The Interview

The interview is the most famous part of any job application process. Some senior jobs require you to go through two or more interviews but nearly all roles require you to sit down face to face with two or more people and answer questions. Even in these socially distance times when interviews are being conducted remotely it’s still an important skill to master.

The internet is full of interview advice (some of it good) so I’m going to try to approach this slightly differently and describe it from a hiring manager’s point of view.

Knowing what the interviewer is looking for goes a long way in an interview. Photo by Alex Green on

I’ve run through CVs and I’ve selected a short list of candidates I want to speak with. I may have had a few phone conversations along the way. Personally I only have two or three people on my interview list at any one time, different people may have different styles here but if I find someone I want to make an offer to I don’t want to have to wait while I interview ten other people before making that offer. I’d rather have a pipeline of candidates coming through the process knowing I can stop and offer whenever the right person comes along.

There’s a lot of time and effort invested from both sides for an interview (usually a good half a day for even a one hour interview) and you may be asking the candidate to travel and take time away from courses or work so I don’t invite someone in on a whim, I only invite people I believe could fulfil the job’s requirements.

Let’s start with the obvious stuff. Don’t be late. I don’t care if that means you have to sit in a carpark for an hour. Don’t be late and don’t get lost. Scout out your route to the interview location beforehand if that helps, if you’re making a more substantial trip then make sure you leave enough time for Murphy. If you are unavoidably delayed then call ahead and get a message to me. Trains break down on everyone, a professional will get in touch and let me know rather than leaving me sitting in an empty meeting room by myself. Believe me, that’s not a good way to make a great impression!

What to wear? I’m far from a fashion guru so I don’t want to give bad advice here. However, over the last few years I’ve been a bit less formal with my dress when I’m being interviewed (in other words I’ve lost the tie). However, I still wear a suit. The best advice I can give is dress how you would if you were representing the prospective company to a client. You want to be smarter than regular office wear but you’re not going to a black tie event. Personally I’d never wear jeans.

Try to dress how you would if you were representing the company at a visit to one of their clients. Photo by mentatdgt on

You’ll most likely be interviewed by two people. This is for a couple of reasons but the most important is to get two different points of view. Don’t try and work out who the decision maker is, if they’re worth working for they’ll take their colleague’s view very seriously. Address anwers to the person who asked them and (I’m sure this is obvious) be polite and repectful to everyone you meet.

In terms of the interview itself I usually try to start simple. I want the candidate to relax and lose a few of the inevitable nerves. I usually ask something about what you’re currently studying or what you’re working on. Remember that I’ve read your CV. Don’t go overboard here, don’t bore me but tell me the interesting bits. Try not to turn a five minute question into a twenty five minute one because of nerves!

At some point early in the interview I’ll most likely describe the company and the role. Again, I’m expecting you already know most of this so the point of this is to give you a chance to ask any questions and to engage in a little light conversation before we move onto some of the more technical stuff.

There will inevitably be some questions coming. These usually fall into one of two camps, either they’re competency questions or they’re skills question.

Skills questions are designed to assess your knowledge in a particular technology. For example, one of my favourites for a C# role is to ask someone the difference between an array of strings, a list of strings, and an IEnumerable of type string. This isn’t an easy question, I like it because a junior will give me one answer and a much more senior will give me another – but they could both be correct. However, the real question here is what to do when you’re faced with a skills question you don’t know?

What can you do in an interview when someone asks you a question you don’t know the anser to? Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on

That’s easy. You should simply say you don’t know. Or (assuming it’s true) tell me that you are having a mind blank and can’t remember. We’re engineers, we’re not search engines. We look things up and use intellisense. You may know more about garbage collection than I do, I may know more about IoC than you. The point of the skills questions are to get an idea of your technical strengths and weakesses. I don’t want to hire someone who will simply doesn’t possess the skills I require of them. For entry and junior roles I’m assuming you won’t know everything, it’s ok not to now!

I’m sure it goes without saying, but please don’t try to bluff me. Not only will it not work (I’ve hired a lot of engineers) but it won’t help, all that will happen is you’ll find yourself in a role which won’t suit you.

