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Nailing the interview

Every interview invites a few nerves along with it. Sometimes it’s great to get back to the basics and remember the easiest things: come prepared, come interested, and please, for the love of Boba Fett, move that dirty laundry pile out of the background.

In this week’s Frontier Podcast, Cal Evans talks with our very own Jessi Soler, the Engagements Manager for Gun.io. She works closely with clients to get our talent hired and has a few things to say about how to nail your next interview.

Cal Evans
Cal Evans

Transcript

Cal: Hi, there! This is Cal Evans. I’m gonna be your host, and we’re gonna be talking today with Jessi Soler. Jessi is with Gun.io and, Jessi, I honestly don’t know what your title is. So I’m just gonna let you introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about what you do at Gun.

Jessi: Absolutely. Thank you, Cal. I basically run the client side of things here. So I’m working with clients from the time that they come in and getting them to know the platform better so they can understand what our technical talent looks like, how we operate, and just making sure that we’re matching them with the best people for this role. So I kind of handle that process from the client joining the platform, to the time they pick out a developer, to signing that contract. And then throughout the engagement, I work with them to mitigate any issues that come up, or bring on new talents, or anything else in there. So anything client related, I am your girl.

Cal: That is interesting. If nobody else learns anything else this entire interview, I’ve at least learned something–because I’ve worked with you on several different pieces, but I see little small snippets of what you do. I didn’t get the big picture. Today we’re gonna talk about nailing the interview. Because you deal with clients a lot, and you present developers, and you also are there during the virtual interview–since everything is virtual, these days–you’re there during the interviews. You know what works and what doesn’t work. And there’s a lot of developers out there that really wanna know what works–what can they do to give themselves an edge when they are doing a virtual interview? So we got a list of questions and I’m just gonna start going down those, and let’s see what comes up. So I guess the first thing is: What is the one most important thing that candidates or developers need to know to nail a virtual interview?

Jessi: I think the biggest thing that you can do coming into this is just to be prepared. And obviously that means a lot of different things. Research the company, research the role, the job description, what they’re looking for, different projects that they’ve done. Anything like that is going to be huge. You know, I think it’s that and acting interested in the role. We’ve had many– I’ve been on thousands of interviews at this point over the last three years, and showing that you have genuine interest in what they’re doing and where you could fit into this project is huge for a client. Obviously, they want someone that is excited about what they’re doing, and you’d be surprised how many interviews we have that the developer does not necessarily express that at all throughout, but they still want the job. That’s always confusing to me. Yeah, I’d say those are the two biggest things. Be prepared, be interested, show your interest.

Cal: Very interesting. One of the things I’ve done to prepare for interviews in the past–you mentioned research[ing] other projects they’ve done–stack overflow has a careers section, and I’ve looked up companies and seen what else they’ve hired for, because that gives you a clue as to what they’re up to. And what I found is [that] most companies are blatantly transparent about this stuff. They’ve got a blog. They need fodder for the blog, so they write about what they’re working on on their blog. So if you spend some time on the corporate, or if they have a developer blog, spend some time there, you usually get a good idea of the types of projects that they’re working on. And it also gives you a little bit of insight into the culture that you’re stepping into.

Jessi: Absolutely. And you can always come to us too. If it’s a role through Gun.io, or some other type of recruitment platform, or whatever it is, I’m happy to answer those questions prior to the interview. Anything about the people that you’re interviewing with–if you can find them on LinkedIn, we are happy to set you up to be in a great position to get this job. That’s the goal.

Cal: Very cool. Now, I say this sitting here in a Hawaiian flower type shirt. How important is appearance when you’re doing these virtual interviews?

Jessi: More important than you think. However, I don’t think it’s necessarily what’s in the traditional aspect of showing up to an office in a suit and tie or whatever. That is not necessary. I think I’ve seen a very small handful of interviews where someone is dressed out in their business-casual, it’s not necessary. That being said, for your Zoom background, you don’t want a bunch of stuff in the back, but you don’t want dirty clothes. I’ve been on an interview where someone showed up in their white tank top undershirt–don’t do that, but if you’re wearing a pullover, a hoodie, whatever, it’s a technical interview. It’s important, but just look presentable, you know, something that you can go to a decent dinner in if you’re going to Applebees or whatever!

Cal: Yeah. Don’t have things like a box full of miscellaneous audio equipment open in the background, like I do.

Jessi: That’s actually okay. Sometimes, if you have some stuff in the background, there’s good talking points. I have one client that has a big fish tank in the background, and that always turns into a topic of conversation for at least a few minutes, and I actually really appreciate that. It’s more so having dirty laundry back there. Don’t do that.

Cal: When you’re doing these interviews–we’re using Zoom to record this, and that has become basically the de facto standard. I’m old enough to remember when Skype was the de facto standard, but Zoom has pretty much taken over that. What tech to me, as a candidate, is really important? Do I need to have a stack of virtual backgrounds? My microphone– I didn’t do much with my lighting today. I do when I’m reporting real videos, but is that stuff important, or am I just overthinking this because I’m a developer?

