5 Interview tips for the Developer Culture Fit

I’ve seen a lot of articles about missing out on jobs because someone wasn’t a culture fit. Older developers think it is because of age discrimination. Younger developers think they don’t have enough experience. Minorities blame it on being a minority, and the same for special interest groups, and don’t forget Gender discrimination. Naturally, that’s what’s at fault. Well, except for a few scenarios… I call hogwash! Poppycock. Etc. You didn’t get the job, because you weren’t a good fit. But there is hope. Here are 5 ways to understanding culture fit and land a job where you’ll fit right in (pun intended).

Soft Skills

Depending on where you are in your career, you may or may not have heard of soft skills. Soft skills are a collection of empathy related abilities tied to Emotional Intelligence.  I cannot emphasize enough how important soft skills are to get ahead. I’ve seen incredibly talented individuals get stuck in their career, or even fail completely at a company because they couldn’t relate to the people around them, or their direct supervisor.

Take myself, for example, I had a huge problem with being passive aggressive. I didn’t know what it was until someone sarcastically called me out on it. I had to go lookup what it meant, and then I apologized to the individual. As I became more aware of the problem in myself, I was much more easily able to recognize it in others. It spurred a desire to understand my coworkers better – because I had come to realize the importance of teamwork, and how to maximize the teamwork.  Now – I’m by no means perfect – and I’m still learning more about this all the time.

If you are not familiar with soft skills, take some time to read through some quick posts online – or find a self help book. I can guarantee it will improve your ability to tell if you’re a good culture fit before your interviewer! Which in turn will enable you to present yourself as a good culture fit. Or decide you didn’t want that job anyhow.

Quit Complaining!

Nobody likes a quitter complainer! Ever had that coworker that just couldn’t catch a break, or that linked in contact that could never land that job they were after, or the friend that just didn’t like their situation? Well, even if you haven’t, you’ve probably heard complaining, or participated in it yourself. Complaining is annoying! Complaining, even on a public form, can work against you in the hiring process. Over 70% of people I’ve interviewed I needed to reject, because they were used to complaining about a bad manager, team, or coworker – they couldn’t focus enough to identify what they could do differently. 

If you’re guilty of too many complaints – try to take some time and focus on yourself as the problem in the situations.  Maybe, there’s more to the situation then you realized.  If anything, reducing the amount you complain everyday will improve your interview skills. 

Introspection

The concept of introspection has been around for a long time. See Know Thyself . Just because the concept is old, doesn’t mean that it is easy. And in the concept of a developer interview – it means something more entirely. I’ll use a couple of examples here to make this a little more obvious, if not exaggerated.

Let’s start with Gary. Gary is fresh out of college, and has been applying at startups and large companies but can’t seem to land the job. He’s never had an internship, but was one of the top achievers in his university. He’s extremely confident he can solve any problem or fill any roll given the opportunity. Gary flies through interviews, he’s got no problem with the technical challenges – and the questions he’s asked don’t seem to be a problem. He can’t figure out why they told him no. What do you think might be his problem?

Larry is another interviewee.  He’s much more senior then Gary, he’s had a good number of positions as different companies over the years, but now, he feels older and has grown frustrated as jobs that were once easy for him to land now turn him down on culture fit of all things. A typical interview goes pretty much how he remembers them all going. Except now, he’s able to fill in the blanks of how exactly he’d solve that problem he saw a few years back. Later he finds out he wasn’t a good culture fit. Why would Larry be having a problem getting a role he’s clearly qualified for?

Going back to Gary, A problem I’ve seen in myself, and about 10% of candidates I’ve interviewed (disclaimer: I don’t interview junior roles frequently). Was that I had a brilliant candidate that couldn’t figure out where they’d made a mistake. Asking them to describe projects, or projects with team members – they had no fault in anything they didn’t.  Gary didn’t understand what he was doing wrong. He hadn’t learned to be introspective.

Larry, on the other hand, had a significant amount of introspection. HE knew when he’d made mistakes in the past, and could draw on his wealth of knowledge to solve problems, especially using them for questions in interviews.  What Larry failed to recognize in himself, is that he was getting older – yet he was interviewing like he was fresh out of college, or worse – had a complaint mindset. A younger interviewer is often na├»ve – willing to work excessive hours – more likely to argue from passion then experience – and attuned to learn new things.  Whereas someone with a few years experience is much more likely to argue from a position of experience, and less attuned to learn new things, when after all, the previous way of doing things worked just fine. The best tip for Larry, would be to understand himself as an experienced individual, own that, and then be passionate about new things. Show an online course, a Github repo, or something else in that manner.

There’s a lot to cover on introspection – and I’m no expert – I probably even offended someone with the two examples and my conclusions. Hopefully I didn’t.

Be Politely Passionate

90% of interviewees I’ve had – I’ve known within 2 minutes if the person was passionate. If they weren’t – that meant I wasn’t hiring them. Naturally, the interview would continue, and I would try to prod passion from the interviewee, coax it out even.  In that remaining 10%, I’d say only 1% of them actually proved me wrong.

On top of being passionate, be polite. If you’re passionate to the point where you are interrupting the interviewer, maybe you need to check yourself, that’s right – use some introspection – and some soft skills, and be passionate – but not at the expense of the interviewer.

Ask Questions

One of the worst interviews I gave, was where the interviewee had no questions for me. They didn’t even try to think of any. To me, it came of as if they didn’t care. Needless to say, they would not have been a good culture fit. It’s hard to be a passionate candidate if you don’t have any questions – stall for time if you need to – say something like, “Well, you covered a lot of information about the job – could you tell me more about the commute?”.  Just asking a simple question like that shows how much you’ve been paying attention – and increases your engagement level. 

Summary

Remember – if you’re at the point where your actually talking to someone – be it face to face or over the wire – you are actually talking to someone. That person is getting a first impression of you. That impressions will make or break your interview process.

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