The second type of question you’re likely to encounter is the Competency Question. A competency is something like Problem Solving, or Personal Development. You can often work out which of these you’re going to be faced with by looking at the job advert. If the job description says that I’m looking for someone with A Proven Ability to Learn, Problem Solving Skills, and Resilience then there is a fair chance I’m going to have a question for each of those asking you how you’ve demonstrated them in the past.

For example, if I may ask you to describe a problem you had no idea how to solve and how you overcame it. Or I could ask how you’ve recovered from a severe setback. These are not easy questions to answer but with a little up front planning you can think of the answers you’re going to need through well before the interview. The best answers give a good example and don’t waffle. For example if I was asked about a problem I didn’t know how to overcome I could describe who I sought advice from, or how I wrote down fifty ideas and selected the best five, or I could talk about the time I needed help with my disseration and I asked my professor for advice.

It’s important to note, especially with junior roles that I’m not expecting you to be able to walk in and do the job. What I want you to persuade me is that if I made you an offer you’d be able to grow into the role. That’s why these questions are really important. Fail to prepare at your peril!

Most interviews for junior positions will last around an hour although some may last longer, especially if they involve technical tests (which I’ll cover in a future post) or form part of a larger assesment centre (again, hopefully a future post).

Towards the end of the interview I will usually offer the chance for the candidate to ask me any questions (although there’s no reason they can’t raise them before then). Honestly, I’ve heard them all. My suggestion is that you focus on questions about the role and the company and show interest in the opportunity. For example “Can you describe what the team are working on now?” is a better question than “How many days holiday do I get?”

One final point, despite what you see on TV it’s very rare to be offered the role in the interview. Don’t lose faith if it takes a few days.

I hope this has been of some help. Please feel free to get in touch if you have any questions. What are your best suggestions for good interviews? Remember to subscribe and follow me on twitter so you don’t miss out!

Non-Verbal Communication in a Remote World

I recently did a talk at DDD2020 on People Skills and one of the questions I recieved afterwards intrigued me enough to want do write about it.

How relevant do you feel non verbal communication is while we’re all work remotely?

At a very simple explanation high level I’d say absolutely essential because of the increased reliance on Email and IMs during the Covid-19 pandemic. The fact that this question was asked over Teams really hammered that point home.

While working remotely all communication except phone and video calls are non-verbal. Photo by Mitchel Durfee on

But what I thought made this question especially interesting was when I started thinking about the most effective communication mechanisms when working remotely. Doist have written some brilliant blog posts on working remotely and async communication which I highly recommend you read. This means our non-verbal skills have to be absolutely on point. Doist recommend overcommunicating, making timesales clear, and really thinking about your mechanism for communicating (as well as many many other great tips). You can’t just fire off a skype message when your colleague is on the other side of the world, at least not if you expect a response any time soon. Proper thought out communication and strategies for sharing and storing information and making decisions is key.

There’s also a lot to be considered in the non-verbal of verbal communication methods. It’s much easier to get distracted during a phone call when you’re sat at your computer with your email and web browser open. I mentioned in my talk how people pick up on signs of a higher cognative load, how many times have you been speaking with someone and you’re aware they’re tapping away on their keyboard. While we may see it as efficient multitasking I can assure you the person you’re speaking with considers you rude and distracted.

Where and how we use the camera is also a key factor. I use a built in webcam and a secondary monitor. This means that if I want to see what someone is sharing I drag them over to the larger monitor and read it there. This, means that even though I’m paying complete attention to what the person is telling me I have a distracted, uninterested look to them. It’s often worth ensuring that you’re looking at the camera, rather than the image when you’re speaking with someone. At the very least make sure you’re looking vaguely at them and not off into the distance somewhere. A piece of advice I was given recently was to think of a video call like an interview for the BBC. Consider what you’re wearing, consider your background, and look into the camera – not at the interviewer. It’s extreme, but it is all true!

Consider how you appear on a video call, being visible isn’t enough. You have to appear engaged for the non-verbal communication to be valuable. Photo by Ekaterina Bolovtsova on

Without non-verbal communication our remote work would be much much harder, we’d be forced to sit on phone calls all day and we’d have no flexibility in our calendars to do the important stuff like, you know, work. Unless our written communication is organised and clear we stand no chance in cutting down the number of meetings we’re in. However, we have to be extremely important when we are having verbal communications, webcams – although an amazing technology can help us send the wrong message. Consider how you’re being perceived by the other person, being visible isn’t enough. And remember, those 1:1s are just as important whether you’re on the phone or sat around a table, resist the tempation to check your email at the same time!

