On applying for a job

Advice on how to sell yourself as a developer when applying for a job

At my current job I've been screening and interviewing candidates for front-end developer roles for a couple of years now. We're lucky to have a healthy stream of applicants coming in, but not many people make it to a first interview. Let's focus on one reason why in my personal opinion applicants don't get invited for an interview.

A lot of candidates simply don't sell themselves very well.

I think that's a shame. Without a doubt, some technically strong candidates have not been invited for an interview because they did not sell their value clearly.

Disclaimer: I've only performed interviews for one company so far. It's almost guaranteed that anything I say here is not interchangeable advice for other companies. I'm also not going to dive in well-known advice such as not sending over resumes with spelling mistakes in them.

The reality of selecting candidates

The first thing you need to know, is that hiring managers have very limited time to evaluate candidates. In that small amount of time, they need to get a quick sense of your education, professional experience, personal interests, skillset and personality amongst other things.

The second essential piece of information is that they don't know what you don't tell them. They’re stressed for time already, and they’ll definitely not spend more time on your application if they’re not convinced by your presentation. You have to provide that information yourself.

This should not be too shocking in itself, but it's surprising to me how many people don’t cater towards these conditions.

I'm willing to let you in on a little secret. One of the most helpful things that help me select applicants are very specific questions we ask in our job portal. Everyone applying for a developer job at our company needs to answer those. We'll go through two of those to discover the reasons why these questions are being asked.

Self reflection

One of the questions I like to ask is the following:

“What makes you a great addition to our team?”

This question is all about showing the ability for self reflection. It’s an opportunity to tell me you realize what your strong points are. In what way do you see those strong suits complementing the team, or being of value to the company in general?

You could be a great team player. Maybe you have strong leadership skills. Do you have a background in mathematics or animation? I need to know what your superpower is, and I can only figure that out if you tell me! If you don't know the answer to this question yet, ask your current colleagues, friends or family to help you figure that out.

Being engaged in the industry

“Which development(s) in the industry are you excited about?”

Show me you are conscious of what's happening around you, or show me something that's close to your heart

Honestly, this is by far my favorite question to ask! It's very open and allows you to go in any direction with your answer. Sometimes the answer to this questions has persuaded me to invite people for an interview before I even opened their resume. One of my favorite answers to this question was this one:

…the shift towards building and sharing accessible UI components becoming mainstream in open-source projects

Why do I like that answer so much?

  • I can appreciate developers understand accessibility as a high priority item
  • It shows me a topic you really care about, which helps me get to know you better
  • It allows me to think of challenges within the company where you'd be a good fit
  • It shows me you're up to date on current affairs in the front-end community

Demonstrate your value

Don't just list your skills, show me what you did with them

If you already have some professional experience, tell me more on your resumé or LinkedIn than just your seniority level and job title. Show me your tasks, your responsibilities. Give me highlights of what made you a valuable employee. What are some projects where you really made a difference? How did you get to that result? What was your biggest contribution to the company?

The danger of not being specific enough about your responsibilities are either underestimation or overestimation of your skillset. Even worse, when being cryptic or dodging questions about your previous responsibilities you come across as someone who’s either lazy, piggybacking on the success of others or has something to hide.

Also, if you feel like you've only played a small part in the team, don't fret it! Honestly, I'd rather see you highlight a small but interesting part of an application you took responsibility for than act shy about it. Take pride in the work you did, and show it off. We all know nobody builds these great systems on their own, so there's absolutely no shame in being honest about what you did and didn't work on.

Closing off

Hiring managers have little time to make decisions, so make it as easy as you can for them to quickly get a feel for your worth as an employee. Think about what the person at the other end needs to know to make this decision, and provide it.