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Note: This piece was written by Ben Weiss of Infusive Solutions and is extracted from the later sections of the resource "Beat the Software Interview," which features additional contributions from Gayle McDowell (author of Cracking the Coding Interview) and Jennifer Loftus (former President of NYC's SHRM chapter). Grab the full resource here.
Being a software developer at a reputable firm with talented colleagues is generally a personally and financially rewarding accomplishment (in fact, USNews ranked the title #7 on its annual list of 100 best jobs). However, the process of getting there can be a real drag.
Sure, some software candidates checking out the market have such outrageously powerful skills that hiring authorities are compelled to quickly extend an offer.
But especially in today’s hyper competitive job market waters, even highly qualified developers may have to endure slow hiring processes and a range of different authorities to impress.
Instead of becoming discouraged while navigating the complexities of the software interview process though, consider making it more fun by imagining you’re Mega Man deploying a diverse buffet of tailored skills to advance beyond the various “bosses” you’ll encounter before your quest for the opportunity at hand is complete.
While you can check out some other articles to learn how to defeat the non-technical “HR Boss” and the extremely technical “Senior Development Boss,” this resource will focus on a number of cheat codes you can deploy to impress the gatekeeper with more final decision-making authority: The “Software Management Boss.”
1) Show You're a Critical Thinker: Generally, when software candidates grapple with The Senior Development Boss, they’ll need to showcase masterful grasp of nitty-gritty technical concepts by successfully answering knowledge, coding/algorithm and architecture questions.
But software managers want to see you’re not only just an expert doer, but a critical thinker who will proactively identify strategies that catalyze efficiency for the company and its audience, stakeholders or clients.
That’s a hard skill to evaluate should a “boss” simply ask for an example of your problem-solving skills and therefore you may find software managers posing brain teasers just to see if you can come up with an educated and logical conclusion.
One such question asked by agile software consultancy firm Thoughtworks (identified by Glassdoor as one of the top 25 most difficult interview processes) is “tell me a story with the title green hat.”
The bad developer will allow his/her eyes to glaze over and stumble over words while the average developer might just dive into a random narrative. By contrast, the exceptional developer will start asking important questions, perhaps if the interviewer prefers a specific shade of green or whether market research exists on what sort of hat resonates best with the company’s target market.
That kind of logic is going to separate you from a competing candidate who may have a more stacked resume but who was intimidated by a question that didn’t have a finite response.
2) Don't Be Fooled by Softballs: Along the same lines, keep in mind that the questions asked in these higher level interviews may not be what they seem and are being used to evaluate certain skills without asking about them directly.
For example, the CTO of a major insurance firm once explained that he asks candidates to explain how they navigated past a challenge in their life, whether personally or professionally. While simple on the surface, this is actually a filtration questions to flag those who say they’ve never had a challenge they couldn’t solve as this high-level boss didn’t want someone who was “that stupid or that arrogant” on this team.
By the same token, The Software Management Boss may try to get your guard down by asking about your hobbies or how you spend your free time. While questions such as these may make you feel comfortable dropping your professionalism slightly, remember it may be a strategy to learn about your accessibility (for example, whether you turn your phone off the second you leave the office) and value systems.
These can serve as integral clues of your cultural fit at the organization so stay sharp even when you think the questions are too easy to whiff.
3) Show You're Informed: The digital revolution has exponentially decreased the shelf life of most skill sets and this truth is magnified ten-fold in the software development world. That said, even if you’re revered with ninja/rock star status by your peers, The Software Management Boss wants to know that you’re highly adaptable and will be able to keep pace as the industry around you evolves.
So if you have the opportunity, consider explaining how you regularly learn from outlets like MSDN and Stack Overflow and that you appreciate the rich mindshare that comes out of attending relevant industry conferences, meetups and webinars.
This can be a key differentiator from other candidates who may be qualified but who seem comfortable clocking out at 5 every day and vegging out in front of the television every free minute they get.
4) Ask About How You Fit Into The Bigger Picture: The Software Management Boss is the kind of individual who must ride the line between the firm’s tech and business departments. So when you start speaking not only in technical terms but how you’re able to optimize efficiencies for end users and ultimately improve the bottom line, you’ll likely 1-up much quicker than your competitor who only speaks about adding value to the tech department.
Ben Weiss is the digital marketing strategist for Infusive Solutions, a technical recruitment firm in New York City that places software developers, DBAs, Windows engineers and technical support professionals. Take a look at their current opportunities in the Tri-state area.