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Kimberly Blessing

Web Developer Job Search: Interviewing Tips

4 min read

Obi-Wan Kimberly Blessing That's me conducting a speed interview during my Speed Interviews session at WebVisions 2010

I've interviewed a fair number of web developer candidates recently, and many have followed up with me afterwards for feedback. The number one question I get? What else should I have known or said during the interview to land the job?

This is a pretty easy question for me to answer, so let me give all of you some insight into what I'm looking for, as a hiring manager and interviewer:

  • Have an opinion. This doesn't sound too tricky, right? But in order to have an opinion, you have to have some knowledge and/or experience. For example, if I ask someone what their favorite browser is and why, it's going to be easy for the person to come back with a response -- likely based on what they use everyday. So why is it so difficult to tell me what doctype you prefer to code against, or whether you like or dislike reset CSS? To me, not having an answer means that you either don't know what these things are or don't have experience with them. Oh wait, you do have experience, but you don't want to voice an opinion that would be contrary to my own? Your interview is not a time to be timid! State your case and let me at least know that you know what you're talking about. I certainly won't judge you negatively for that.
  • Know some HTML5 and CSS3. There are lots of HTML5 jobs opening up, and even those employers that don't presently advertise the need will want these skills in the future. What, you haven't learned any HTML5 or CSS3? You're a professional, right? The excuse that your current job doesn't support you trying these things doesn't fly. There are plenty of websites and new publications out now to help you get up to speed in your own time. Plenty of shops are currently looking at switching to HTML5 and adding CSS3 features, and they want people who are able to contribute to these efforts from day one. Believe me, you don't need a lot of time to pick up some knowledge -- in just a few hours you can learn quite a lot!
  • Admit that you don't know. Sometimes interviewers will throw you curveball questions designed just to get you to say one thing -- "I don't know." Yes, it can be mean, but it does have a purpose: are you someone who will bullshit your way through an interview, and then possibly a job? Or are you willing to admit that you don't know something -- and in that case, are you the kind of person who shuts down, the kind who asks for help understanding, the kind who says "I'll go learn about that and follow up"? It should come as no surprise that I like the latter kind of person. But there's an even more practical reason for this: you may misunderstand a question, or the interviewer may not ask the question in a clear manner, or you may not be able to give a direct answer to a question but you could speak about something related. Saying you don't know, but that you're going to try to answer the question in the way you understand it, shows patience and diligence -- and may just expose some additional skills or knowledge. Don't hesitate to say it.

Want some more interviewing tips? Back in May, I ran a session at WebVisions called Speed Interviews. In it, I gave some tips to help the audience have a great interview experience, and then I conducted a number of 2-3 minute interviews on stage. It was a fun but challenging experience for me! My slides are online and I welcome your questions about interviewing. Good luck!

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