If you dislike traveling, or it’s inconvenient for you, say that you’re willing to travel up to about one week a month. This is a level of inconvenience that many professionals have to put up with, and it does have some perks, such as seeing new sights, meeting new people, and paying for some of your meals and gym time with the company’s money.
If the job requires more travel than that, and you haven’t been alerted to that fact before the interview, think carefully. It doesn’t show very good planning, or care for your interests, for a factor this big to first come up during the interview.
Don’t stretch much on this question just to get a job — you have to want to keep the job after you get it, and travel is a major factor in causing work/life imbalance. When it comes to willingness to travel, say what you mean, and mean what you say.
Do You Have Any Questions for Us?
This is a sensible question, and shows an interest in your views by the company that’s potentially hiring you. But it often leaves people flummoxed, and is almost a trick question.
Many people, on hearing this question, want to be polite, and say no. This is a big, but forgivable, mistake.
Other people, on hearing this question, and perhaps feeling nervous, ask questions that are important, but not really appropriate to an interview, such as how much vacation they get, how much overtime they’ll be expected to work, how much they can work at home, and so on. These are questions you should ask outside the interview situation, not bring up because someone happened to open the door to them during your job interview.
You want to have some questions ready for this — two or three is a good number. Here are some questions that may be relevant to you:
· Tell me more about the tools and technologies used here.
· Is this a new position, or are you replacing someone who’s leaving?
· Why did you open this position now? (Or, can you share about why the previous person is leaving? Be aware that you might not get a truthful or full answer.)
· What brought you to this company?
· What makes you happiest about working here?
Note that these are either strictly factual, highly relevant questions, or easy and positive ones. They all show an interest in the environment that you are, the interviewers hope, interested in moving into.
Ask two or three questions, and then stop. You don’t want to get into any areas that are clumsy, personal, or embarrassing for anyone involved, including yourself — and open-ended questions like this one make that surprisingly easy to do.
Practice and prepare
We suggest that you prepare for your interview by writing down these questions, plus a few others that might be pertinent to the particular job you’re applying for.
Write brief answers to each question, and then practice with a friend. Ask the friend to throw in a few questions of his or her own, and perhaps even to zing you with a ridiculous question or two. Three 30-minute practice sessions is probably enough warm up for most interview situations.
You want to get to where you’re answering questions comfortably and sensibly, with reasonably consistent answers from one practice session to the next.
After you’ve practiced to this extent, not much will mess you up. You may get asked entirely different questions, and it won’t matter too much; the confidence you develop from successfully getting through a practice session, and the themes in your experience and interests that develop, will be enough to get you through.
Before the interview, you may want to create a crib sheet — perhaps up to one page of notes and key themes. It’s acceptable, during an interview, to say, “I think I made a note on that topic, and I want to give you my best answer. Just a moment.” And then look at your notes.
You’ll feel much more relaxed, and are quite likely to perform better, with this level of preparation. If that’s the case, you’ll also feel much better in the anxious wait between interviewing and finding out if you got the job.