Assessment Centres and Remote Interviews

I’ve written quite a lot over the last few weeks about interviewing and recruitment. Howevever there are a couple of other recruitment techniques I want to mention in an effort to prepare you.

The first of these is assessment centres.

Recruitment takes a lot of time and effort. When you’re recruiting a pool of people, for example a number of junior engineers all at once or perhaps an entire team. It becomes more efficient to combine these into a single recruitment event rather than conducting individual interviews with each candidate.

Assessment Centres are when multiple candidates are invited in together. Photo by ThisIsEngineering on

Aside from the time saving opportunities this also gives the assessors a few opportunities such as seeing how you can undertake a group task and how you interact with people througout the day. Far from being daunting these can be a lot of fun and often give you much more chance to talk to existing members of staff and compare notes with other candidates.

Many people see the other candidates in their assessment centres as the competition, and this is true to a point. After all, there are often only a limited number of vacancies available. However, you should be careful of this mindset. One of the reasons for putting candidates together is to see how they work together and engage with potential peers. If you’re in super competitive mode you’re not going to demonstrate your team work skills to their full potential.

Assessment Centres can take many forms and have many different components. When I’ve run assessment centres we’ve done a presentation to the candidates to tell them about the company and the role, tours of the office, interviews, a written test, a group activity, and a meet and greet where we’ve invited existing employees down to meet the candidates. Try to relax and enjoy the experience as much as possible. It’s a long and exhausting day – but you’ll get a lot out of it.

Another type of interview which has exploded since Covid-19 started rampaging across the globe is the video call interview.

Remote interviews have become extremely common since the global pandemic. Photo by Vanessa Garcia on

With isolation and social distancing the norm today it can be extremely difficult (and unwise) to meet candidates face to face. Because of this many companies are doing video calls to interview candidates.

The rules for a video call are not that different to a regular interview however I will run through a few of the basics for you.

  • Always arrive on time, test technology beforehand if possible and make sure you have a contact number for the company should IT let you down.
  • Consider what you’re wearing. A suit and tie is probably not essential for an interview at home but maybe a football shirt for your favourite team isn’t the best choice either?
  • Consider your background. Imagine you are being interviewed by the BBC (other news agencies are available). Make sure your background is clean and tidy, there isn’t a lot of noice, and you’re well lit.
  • Consider where your camera is. Many people have cameras on a second monitor but remember this is a conversation. You other person wants to feel like you’re looking at them, not staring off distracted in the distance (even if that’s where your screen is). Try to put the camera as close to the interviewer as possible and look into the camera on occasion. For more tips on Non-Verbal Communication remotely check out this post.

And that’s about it. Many of the basics for in person interviewing still apply, but don’t be surprised if you’re not invited to more and more remote interviews as time goes by.

Have you been to an assessment centre or had a video interview? What were your experiences? Drop me a message or comment below and don’t forget to subscribe so you don’t miss the rest of the series.

Introducing Donuts and Dragons

After all the positive feedback I recieved writing Code Black last year I’ve been working on something else.

For those who don’t know Code Black is a business parable novel for DevOps techniques. In other words it’s a story, about a team at a failing IT company who embrace modern software development techniques to produce higher quality software in a much more efficient way.

Writing a book is not easy, it’s never turned into a best seller (although who knows, this post may go viral!) but I enjoyed the process and I learned a lot putting it together.

Deciding to push myself once again I’m dusting off my keyboard and writing Donuts and Dragons.

Once again Donuts and Dragons is a story, this time about Megan who joins a team who are working to develop the next best selling game. Instead of DevOps I’m focusing on agile techniques.

I’m publishing the story on LeanPub, the site (in a very agile manner) encourages you to publish early and often. The word count is going up, slowly and steadily as a first draft. As the story is very much in the early stages I’m not charging for anyone who wants to read it and provide feedback.

