Interview Insights for Entry-level Developers — Part II: Four Hacks for Acing a Good First Impression

Stand out from the rest even before you get to speak to your interviewer.

“Success depends upon previous preparation, and without such preparation, there is sure to be failure.” Confucius (551–479 BC)

Introduction

You’re probably well aware of the dos and don’ts for acing an interview: to show up on time, to double-check your internet connection, to clean your camera lens (nobody wants to see a blurry mess of your fingerprints), and to let your housemates know that during that time, you can’t be disturbed.

But what if I told you there are a few extra tricks that could make you stand out before the interview even begins? I will share with you what people did that made me rank some candidates higher than others before meeting them.

Hack #1: Have a Killer Looking Resume

Your resume is your presentation card. While impressive credentials are nice to have, the initial impression lies not in the content but in the appearance.

Just like catching a glimpse of a vibrant landscape from a speeding train, a well-formatted resume catches the eye first. It also tells a story about you: a clean, organized, well-designed CV shows some skills without needing to read it.

And that is a good thing. While you can’t change much about your career overnight, a few visual tweaks can go a long way to make your CV stand out.

To cut straight to the point, let’s go over some dos and don’ts:

Do:

Put your name in large letters. I would like to know to whom it belongs.Spoon feed me the information by making it clear at first glance. Prioritize clarity and hierarchy by using appropriate styles to organize your CV.According to this study, the recommended maximum line length is about 12–13 words. Keep it in that range. Use a two-column template if you need to shorten the visual length. After all, hundreds of newspapers can’t be wrong.Ensure that the elements have the right visual weight. Section titles should be more prominent than their respective content. Similarly, each part should apply the same pattern to point to other subsections within that content.An example of using font weights and sizes to hierarchize the information

Don’ts:

Don’t go too far out of the box on the looks. While you can add a splash of color or use some decorations, keep it minimal. Consideration: make sure the contrast ratio gets at least a double A on this website.Be inconsistent with the spacing in your CV.Be afraid to write less. If the CV looks cramped, you might be trying to overdo it. Give it some air by removing unnecessary text or using fonts with slightly larger spacing.

TL;DR: use this template or a similar one.

Hack #2: Avoid Bias

Bias can be defined as:

prejudice in favor of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another, usually in a way considered to be unfair.

In the context of an interview, you would like to avoid this prejudice because you can’t know how it will affect the output.

Bias is such a thing that when AI models are provided with training datasets, they must be assured that they are representative and large enough to prevent biases such as sampling bias.

You, too, might be biased towards different groups of people. You can take this test to try.

For those unfamiliar with the subject, let’s use an example: I have a poster of the Jobs movie hung on my wall. It is a beautiful piece of art that my wife painted during her Art studies, and it has nothing related to me loving or hating Steve.

The beforementioned Jobs The Movie poster

If my interviewer is an Apple product hater, they may wrongly interpret my background picture, which wouldn’t play nicely in my favor. Or the other way around: if my interviewer is pro-Apple, they might think I intentionally set that up.

Let’s take a look at another example. Imagine a triathlon competitor who has a bicycle in their background. Now, the interviewer has trouble driving to work every morning due to cyclists illegally training on intercity routes.

Using the information you might be unintentionally providing, your interviewer might make assumptions about your personality, interests, or affiliations. This could positively or negatively influence their perception of you during the interview, regardless of your qualifications for the job.

To avoid that, remove anything associated with you belonging to a particular group.

Try to use a white wall as a background. If you can’t, use the blur filters to help disguise anything that can be distracting or single you out.

In the room where I work, I removed the instrument I play -you may notice the music sheet stand, but no more than that- as well, as you can’t see what I have on the shelves. Also, the picture of Ashton Kutcher playing Steve is no longer recognizable. That will do for me.

My working room with the background blurred

Another example of bias could involve clothing choices. For instance, if you wear a shirt or accessory featuring a sports team logo. Therefore, being mindful of potential biases, it’s wise to opt for neutral attire to minimize unintentional judgment.

TL;DR: Show as little as you can in the background on your webcam. Use a plain wall or a blurred background. Keep your wardrobe choices neutral.

Hack #3: Be at the meeting before your host

Arriving early demonstrates punctuality and sets a tone of preparedness and respect.

During the Qatar World Cup, Argentina’s goalkeeper, Emi Martinez, employed a variety of mind tricks on France’s players. My favorite was the one pulled on Lloris, France’s captain and goalkeeper. While he was focused on the coin task, Martinez positioned himself in the penalty area, waiting for his arrival.

The message was clear: “You’re at my house; welcome to my party.” When Lloris arrived, Emi received him with a firm handshake. We all know later what happened: Martinez became Argentina’s hero on the penalty takes. By being early at the goal, Martinez conveyed a subtle yet impactful way to establish a sense of control and readiness. You should do it too, be at the meeting before your host. Not a minute or two; arrive at the meeting with enough time ahead that your interviewer can see you were waiting for them. Usually, five minutes will do.

What if the interviewer arrives early, and you both find yourselves waiting in line five minutes before the interview? While you may initially find this situation awkward or uncomfortable, it’s an ideal scenario. It’s like hitting the jackpot. The implicit message is that you are both on the same page, and empathy flows both ways.

Break the ice by warmly welcoming your interviewer with a smile and a simple remark like, “Looks like we’re both early birds today.” Instantly, you establish common ground. If appropriate, take the lead in the interview by expressing your willingness to start early or suggesting you use the extra time to get to know each other better.

TL;DR: Being at the meeting before shows readiness and respect towards other people’s time and sets you up for welcoming your host.

Hack #4: Ask for context

This might seem odd, but you should email your interviewer asking how the interview will develop. Ask for the subjects they would rather discuss, such as the position details and the format in which the interview will be held. Request time for your questions. Ask anything that you need to know. Take the initiative.

While in other fields, this might be seen as “an attempt to cheat,” in the world of developers who live in immediately-ready resources, it shows interest and proactive behavior. Just make sure you don’t sound needy but are looking to clarify expectations.

As foolish as it sounds, you will be surprised how much information you will get by asking. In the worst-case scenario, you will get none, which leaves you in the same place you were before.

There is a difference between proactive questions and kickback questions.

A proactive question seeks clarification: How will the interview develop, and how much of subject A will be leveraged against subject B? You can also ask whether you can show some of your projects. These questions facilitate the communication exchange.

Kickback questions that try to get “insider trading” information are the ones to avoid. “Which subjects of React should you know?” Answer: all of them! “Which JavaScript types of exercises should you practice?” Again, all of them! Those are no-nos. If the question has the slightest suspicion that it might be trying to get you an unfair advantage, avoid it.

There is nothing wrong with asking about the scope of the work and interview. In my eyes, anyone asking those questions is just being Agile. Saving time for themselves by just asking. Seeking clarity in the context of uncertainty. And you know what? Someone who avoids waste and looks for answers piques my interest.

Real-life development is not about handling unexpected everyday work but planning accordingly to reduce uncertainty. The same applies here.

TL;DR: Proactively asking for clarity in an interview context demonstrates efficiency and leaves a positive impression.

Wrapping up

In conclusion, these four hacks offer valuable strategies for making a solid first impression. These simple yet effective techniques exemplify proactive and professional behavior, boosting you up on the candidates list.

Interview Insights for Entry-level Developers — Part II: Four Hacks for Acing a Good First… was originally published in Level Up Coding on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

​ Level Up Coding – Medium

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