Your CV

This is the third post in my coaching for junior developers series, a humble effort to help engineers find roles in 2021.

Your CV is a summary of your experience, it’s the your way of introducing yourself to the recruiter and hiring manager and is your first. There are countless guides out there for creating a good CV which I won’t try to outdo – what I’m going to do instead is write from my views as an experienced hiring manager.

Putting a good CV together is not easy, I always have to trim pages and pages out of mine whenever I do dusting. Striking a balance between what to include and what to cut is the eternal battle and two people giving you advice will always disagree with each other.

Putting a CV together is not an easy job, what do you leave in and what do you leave out? Photo by Samson Katt on

Lets talk about what the CV is actually for. In my opinion it has three purposes:

  • To list your core skills so the recruiter can match them against the job spec
  • To give a high level overview to the hiring manager to decide who to phone interview
  • To give the hiring manager something to ask you in your interview

Let’s take each of these in order.

Recruiters are usually non-technical but they’re well versed in filtering out people who know about the technologies they’re discussing and those who are bluffing. Their job is to find the best selection of candidates for the job description by matching skills and experience level. Your job is to make this as easy as possible for them. Look at the job advert, look at the skills they’re requesting and split them into three catagories. Skills you have, skills you want to aquire from the role. You don’t want to try to pretend to have skills you don’t have, don’t hide gaps, highlight what you can do and explain why you’d like to close those gaps.

One more tip for recruiters. I never send a blind CV to a recruitment agent. It’s one among hundreds and it’s too easy to get lost along the masses. I always call the agency beforehand and ask some questions about the role. Help demonstrate that you can communicate and will do well in any future phone interview they put you forward for.

Next, giving a high level overview of your skills. To a degree you’ve already covered this in the first part when you aligned your skills to the role to make it easy for the recruiter. However, what you need to do now is make your CV interesting among the masses. It’s extremely difficult for a hiring manager to decide who to speak to when they’re faced with overwhelming numbers of applicants who are all equally qualified. What you want to do is add a little personality to a list of previous jobs, skills, and qualifications. There are a few ways I’d recommend you do this:

  • Sumarise yourself in a couple of sentences, it’s a bit like opening a big presentation. Don’t go with “I am Adam Griffiths and I’m here to talk to you about…” that’s what everyone says. You’d go with “Do you know what most people get wrong in their CVs?” Now you’re listening. You want the equivalent, don’t say “After a three year computer science degree your role looks like the perfect fit for me.” Surprise me try “I’ve done my degree, now I want to know how real software is built!”
  • Consider adding a link to your LinkedIn profile (you do have a LinkedIn profile right?). Personally I don’t like pictures in CVs but I’m not going to start hunting around the internet to find your LinkedIn, GitHub, personal website, and any other account you’ve got active, list them – especially if this is your first role. Put a face to a name and show me what you’ve done. Don’t include social media which shows you downing a yard of ale in a tutu. While impressive I don’t hire people based on their party tricks at the end of year bash.
  • If you’re currently in a role put “references available on request”, companies will understand that you don’t want your referees contacted yet and it won’t be a problem. If this is your first role then go and track down your referees and ask their permission before using them as a reference.

Speaking of, if this is your first role your biggest experience is your project, disseration, any work experience you’ve done, and any learning projects. Once you’ve worked in the industry for a few years these will be replaced with professional projects.

How do you show experience when you are applying for your first role!? Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on

The last reason for your CV is to help prompt me with questions. When you come in for interview you’ll be nervous and panicking. One of the most common opening questions is to ask about your current role, or what you’re currently working on. This is because I want to help you relax by getting you to talk about what something you know. If you don’t tell me what you’ve been working on that question is much much harder. Help me to help you here!

Those are my biggest CV tips and suggestions. What do you think? Are they helpful? What would you add?