As I mentioned in my recent goals post, I’m hoping to finish the book in 2021. To do this I’m hoping to have the first draft completed by June and then I’ll have plenty of time to proof read and listen to your feedback. Why not have a look at what I’ve got so far? I’d love to hear your feedback!

Is The Company Right For You?

I’ve written a lot over the last few weeks about preparing and applying for roles, especially for the junior and aspiring developers who are entering the market for the first time. However, what I’ve not really covered is whether or not you should accept the role you’re offered.

Whether or not to accept a role may not be a straightforward decision. Photo by Armin Rimoldi on

There’s always a balance to be struck when that first offer comes. Ideally you want to have a few to choose between. However, personal circumstances may mean you really do need to take the first offer you get but I want to talk a little about what to look for when deciding whether to accept an offer or not.

Pay, obviously is a factor. If you are presented with one offer that is significantly more than another or if the increased cost of the commute would mean you can’t actually afford to take on a role then you should never feel pressured into it. There is sometimes room for negociation here (see my previous post on negociating salary), but it’s always better to set a clear expectation up front than to have a disappointingly low offer.

The next aspect, especially for people new to the profession is the confidence they have in the team, the company, and the hiring manager. For many young people entering a full time job, especially one as technically challenging as software development is one of the biggest challenges they’ll have faced so far. But it isn’t one they face alone. The responsibility for training and onboarding any new employee lies as much with the manager, team, and company as it does with the individual. No one should be thrown at a job, especially a junior one and expected to “get on with it”. They’re going to need help. What you need to establish during your application process is whether you have confidence that the company have the willingnenss and ability to invest in your over the first few years of your career.

Is your hiring manager someone you feel you could go to if you were struggling or worried about your performance? Have they discussed how they plan to train you? I’m encouraged when someone asks what support there is at the company to help and learn, it shows self awareness. It’s not a sign that the person is too inexperienced and I shouldn’t hire them!

Consider asking questions like:

  • Does the company have much experience hiring junior developers straight out of university?
  • What sort of training plan do you have in place for new starters?
  • When do you anticipate I’ll be a fully productive member of the team?
  • Will I be assigned a mentor for when I get help?

When you’re being interviewed you should always be asking yourself whether the people interviewing you are people you trust to place the next few years of your career with.

Do you have any suggestions of red flags you should watch for when deciding on a company? What advice would you give for someone looking for the right fit? Post in the commends below and don’t forget to follow the blog so you don’t miss out on the next post.

Atomic Habits Book Review

This morning I finished listening to Atomic Habits by James Clear. I picked it up after being thoroughly impressed by John Lamberton’s Routine Machine.

Atomic Habits is a different book, more granular and if you’re interested in personal productivity then it’s a good read.

Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones: Clear, James: 9780735211292: Books

In the book James first sells the value of habits, discussing how small incremental changes each day are vital to achieving major results. Then he moves on to deconstruct the various parts of a habit including Cue, Crave, Response, Satisfaction. In other words something triggers our habit, then we develop a craving for something, we act in a pre-trained way to satisfy that craving, and gain satisfaction.

In a positive habit this may look like:

  • Every morning when I get up
  • I want to clear my head
  • So I meditate
  • And feel better afterwards

However, in a negative habit this could be:

  • When I’m bored
  • I crave entertainment
  • So I open social media
  • Which entertains me

James then talks about how to hack these habits by eliminating cues, changing rewards, and building commitments so the habits you do want to form stick and the ones you don’t are broken. It’s good, sensible stuff.

As I mentioned above there’s a LOT of crossover with Routine Machine, however Atomic Habits goes far more into the techniques for forming and breaking daily habits. In his book Mark Lamberton focuses on how to point these in the direction to achieve big things. I see the two books as a very valuable pairing because, if I was to raise a criticism with Atomic Habits there’s not enough pagespace dedicated to creating structure so habits point you towards your longer term goals (although the idea of reinforcing identity is a very good one – see “Habit 2” of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People).

