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When Not to go for a Job Interview (UK Software Developer Edition)

  4 minute read

I’ve always shied away from blogging about finding a job - I feel it can be controversial and I don’t see many other people doing it. However I’m going through the process myself again at the moment and wanted to share some advice. This is advice I’ve learnt myself before and always forget! Think of this as a memo for Future-Claire.

Note: I’m a software developer in the North of England. This is the sector in which I’ve gained my experience, and so some of it might not be relevant to you.

The general format of interviews for a software developer, at junior, mid and senior levels is often like this:

  1. apply with CV, internally or via an external recruiter
  2. telephone interview with a developer at the company
  3. tech test completed at home on your own time
  4. on-site interview
  5. offer

This can vary, and this is where the problems start for face-to-face interviews. Now I’ve never not got a job without an onsite interview and I would never take a job without visiting the office or colleagues where I want to work. But attending a face-to-face interview is very expensive. It costs:

  • time: time spent organising, taking time off from work (unless they can fit you in after your normal work), time spent preparing, time spent travelling
  • money: this will possibly be somewhere away from your normal commute, you might be taking paid leave to attend the interview which you could be spending on other more fun things
  • energy: nerves before the interview, energy spent preparing for questions, energy spent hiding from colleagues!! (it can be quite stressful keeping your job-hunt secret from those in work, as it’s not always appropriate to share)

You should think very hard before accepting a face-to-face interview. For me, the in-person interview is the part where you decide whether your personality fits in with the company, and the same for company interviewing you. This is not the place to find out you don’t have the technical skills to do the job. If your recruiter has skipped a telephone interview and there isn’t a technical test, then don’t trust that they’re completely sure you pass all the technical requirements for the job. People are busy and inexperienced in interviewing, and frankly don’t care about the time and effort you have to put in to attend an interview. Ask for a telephone interview with a developer. Ask for more details on the role: what libraries or frameworks will you be working with? Can you get a developer from your potential team to confirm that you have the right skills? Do not assume that the person in charge of your application has thoroughly gone through all your public GitHub repos, or even read your CV properly before offering an interview. Trust your gut - if you haven’t spoken to a developer and the recruiter dismisses you, make some neutral excuse and withdraw.

My worst horror story is booking an afternoon off for an interview, back when I was a junior developer. I had a few months Ruby experience and 18 months in total in the industry. I arrived at the interview, which was arranged through an external recruiter, no telephone screening or technical test beforehand. Within five minutes the interviewers explained the role to me and that they were looking for a senior Ruby developer to build applications from scratch. This was far, far beyond my capabilities at the time although I saved face and managed to get through another 45 minutes of the interview, they even showed me the office!

A face-to-face interview is not:

  • the first time you learn about the details of the role
  • the first time you discuss your technical experience

It is:

  • the point in which both you and the company decide whether you’re a good fit for the team

Sometimes you can’t avoid this though, and the people interviewing you just won’t have considered your application properly. But do the best you can and be prepared and understand all you can before accepting an interview offer. If you feel you have other options out there and you don’t purely want “interview experience”, then if your gut is telling you, don’t accept the interview. Your time is very precious, please don’t let potential companies or recruiters waste it!