As I mentioned above this is part of a series of posts I’m running for people wanting to break into software engineering. Make sure your subscribed to my blog and are following @DotDotDevBlog on twitter so you don’t miss my other advice.

Five Dysfunctions of a Team Book Review

I read this book a few years ago and really would recommend it. I believe it was mentioned in The Phoenix Project and I added it to my reading list.

Much like Gene Kim’s work Five Dysfunctions is a story, in this case of an exec team at a high flying company who are struggling. They have all the best people, but the company is failing.

Lencioni talks about how safety acts as the foundations for a team to be able to challenge each other and succeed. It really hammers home how people feeling comfortable sharing their strengths and weaknesses leads to dull meetings, lack of accountability, and poor results.

Not a difficult read, lots of useful information – definitely one to add to your reading list if you’ve not read it already.

What The Recruitment Process Looks Like

From the outside a recruitment process is fairly opaque. As someone applying for their first developer role it can be easy to get lost with who’s who. Let’s go through the high level journey of recruitment for a role.

The job interview is often only one small part of the hiring process. Photo by Christina Morillo on

Remember, the process will always be slightly different for each company and each person but the common building blocks are often there.

  • Company identifies they need an additional person and speaks with a recruitment agency (sometimes done by a specialist team withint the company) to post an advert and job description.
  • The applicant (you) see this advert and decide to apply.
  • You will most likely be asked to provide a CV and potentially a cover letter.
  • The recruiter will then shortlist a number of candidates, filtering out the people who are clearly unsuitable and share them with the hiring manager. They may do this by speaking with the applicants themselves before forwarding them on.
  • The hiring manager will then often select a subset of candidates to hold a telephone interview with, these are usually around 30 minutes long.
  • A small number of people are then invited in for a face to face interview (obviously in the current climate this may be done slightly differently).
  • The hiring manager then assesses each candidate and decides which, if any, would be suitble for the role.

Ok, so let’s assume you’re the selected candidate. What happens next?

  • The recruiter will most likely call you either way to get your impression on how the interview went. They will most likely update you on whether they’ve heard anything on whether the company intends to make an offer. Bear in mind that a hiring manager may have many interviews for a single role and will often wait until finishing all interviews before offering the role.
  • If you are selected then the recruiter will often give you a verbal offer, or let you know that the company intends to make you an offer. Nothing is binding at this stage but it’s often wise to give an honest view of whether you would accept or not. It would be impolite for you to let a company go through the efforts of getting a contract out to you if you have no intention of accepting.
  • The recruiter will most often want to discuss start dates with you. This is great news, however if you are in an existing role you shouldn’t hand in your notice until until you’ve read the contract from the new company. It’s safe to assume you’ll be able to start 2 weeks plus any notice period you currently have, but these can always be adjusted once you’ve agreed your last day.
  • You will be issued with a contract of employment which you will be asked to sign and return.

So there you have it, the entire process! I’m going to break these various steps down over the upcoming weeks but there are a few points I want to highlight now.

It’s a long journey from advert to offer! Photo by fauxels on

Sometimes, especially if a company is hiring multiple people in the same role they may run an Assessment Centre rather than going through the entiring process for each candidate. These are nothing to be afraid of, and can be a lot of fun. But it’s often very daunting to meet (and be expected to work with) people who are competing against you for a small number of roles.

It’s important that you’re assessing the company as much as they are judging you. Hopefully you’re going to be spending several years of your life at this organisation and working with the hiring manager. If you feel uneasy around them or don’t think you would fit in there then there’s nothing wrong with turning down a job offer. It’s disappointing for the hiring manager to lose someone they feel would be a good person for a role but if your aspirations are elsewhere you should listen to that.

Finally, a LOT of candidates apply for roles. Especially during difficult times (like we’re expecting in 2021). Look for ways to stand out. I’m not talking about bringing cake to the interview or wearing bright colours to the interview but think about what differentiates you and makes you unique. Make connections with the recruiter and hiring manager by asking questions and always show your interest.

I intend to cover recruitment in a lot more detail over the next few weeks but hopefully there’s enough here to get you started.

As always if there are any questions please get in touch and don’t forget to subscribe to the blog and follow me on Twitter.