I listed my 2021 goals in an earlier post and I think there’s lots that can help me here. Specifically I want to work on the cues and immediate satisfaction of my reading, writing, and blogging. Perhaps putting together a calendar so it’s very obvious which days/weeks I’ve missed.

Have you read Atomic Habits? What did you think of it and have you encorporated any of it’s advice into your daily routines?

Talking to a Recruiter about Recruitment

I have been lucky to work with a number of recruiters over the years. They provide an essential service advertising and pre-screening candidates who come for the roles I’m looking for.

I recently discussed this series of blog posts with Matt, a friend of mine at 4IT Recruitment and he was keen to offer his advice for people looking to get involved in the industry.

Recruiters do a great job advertising roles and preparing candidates for interview. Photo by Polina Zimmerman on

I wanted to know more about the work that Matt and his colleagues do between getting a CV from a prospective candidate and brining them to my attention.

What makes a candidate’s CV stand out to you?

A Simple layout – Name and contact details at the top and easy to find’. Don’t use fancy boxes or colours and there’s no need for pictures etc (unless it’s for a UX role). You should include a a brief but non-generic profile at the top of the page with a bit of insight into your skills and experience. Consider adding a technical skills matrix right at the top where it’s really visible and always start with your strongest development language at the top.

We like to see projects you been involved in and where you used your skills, what methodologies you used, any associated technologies (e.g. if was a full stack role say that it was). Universities and schools should go at at the bottom with hobbies – for graduates you should put all the experience you’ve gained from university modules at the top in place of professional experience and start with any experience you have. Always include details of any placements or work experience opportunities you’ve had. Include details of the technologies you’ve used in the roles.

What advice do you always give a candidate before an interview?

Always research the company and understand what service/ product they offer before you go to speak to them. Review the job spec if you have one and think how you can speak about your skills with regards to the criteria for the role.

Talk about what you have been responsible for delivering personally, rather than listing the achievements of the the wider team and use as many examples with how you have used your skills in the past in ‘real life’.

Try to relax…it is as much an opportunity for you to find out about the company and role as the other way around.

Remember to ask the company questions about the role and about current staff… Why is the best developer you have the ‘best developer’ etc. what do they bring extra than all others to the team?

What do you wish more candidates knew when they went for an interview?

Candidates should always remember that hiring managers’ time is very limited so they should try to give detailed answers but stick to the point and then move on.

You only get one chance to make a first impression so don’t be afraid to be yourself.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions!

Never be afraid to ask for advice before going for an interview. Photo by mentatdgt on

Matt has given lots of great advice for anyone coming to an interview. If you’d like to get in touch with 4IT you either via LinkedIn or email.

Do you have any advice to give candidates preparing for their first big interview? What have you found that works for you – drop a comment below or contact me on Twitter. Don’t forget to subscribe so you don’t miss next week’s post!

Focusing Your Time With Forest

I recently discoved a fantastic app.

Like many people the constant bombardment of notifications, messages, emails, and reminders can be overwhelming. Our brains are wired to give us a little shot of dopamine for every “Like” we get or each time someone sends us a message. The most addictive mobile games capitalise on this by setting short terms goals staggered through the day which encourage us to pick up and play over and over again. It’s fair to say that it turns us all into a bunch of phone zombies.

Mobile phone addiction is real and I’m a sufferer! Photo by Zen Chung on

Knowing I’m especially guilty of “just upgrading that building” or “just reading that email” while I’m trying to work and spend time with my family I was curious when I discovered Forest.

Forest is well aware of all those little dopamine triggers but uses them for good, not evil. The premise is simple. You select how long you want to put your phone down for and plant a tree, if you leave the forest screen to use social media, read your email, or look at pictures of cats then your tree will wither and die. The more successful times you leave your phone alone the more gold you earn, the more trees you can unlock, and the more real life trees which will be planted because of you.

It’s sneaky, but it works. I’ve written this blog post without looking at my phone once (well, except to capture the screenshot). Within a few days I found myself avoiding picking up my phone to answer calls or take photos during my Work or Family time. A far cry from when I’d jump at every text message to reply immediately.

