Programming interview: sell your real self


We are looking for a software developer.

We need more hands on deck. And therefore, we are interviewing. As an interviewer, one can see the process from the other side of the table. And there’s one thing that’s become painfully obvious in one recent interview.

When you are selling yourself, don’t oversell.

So, what exactly happened?

We received a great CV. The guy was a guru. No, he really was. He owned a small company. He wrote a blog. A real technical blog, with long complicated articles, not like my small rants or short tips. Real full-length technical articles. He promoted the blog on Facebook. Hell, he had already been leading a team, and I haven’t, after twice as many years on the job. I was intimidated. My colleague, who was to also interview the candidate, was thinking the same thing. We scored big! Before that, we prepared a list of technical questions and a couple of coding tasks, but now we were thinking that maybe we shouldn’t use them with that guy, lest he’d just laugh at us.

So, we started the interview as just a ‘tell us about yourself’ kind of conversation. And the candidate shined. He was brilliant.Been there, done that – whatever it was. He was pitching himself with enthusiasm and eloquence well beyond what I could ever have done presenting my own person. Obviously, our expectations were being confirmed.

Then something happened.
A tentative theoretical question, and the guru kind of skirted around the edges.
Huh, we thought. And asked another.
Again, no satisfactory answer.
So, we began asking the questions we wanted to skip, and he floated or flopped 50/50. Then we decided to try the coding task, a simple, phone-screen online coding type of question. The question was supposed to be solved in 20, maybe 30 minutes. Well maybe 45, if the candidate was rusty with solving problems.
After an hour and fifteen minutes, we decided to drop it as the candidate was still in the middle of an obviously non-optimal solution and would maybe pull it off given another half hour, but we were tired and deflated.

Lesson learned: even simple questions should be asked. Because the facade can be devious.

Another lesson is for the other side of the table, in this case the candidate.

Do not misrepresent yourself if you are not sure you can pull it off. And..
Be prepared.

So, how can you be prepared?

There’s a lot of sources for interview questions and answers. There’s a Cracking the Coding Interview book. There’s Coursera, Udemy and other MOOC companies. There’s Leetcode and HackerRank and CareerCup a million others to practice solving problems.

Be prepared.
Then you won’t have to oversell.


About Maryna Cherniavska

I have productively spent 10+ years in IT industry, designing, developing, building and deploying desktop and web applications, designing database structures and otherwise proving that females have a place among software developers. And this is a good place.
This entry was posted in interviews, Learning, Success and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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