Taking Back Control of Your Calendar

I had an epiphany the other day. I’ve long believed that the number of meetings in your calendar was some kind of function of the size of your organisation and seniority. As a people manager at a company of over 8000 people my calendar gets pretty full on (I dread to think what my boss’ looks like).

I was commenting to my wife while making a drink that I was invited to seven different meetings over the next hour. She rolled her eyes at the ridiculousness of an overpacked calendar and I was about to smile ruefully when something struck me.

Letting meetings pile up and sit as “tentative” is a sign of indecision, a source of stress, and disrespectful to the meeting organisers who have requested my help.

When I have a block of fifty or more meetings a day in my calendar no one looking at it (including me) can actually tell whether I’m busy or not. Good productivity comes from having a plan of what to do with your time, not making it up on the spot.

We need to start owning our calendars not letting manage us!

Calendars should be a tool to keep us organised not a source of stress. So what did I do?

  • Immediately declined any meeting I wasn’t planning on going to with apologies
  • Ensured that I was never supposed to be in more than one place at once
  • Scheduled time to actually do the tasks I needed to do

This turned out to be an extremely therapeutic exercise, one I plan to repeat each week going forward. Time will tell if it leads to less indecision and procrastination!

What are your tips and tricks for managing your working day? How do you deal with excessive meetings?

So You Want To Be A Software Developer?

I’ve been working in Software Development for over ten years now. First as an engineer, then a tech lead, and now a manager. It’s an extremely exciting, challenging, and rewarding industry to work in but it can also be stressful and quite opaque from the outside.

I had the misfortune of leaving university in 2008, right in the middle of the financial crisis. I’d like to be able to tell you about rejection letter after disappointing email but the truth was more often than not I head nothing. I was one of the lucky ones, after three months of sending applications off onto the void I stumbled across a small company in Harrogate who took me on and saw my potential as a future developer. I’m immensely grateful to Bill, Joy, Pete, Chet and the others who invested in me and gave me that opportunity to show that this was an industry I could thrive in.

People looking to enter IT in 2021 are going to be facing competition just as difficult, if not more so than I did. I want to help. That’s why, over the next few weeks I want to blog and write my advice, suggestions, and advice for anyone looking to join the industry for the first time. I’m in an immensely fortunate position of having gone full circle from applicant, to engineer, to experienced hiring manager and this is my attempt to pay if forward for all the people who have helped me along my journey.

If you would like to receive this information then please subscribe to my blog and follow the Twitter Account. I would also like to set up a mailing list but, as that’s likely cost £££s I’ll wait until I’ve got a few people following along and feeding back to make sure I’m not spending purely for my own vanity.

The software industry is not what you see in the movies!

So what is working in the software industry actually like?

First, there’s a lot less creation of new software than you may actually expect. There are “greenfield” projects as we call them. But these are usually with either startups (which can be potentially risky) or an established company investing heavily in a new product. The majority of software roles out there are for established companies wanting to fix bugs and expand the functionality of their existing systems.

We rarely work alone. Most companies have teams of around seven people called Scrum Teams. These teams will contain a mix of developers and testers, most will also contain a representative from the business called a Product Owner.

Professional Software Developers rarely work alone, teams of around seven people are most traditional.

When most people think of development they think of websites and mobile apps because those are the most visible. However, unless you decide to specialise in web or mobile you’re much not likely to find a role building membership systems (my second job), warehouse stock inventory, or finance (my current job). Software is everywhere and there are IT jobs out there in sectors you haven’t even heard of yet.

I want to finish this post by asking you a question. I’ve interviewed more people than I can count and asked hundreds of questions in interviews, I want to give you practice answering these questions so you don’t get stuck when you find yourself on the phone or in an interview situation.

Given what you know what especially appeals to you about working in the software industry?

Think of your answer and let me know how you’d answer either on Twitter, via email, or by posting in the comments below.

I hope you found this post useful. As I mentioned above this is going to be the first in a series which I will aim to publish each Thursday. So please subscribe to the blog and follow me on Twitter, join my email list (when it’s available), and share it with anyone else you know who’s likely to be looking for a role in software development in 2021.

