6 developer interview mistakes and how to avoid them 

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Your resume is strong, you have the education and professional background to back it up and you dress the part…just to have your job prospect crumble before you in the interview. What happened? 

There are a few common pitfalls that almost every job seeker experiences during an interview at least once, and developers are no exception. Under-preparing for the general Q&A of a technical role can lead to an unpolished pitch from the candidate, leaving the interviewer less than impressed and you feeling dejected and jobless. 

Hiring managers work with hundreds (nay, thousands) of job candidates in their careers, so it’s important to make an impact—and a positive one at that. Too often do developers fail to impress in their tech interview due to common mistakes. Good news: These mistakes are easy to correct. With a little preparation, tech candidates can avoid common pitfalls, potentially increasing their chances of landing a role. 

[Report] Complete guide to software engineering interviews

What not to say in your developer interview

To prevent a bad interview, there are a few practices that you should avoid when meeting with a potential future employer. Below, we have outlined the top six interview mistakes that developers often fall victim to and how to avoid these behaviors.

1. Not owning up to your flaws and weaknesses

When an employer asks you “what are your weaknesses?”, it’s not a trick question. In fact, claiming that your code is always bug-free or that you’ve never made a leadership error or poor judgment call can actually damage your chances of earning a position more than simply admitting your flaws. By claiming you’re a perfect employee, you just come across as arrogant and lacking self-awareness. 

That being said, don’t admit a flaw that would disqualify you from a role. For example, if Python is the first requirement in a job description, a back-end developer shouldn’t admit they aren’t Python-savvy. Soft skills matter too—don’t admit that you’re stubborn or chronically late, as these are universally unattractive qualities in job candidates.

Admitting your flaws is also a great opportunity to discuss how you grew from a particular experience. This question gives you a chance to constructively identify where you went wrong and how you adjusted your behaviors for the better. The hiring manager isn’t perfect and they don’t expect you to be either, so don’t hesitate to express the areas you need the most improvement and explain what you’ve done to improve.

2. Trashing your current job, boss or coworkers

There are few ways quicker to lose the favor of an interviewer than by disparaging your last company. When asked why you’re leaving your current company, trashing your role can make you seem like you have a chip on your shoulder and are negative or inflexible—not exactly qualities hiring managers look for in their job candidates. Instead of talking about what you dislike now, talk about what you’re looking for in your next role to keep the interview positive.

Additionally, speaking poorly about your coworkers or boss, no matter how true what you say might be, gives the impression that you don’t handle conflict well. Instead, if the subject comes up, use this opportunity to explain how you constructively dealt with conflict with a colleague. Frame your answer around your desire for new challenges and opportunities for growth, speaking to how you helped resolve the conflict in a professional way.

3. Answering the question “What do you know about our company?” with facts from the company website

Before your interview, you should have a good idea of what the company does. As a resourceful job seeker, you should look beyond the company website. Consider searching Glassdoor, Indeed and similar company review websites for more information. If you’re lucky, this might help you gather some insight into company projects, media attention and marketplace competition, which gives you great fodder for thoughtful questions to ask the interviewer. This is also where you can gather more information about perks and vacation time so you don’t have to ask that in your first interview either (more on that below).

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Coming into the interview having thoroughly researched the company shows that you’re serious about the job. Going in knowing just the basic talking points can start you off on the wrong foot with the interviewer, who might perceive this as you being ill-prepared or uninterested. Err on the side of over-researching, as any lack of preparation will be obvious.

4. Lying about skills in specific languages and technologies

If lying on your resume to get into an interview is a bad idea, then lying in your interview is even worse, and you probably won’t get away with it. Some people are tempted to lie about their education, accomplishments and skill set to increase their chances of landing an interview, but the consequences of lying, including automatic disqualification from consideration for the role, outweigh any benefits your fibs might bring.

Some developers tend to overstate their expertise in specific hard skills in order to land an interview. However, if you’ve talked the talk, you’ll be expected to walk the walk. Claiming you’re an expert in coding only to fall on your face during the whiteboard challenge is a waste of the interviewer’s time—and embarrassing for you. And if by some miracle you make it beyond the whiteboarding challenge, how do you plan to continue with the charade once you land the role?

Remember that playing up your weaknesses is not necessarily a bad thing. As long as the skill in question is not integral to the role, admitting you’re less skilled in a specific area can even be beneficial—just frame it as an opportunity for growth and employee development.

5. Using nervous language and filler words

Some of us don’t even know we’re doing it, but using words like “uh,” “um” and “like” can be distracting to the interviewer and make you seem as if you lack confidence. Practicing your pitch and your talking points can help you avoid these filler words and present yourself like the confident tech candidate you really are.

If you are prone to using fillers like these, practice interviewing with a friend, family member or career coach. They can help you catch the times you stutter without realizing it and practice a confident pitch. These friendly resources can also help you practice answering the most common interview questions in your field, so you come to the real interview with answers prepared.

6. Asking about PTO, perks and vacation time

Your first interview is far too early to be asking questions about the company’s PTO policies. Similarly, save running your upcoming planned vacation time by your potential future employer for later in the interview process. If total PTO allowance is a deal breaker for you, try to find the company’s policy on their careers page or review sites. If you are working with a recruiter, they’re a safe place to ask questions like these.

On a similar note, using your precious interview time to ask about perks like free snacks, meals and happy hours can make it seem like you are applying for the perks, not the job. Employers know generous perks can be a big motivation when accepting a role—that’s why they’re offered. However, you should feign that your primary motivation for taking a role is because you are passionate about the work and the company…not the coffee bar or free gym membership. 

Tip: If you’re unable to find the PTO and perk information you’re looking for online, there is a roundabout way you can get this information in your preliminary interview. Instead of asking about these perks directly, ask about the company’s culture and work-life balance instead. You might gather some information about perks and the PTO policy in a more appropriate way.

How to have a great interview

When preparing for your interview, remember practice makes perfect…and you don’t have to go it alone. Consider working with a career coach to practice your interviewing skills. A career coach is someone who can offer you tips and advice on a number of career-related fronts, including salary negotiation, resume review help and even mock interview practice. 

You can also enlist the help of a friend or family member to practice your interviewing skills, remembering to stick with the above tips. Above all else, stay confident and optimistic—if you’re not right for this role, you might be for a future one, and the interviewer will remember the candidate that leaves a positive impact!

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