Your First Programming Interview - Getting the Interview

24 November 16 Ben Dickman

So all the fun (and hard work) of university is over and it's time to find your first programming job. This can be a very daunting prospect, it certainly was for me, and so in this series of posts I am going to run through some advice and experiences that I hope will assist in you finding your dream position so you can start to pay off all of that student finance debt! I am going to cover:

So you may be thinking why should I listen to this guy, what does he know? Well let me give you some background about myself. I have been in your position looking for a job straight out of university and to be honest I had no idea what to expect, ultimately I was offered several jobs and am currently working as a professional Web Developer. More importantly, I would have really valued this information back then and so I thought if I can help only one person with this information then great. Hopefully many more people will take something from these posts so here we go.

Getting the Interview

The first point I want to make, is there is a huge demand for developers and so there are many opportunities to take advantage of. If I perform a quick search for 'Graduate developers' on some of the job boards I get hundreds of results (in the UK), now that is not to say you will just walk into a job but there is no reason you cannot obtain a fantastic job with this advice and of course some good old fashion hard work.

Initial Steps

If you are reading this I am sure you will you have your C.V. uploaded onto the various job boards and no doubt will be getting lots of phone calls from the lovely recruitment consultants. Can you sense the sarcasm there! If you haven't done this yet, I would recommend you do so as I believe these are an excellent source. I did exactly this and have obtained every programming position through these resources. Now believe it or not my phone did not stop ringing as soon as I posted my C.V. online. Seriously, I got phonecalls almost instantly and this continued until I found a job. In actual fact, I was still getting calls when I removed my details, as I said good developers are in demand. Of course, apply for jobs you find but I found that the recruiters would contact me before I even had a chance to search for positions. I'll go into more detail on this later.

This post is not really about writing a good C.V. but I thought it would be useful to list a few key points that I try to follow.

  • Make yourself stand out from the crowd. The majority of people will have a degree and so you need something different. Maybe projects you have worked on in your own time, open source projects you are involved in which shows you can work as part of a team, anything to make yourself stand out and to show an employer you can work well in their organisation.
  • Include a 'Personal profile' section right at the top that briefly summarises you as a person, your qualifications and your qualities. I always felt that this section will be read so make it the best you possibly can.
  • Something that I have had many compliments on is a section that lists the technologies I have experience with, but more importantly is a list of technologies I am 'Self learning'. This shows my work ethic and that I am always trying to enhance my skills, something that is a must in the fast paced world of tech!
  • Don't write page after page, my C.V. was only a single page when I started.
  • List the most relevant information in a clear and precise way, I think we all know that nobody is going to read the entire content of your CV.

Recruiters

Lets talk a little bit about recruiters, they ultimately want to find you a job so they get a large chunk of cash for doing so. I have had good and bad experiences with recruiters and so here are my key points when dealing with them:

  • Make it clear what you are looking for, the technology areas you would like to work in and anything else you desire and remember don't let them push you into anything you are not sure about. This is your career and you need to make sure you get started in the right direction. In my experience, I have found some recruiters are very pushy, so to reiterate, you are in charge and make the decisions on which positions you wish to pursue.
  • Ideally find a recruiter who actually understands the technical aspects of the roles, I'm not talking about a professional developer but many of the recruiters will specialise in certain areas (.NET for instance). I found that these recruiters could give me the information I needed about the roles and allowed me to make inform decisions to apply for the right positions. You can tell immediately if someone does not understand what they are talking about, I once had a call with a recruiter who could not pronounce SQL correctly and basically listed all of the job specification to me, they couldn't give me any more information than I could have read myself! I would avoid these people if possible. If you are still curious about a role but could not get the answers you want, you can always have an initial telephone conversation with the employer. I will go into more detail regarding the actual interview process in a follow up post.
  • Don't rush into interviews, give yourself time to prepare. I had a couple of occasions where the recruiters wanted me to have a 'brief chat' with a prospective employer, only to find this was not the case. It essentially turned out to be a full on telephone interview that I felt I was not prepared for. Maybe I was being naive at the time, but I wanted to share this with you so you can avoid this situation. Again, don't be pressured into anything you are not ready for. If an employer would like to interview you they should give you reasonable time to prepare. I tend to find if I ask for some time to prepare the employer has no issue with this, which I take as a great sign this is somewhere I would like to work.
  • Finally, you don't actually need to go via a recruiter, you probably will, but you could take the initiative and contact companies directly, maybe send them a letter. Anything to make yourself stand out. There are also more specialist sources that you could look into, such as the Stackoverflow job boards. I don't have any experience with this, however, we all know Stackoverflow as an excellent source when we have coding issues and so I would imagine this could be a very useful place to look for high quality tech positions.

Let's wrap up

  • Make sure you have a polished C.V. that contains clear and concise information that can be extracted easily.
  • Get your details out there. Recruiters can contact you about various positions and you can decide which ones you would like to pursue
  • If you do liaise with a recruiter, be clear what you are looking for and don't be pressured into anything you are unsure about
  • Look for positions on specialist technology job boards or even contact companies directly.

So that is it for the first post in this series. Hopefully this information will assist you in lining up multiple interviews for great positions and you can read the next post in this series that will cover preparing for your programming interview. This will cover everything from the telephone interview to the dreaded face to face!

See you next time, Ben.