Avoid These During Your next Programming Interview

Avoid These During Your next Programming Interview

Interviews in general can be nerve-racking meetings regardless of where your current skill level is at. You can be a junior developer and ace all of your questions, or you can be a senior full-stack developer and have no clue about what you were just asked. But while spontaneous at times, there are a few things that you can do to increase your odds of landing that next job. Or rather, here are few things that you should perhaps avoid.

Knowing what not to do can be just as important as knowing what to do. In fact, sometimes even more important. We all have built-up habitual patterns that we do on a regular basis that for the most part we are unaware of, as they as a part of our personality. And sometimes catching it at the right moment can prevent us from saying or doing something that many would consider

Saying you "don't know" too much

Not knowing is a big part of life. In fact, it's pretty much all of life. You don't know many things, and so life is learning of said things. And sometimes re-learning them. During an interview, however, not knowing half of the interview questions will equate to not landing the job. So how can you bypass this not knowing aspect of life? By shifting focus from what you don't know to what you do know essentially. Take the following exchange for example:

Interviewer: How is your skill with Node and Express?

Interviewee: I don't really know too much about them.

Interviewer: How about Angular? eh?

Interviewee: Not too familiar with it either actually.

Again, perfectly fine to not know everything in existence. But just by reading these answers, which are incredibly common, you can feel that the interview is going south pretty quickly and it will be that much harder to recover from it later on.

An exchange like the following will be much more beneficial in guiding the questions to where you want them.

Interviewer: How is your skill with Node and Express?

Interviewee: Not the strongest in those area. My expertise is more in C# and .NET as I have built and worked on a few large scale projects in that domain.

Interviewer: How about Angular? eh?

Interviewee: Angular is slowly losing popularity I feel. So learning it would not put me particularly where I would want to be technologically.

It can be a bit wordier, but sometimes wordier is better than a short "I'm not sure". And now you've given the interviewer a few more key insights into your skills without then directly asking, and without you directly blurting it out.


After you have interviewed a dozen or so people within a week's time, you can spot a liar before they even sign in to your office. There are many telltale signs that you will exhibit in your avoidance of the truth, such as using more adjectives, not actually answering the question and mumbling way too much to the point where you can't make out the sentence. Again, not knowing something is great. You don't have to lie about knowing it or try to imagine what the concept would look like in your head in the hopes of winning points.

Also, many times, when we build up a "knack" for lying we tend to carry it with us going forward in life. We will eventually begin to believe some of the lies we tell which will make learning that technology even that more difficult. And as lying is a big part of human nature, just be more aware of it. Notice where you find yourself stretching the truth, and then work on those areas of yourself going forward. What is a lie today, won't exactly be one tomorrow.

Naming people I've never heard of

Sure, you may have worked for the VP of Personal Finance for some major corporation, but I have probably not heard of Mr. Smith Jonhson. Most of the time, people name drop subconsciously, in the hopes that they can earn some extra points having been around someone who's higher up in the echelon. I've done it in the past, again, subconsciously and people have done it to me numerous times. After hearing it for a while, what I've noticed is that people tend to name drop when they are not confident in their own abilities. And so they hope that they can buy some credibility by saying that they have worked with person 'x'.

This does not progress the conversation further in any way, however. And you will notice that the conversation will get awkward as soon as the words are done leaving your mouth. Focus more on the titles of the people you have worked with and not on the the names. Working directly with the CTO of a company will earn you more points than having worked with "Dan Bob Stevens over at TeknoCorp". And this goes for any company really. How many of you reading this can name the VP of Tech of Instagram? That's right.

Giving short answers

During an interview process, you should technically be doing most of the talking. Use each question to paint a picture of your skillset in the best possible light for you. Giving 'yes' or 'no' answers and them handing the mic back to me is going to paint a better a picture of me than of yourself.

If I were to ask you, for example, if you have used source control in the past, do not wait for me to ask you about what kind or in what capacity. Feel free to say yes and to jump in to how you used it and which is your favorite and why. Nothing too long of course. You don't need to recite the history of source control. But mainly your experience of it in your own words.

Have fun with it

I'm human. You're human. If you are having fun during your interview, then so will I. If you sit there uncomfortably, however, calling me sir every other sentence, then you're going to set that tone for the entire interview, and when it's time for me to recall the candidates, more than likely the nervous person shaking and not confident will not spring to mind immediately. I've had interviews where video games were discussed in length and others where arguments broke out about the proper way to format a string which was then followed by laughter and hugs. These are the interviews that people will remember.

I speak from both the person sitting in the interview chair and from the person giving the interviews. I have been the nervous, short-answer, unknowing person many times and each one of those times not a peep was heard back. When I was just myself however and spoke from a more real sense without trying overly hard, the interviews have always been laid back and fun for everyone. And I have gotten each and every one of those jobs. So my biggest advice when approaching an interview is to not take it too seriously. You know what you know and you don't know what you don't know. Now go find a company that aligns with that.

Walter Guevara is a software engineer, startup founder and currently teaches programming for a coding bootcamp. He is currently building things that don't yet exist.

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