Jessi: It’s important, but I think the main thing, honestly, [is to] make sure that your video and your audio works. I can’t tell you how many times people log in, and the first five to ten minutes, they’re logging in and out, trying to get their audio to connect. So just log on 20 minutes early, make sure that your Zoom is connected, make sure that everything’s working. It is what it is. It happens, but it’s not necessarily the best first impression, especially for a technical person. My other suggestion would also be to use a computer rather than your cell phone for Zoom meetings.I think that always makes a big difference.

Cal: Well, my cell phone videos look like this (shaky) when I’m holding my cell phone, so that’s why I stopped trying do cell phone, ‘cause I used to think–I worked for one company [where] I thought it was really cool to sit out back, because I live in Florida, and I could sit out back and do my daily standups sitting outside, while they were in Detroit, and it was snowing.

Jessi: I don’t know how much I’d love that if I was in Detroit, but…

Cal: But the shakiness of it wasn’t a good experience. So I tried to limit that, but you’re right. Making sure that you’ve got good, solid tech [is important]. Also, Zoom gives away free accounts. So if you’re not sure, you can set up a free account a day or two before and make sure all your gear works. And here’s what I’m gonna throw out, because I do this: I do a lot of webinars, and before I start a webinar, and anytime I’ve started doing a major interview–I did this just before we started–I reboot my computer just to make sure nothing’s gonna freeze up on me. I don’t care what operating system you’re using or what platform you’re using. And then I’ve got a pretty beefy computer here. I still reboot it just to make sure that nothing goes awry.

Jessi: Smart. And then another thing, just kind of like I mentioned in the last question, check in with us. I am happy to log onto Zoom with you 10 minutes early or the day before just to make sure everything’s working. I would much prefer that than struggling with audio and video for the first 10, 15 minutes. And on another note, which I didn’t mention before, always have your video on.

Cal: I took that for granted, but yeah, I guess that needs to be said. Ok, this goes back to in-person job interviews. We were always told to do this. I see this advice a lot in virtual interviews: to have questions prepared for the interviewer. How important is it to have questions about the company? I’m about to come off a contract with Gun, and when I did the interview, they said, Do you have any questions? I said, No, I’ve been aware of the company since it was founded in the late nineties. Do you have any questions for me about the company? ‘Cause I probably have been following it longer than you’ve been there at the company. So in that case, it was kind of cute and endearing. But that’s not always the case. Is it important for a candidate to actually have questions prepared that they want to ask?

Jessi: Yes, this is humongous. And even if you don’t necessarily have questions off the top of your head, get some generic ones in there–something like, What’s your work style like? Where do you see this role progressing in the next couple months? What would the first week look like? What would make this a huge win for you if I (the candidate) was able to accomplish what in the first week? One question that I really like is when the candidate says, Why do you enjoy working here? What’s been your favorite part about working with this company? I think those things always show your interest in the position, and it gives the client a chance to sell themselves as well and sell the company and what they’d be doing.

I would absolutely come prepared with some questions. Again, if you can research the company on LinkedIn and look at some of the stuff that they’ve done prior, ask some questions about that. Obviously, if you have questions about their technical stack and how they’re using it, of course ask those, but a lot of times it’s covered within the interview. So I’d always have some of those more generic work style, team culture questions lined up at the end, just to show your interest, and also, I think it gives you a good feel for what to expect in the project.

Cal: That’s a good point. You mentioned my absolute favorite one. If I don’t have specific questions about the company or the team, I always throw out: What does success in this role look like for you?, because it’s very important. Especially if you’re interviewing for a full-time position, it’s very important that the candidate understand what the manager really wants, and that might not come out in the interview. But if you ask them something like, What does success look like for you?, then they’ve gotta think about what it’s gonna take for somebody to be successful in this role.

I have a tendency, as you’ve probably noticed, to ramble. How long is too long? You know, I’ve also been on interviews where people have done a five minute question that I’ve seen other people answer with, “yes”. When I’m talking as a candidate, how long is too long? Should I keep it brief? Should I go in depth?

Jessi: I think there’s a good balance there. I’ve been on many interviews where a client will ask a question, and six minutes later, someone’s talking about something that was so far off the original subject. It’s great to provide explanations and details in your answer, but circle it back to the original question, if you can. I’d say a typical good response is probably somewhere between 30 seconds to a minute. If you’re talking for over a minute, it’s probably good to circle back so that conversation is two ways. Another thing I would definitely suggest is try not to speak over people. I have this problem, so I completely understand it, but as much as you can try not to do that, if someone’s answering a question or talking about something that they’re doing, let them finish their thought, and then you can go from there.

Cal: Very cool.I have a tendency to go much longer and there have been times when I, you know–and mentally I’m going, Bring it back around, Cal, bring it back around. As my uncle likes to say, land this plane.