Do you already use Forest (or something like it)? Do you have any other tricks for helping you focus and avoid mobile distractions?

Negotiating Salary

While we may all enjoy our jobs being paid is kind of the whole point (don’t say that in an interview). But it’s extremely hard to know where to pitch when applying for a job. In this post I want to discuss the best approach to talking about salaries.

Let’s talk about getting paid. Photo by Karolina Grabowska on

When a hiring manager posts a job they usually have an upper limit or a salary band in mind. This is hard fought for in a budget conversation. The recruitment agents are usually aware of this figure.

My first piece of advice is to make sure your idea of salary and the hiring managers are aligned before you go into an interview. The reason for this is simple. You don’t want to waste your time (or the managers) if you’re applying for a role which either doesn’t have the budget you’re looking for or is offering to pay far above what you’re looking for (a good sign you’re not experienced enough). Going for an interview often involves taking a day of holiday from a current job or at least taking on some kind of expense. A quick (but sometimes awkward) conversation up front can avoid that.

Next up, there’s a little game recruitment agents (and sometimes hiring managers) like to play. They will often ask you what your current salary is and what you’re looking for. This is often very beneficial all around, it helps them gauge the current market rate for someone with your skills and will help make sure that you’re both looking in the same ball park (the same as I spoke with above). However, if you are being underpaid at your current role this can work against you. If I’m on a low salary and ask for a £20k pay rise I could well come across as greedy or over ambitious. Everyone wants a pay rise when they move roles, but don’t feel you have to give this information away if it will make your application less credible. It’s perfectly fine to say something like “Not enough – I’m really looking for £X”.

Which is where the next point comes in. Do your homework. Many roles don’t advertise the salary expectations on the advert, this is to avoid sharing with internal employees and disclosing other people’s salaries. However, it’s also very frustraiting for the applicant. Especially when one company pays one amount for a Senior Developer and another pays something completely different. Use tools like LinkedIn’s Salary Checker and to get an expectation of what a role is likely to pay. Be aware, this will change vastly by where the job is based!

The salary for a role will vary from city to city, even more from region to region or country to country. Photo by Karolina Grabowska on

There are a few situations where you won’t have a lot of flexibility on salary. If you’re applying for a role in a very structured organisation the salary bands may be set with no room for negotiation. Also, if you’re one of a number of new starters (for example in a graduate scheme) then the salary may be fixed. After all if you’re hiring twenty people to do the same role at the same time it would be highly inappropriate to offer one person more money.

Salary negotiations are not the easiest discussions to have but hopefully I’ve provided some insight and advice. Please get in touch or add a comment below if you have any questions and as always please subscribe and then share this series with anyone you think may find it useful.

The Advantage Book Review

When I saw a copy of The Advantage on the shelf at the airport I picked it up straight away. I read Five Dysfunctions of a Team a few years ago and considered it leadership gold. Learning about organisational health from the same author, sign me up!

I’m disappointed to say that for me, The Advantage just didn’t hit the same high notes. Despite only being 216 pages the book took me around eighteen months to complete and that’s simply because I wasn’t engaged and I felt I had to force myself through the final few sections.

The early part of the book recovers a lot of the same ground as Dysfunctions, I have no problem with that. Creating a leadership team who feel safe and can operate together as a team is no doubt a key part. Then we moved onto organisational values, both desired and acididental. I found that part quite interesting but when we moved onto creating and reinforcing clarity I drifted and drifted.

It’s quite possible I missed the point, the book is highly rated on Goodreads so many people have clearly got a lot from it. Unfortunately, this won’t be one I pick up and re-read again in a hurry. I will however go away and try to define my teams’ values – I grant, that’s a very valuable exercise!

Have you read The Advantage? Do you disagree with me? Let me know either on Twitter or in the comments, I’m always happy for someone to point out something I’ve missed!