Let’s Talk About Goals

It’s getting towards that time of year again, where have conversations with our managers about what they expect us to achieve over the upcoming year and we throw in a few “personal development goals” which won’t really matter when we’ve forgotten about them in twelve month’s time.

Somewhere personal development and annual performance have got mixed up somewhere here. Most companies base some element of their employees’ performance on how well they’ve met their goal. Personally I disagree with this. I believe there are three types of goals.

  • Goals which you need to meet to successfully perform in your role
  • Goals which form part of the team’s improvement plan
  • Goals which are designed to help you meet your long term career aspersions.

Ideally a goal should fit in to two or even three of these. However it’s the third option, goals for personal development I want to discuss in more detail.

Insert Cheesy Goals Picture Here

My grandad was a train driver, he drove everything from The Flying Scotsman to the first diesel Deltics. When he joined the railways he was given a number, everyone who subsequently joined would get a higher number. As the years went by and he progressed in his career The drivers with the lower numbers, who joined before him retired and he became the senior driver on the east coast mainline because he had the lowest number.

In today’s organisations we can’t sit and wait for the people ahead of us to retire for us to gain our promotions. I’m not suggesting that there wasn’t a lot of study involved to progress on the railway, however there was a lot more structure. If we want to progress in our careers we need to identify not only the gaps, but our long term objectives.

List a few of the people you believe are very successful. I admire Barak Obama, Dwayne Johnson, Bill Gates, and several others. None of these people became successful by chance. They envisaged their careers, their successes, and they made them happen.

Ok, enough motivational writing and comparing ourselves to famous millionaires. In his book Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey advised his readers to Start With The End In Mind. In order to get a big picture view of your goals in life he suggests you write your own eulogy, or perhaps less morbidly, your retirement speech. What do you want people to say about you? What accomplishments would they list? If you find this too difficult visualise where you want to be in five years. What role do you want? What skills do you want to have?

The next step is to break down those ambitious goals into smaller steps. For example if you want to start your own business but don’t have any knowledge of sales then you may set yourself a goal to complete a sales training course. If you want to be working as an iOS developer then perhaps you have to release your own personal app to the app store?

Lets stop assuming that major change in our lives and our careers will suddenly happen. Successes like Microsoft, the presidency, and film careers don’t happen by accident. They happen because those people took small, measured steps, and smaller goals which we set ourselves and complete on a daily basis.

This is why your annual goals are so important. They’re your commitment to your personal progression and an opportunity to seek support from your manager and organisation.

Large scale change doesn’t happen by coincidence, it’s planned and happens through a series of small steps.

Our annual goals should reflect where we want to be in 12 month’s time, a step on the ladder of where we want to be in our grand vision. If we want to deliver on them we need to manage them, quarter by quarter, and even day by day.

This is why personally I don’t believe our personal development goals should factor into our annual performance reviews. However, as managers we want to coach people on their careers (not to mention meeting department goals). These are people’s personal and private goals and I don’t think any bonus or annual performance should be tied to those. But we work within the systems we’ve got!

So what should you do now?

  1. Create a vision of what world domination looks like – what’s your super goal which you want to achieve over the course of your career (this can evolve as you go, today it just acts as a lighthouse of where to aim for).
  2. Understand WHY you want to achieve that.
  3. If that’s the end goal what significant steps could you make towards that vision in the next 12 months?
  4. Discuss (if you wish) these 12 month goals with your manager.
  5. Create an annual schedule, what will those 12 month goals look like as you move through the year? How will you know if you’re on track? Schedule these times in so you don’t forget
  6. Reserve a little time each and every day to move one of those goals forward.

Don’t wait for that big ambitious career goal to mysteriously drop out of the sky. Make it happen, a little each day until you’re there.

Goals for 2021

As is the time for goals and be years resolutions I’m going to throw out a few of my own.

  • Read 21 Books
  • Write 52 Blog Posts
  • Pass my PSM1
  • Finish my new book
  • Finish painting my Stark and Lannister armies!

21 books isn’t that ambitious for me, although without knowing whether I’ll be commuting will cut into my audible time. The scrum master exam, yeah – I probably should have hit around to that years ago!

The book is top secret, well… unless you’re on Leanpub! But the blogging and painting will take some discipline.

Let’s see how it goes. Happy New Year everyone!