Jessi: I would prefer that though [to] just a yes or no. Yeah. Try and at least elaborate a bit.

Cal: How important–especially in these virtual interviews–is body language? I mean, I do a lot of interviews–not for jobs–but interviews like this, so I’ve trained myself to do my best to look at the camera, not at the video, and stuff like this. And at least for this interview, I’m showing you the respect of not having Twitter open in the other window and constantly reading Twitter and stuff like that. But people can pick up on these nonverbal cues sometimes. Do you see that a lot in these virtual interviews?

Jessi: You know, it hasn’t been much of a problem. I would say, obviously look at the camera when you can. If you’re taking notes, that’s fine. I think a lot of clients are doing that as well. In terms of body language, don’t be slumped on your couch. I would put your computer on a desk and be sitting in a chair, but it’s not the most important thing. Just look like you’re interested, as I’ve mentioned.

Cal: Very good. Now in researching this–because I didn’t just spit out these questions–I actually did a little research on what other people are talking about. This one came up a lot, and I’m very curious about this. Should candidates actually rehearse for the interview? Do you suggest candidates do that, or should you just wing it?

Jessi: I think it depends. It depends on the person. If that’s something that feels comfortable to you, if you like to kind of rehearse even maybe just your elevator pitch: what you’ve been doing, what your experience is, how you got to the point where you’re at now in terms of education and previous roles, then go for it. I think that’s great. I think that depends on the person.

Cal: I give this advice a lot, especially to new developers who have only done a couple of job interviews, is to rehearse your number. If you’re asking for a salary, it’s always gonna come up in the conversation. Know what your number is, and rehearse saying it, because the last thing you wanna do is, you know, [say] Five bucks an hour? Come in and say, This is my number, of course, having a researched number so that, you know, that you’re within the limits is also important. Um, you know, you can be as confident as you want, but if you ask for a half million dollars, you’re probably not gonna get it. I do recommend that. I had never thought about rehearsing the interview, but I guess if that’s what makes you comfortable.

Jessi: I think whatever works for you.

Cal: That’s true. And finally, this is the question I like to ask everybody when I’m doing an interview: What question did I not ask that you think is important?

Jessi: Gosh, that’s a good question. As I mentioned, I think the biggest thing that you can do in an interview is be prepared. Do your research, understand what they’re looking for, and if you don’t understand based off the job description, ask those questions during the call. I think it’s great at the end of an interview to ask about what you should expect for next steps. I don’t think there’s any problem in that and [ask] Is there gonna be a code challenge? Would this be it? When do you see this kicking off? Is there anything that you’re not sure of right now about me that I can help answer? I think just asking those questions is huge, expressing that interest, and showing them why you would be a great fit for this.

One other thing, I guess we didn’t really talk about this, but what I wanted to bring up too is [that] if there’s a role that you’re interviewing for, and you’ve done similar projects, you have relevant work that you can show, have those prepared. It’s nice to be able to share your screen, not necessarily show code even, but just show some examples of sites that you’ve worked on, of apps that you’ve worked on, so they can really get a feel for what you’re able to do, and you can talk to things within those samples. Show them how you integrated this payment, or whatever it is. I think that’s really helpful to have prepared as well and clients very much appreciate it.

Cal: Yep. If it’s a technical interview, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with sharing screen and pulling up some of your code. One of the very first jobs I ever had outside of working for my parents– I spent 12 years as their “computer guy”–-one of the very first jobs, I sent in my resume, but in the envelope I comb-bound one of my programs. I had printed it out real nice and put a cover on it, and all this, because I had access to all these tools. So I put it in the envelope and sent it off, and I don’t know if it helped get the interview, because it was a beautiful piece of code. I had spent a lot of time tweaking it because it was my showpiece code. But they did mention it. They said they’d never, ever had anybody do something like that before. So, you know, I did share my code, and these days it’s a lot easier than having the FedEx and envelope around. In the technical part of the interview, that would be interesting is [to say] Hey, can I show you a piece of code I’ve done and we can discuss that? I’ve been on the other side of that table, and if I can see somebody’s code, I can pick up subtle cues on how attentive they are as a developer. If I see single-letter variable names, that’s a little bit of a yellow flag, you know? So that’s real interesting, and that is a great question.

Hey Jessi, I wanna thank you for taking the time to be with me today. These are released by Gun IO, and you work with Gun. I get to work with Gun every now and then. I work part-time on this and some other things, other projects for them. It’s a great platform to work with. I have found jobs on the Gun platform and just can’t say enough good about it.

Audience, thank you for taking the time to be with us. I really appreciate it. I hope you’ve picked up some things here. Hey, do me a favor. If you see this and you like this interview, you found something useful, make sure you tell Gun, because I like doing these, and if they hear that they’re helpful, maybe they’ll let me do more. So thank you so much, and hopefully we’ll see you next time right here.


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