These suggestions are for programmers looking for their first job or two. As you get more experienced, your approach to interviews will change.
Keep in mind: your first job is probably not going to be your last job. Think of your first job as an experiment. It’s an opportunity to test out the job – learn what you like and don’t like. Then use this knowledge when you eventually look for your next job.
The questions you ask at an interview have two purposes. First, they let you know what to expect from the job. Second, they let the interviewer know what you are interested in.
If the only questions you ask are ones like, “How much vacation do I get? How soon can I start using vacation? What kind of raise can I expect after my first year?” the interviewer will see you as someone who is only looking to “take” from the company, and not contribute to the company.
You need to ask questions in a way that let you know what you want to know, but also make the interviewer see you as someone worth hiring.
The two types of interviewers
I’ve noticed most interviewers fall into one of two categories. They’re either hoping for you to succeed, or they’re hoping for you to fail.
If you don’t understand a question, and you ask for clarification, the one’s hoping for you to succeed will explain the questions differently. The ones hoping for you to fail will laugh at you. This is the type of person the company has already hired. This is who you’ll be working with. It’s often a good indicator of whether or not this is a good company to work for.
Of course, everyone has bad days. But this is a big “red flag” (danger sign) for me. Remember, you are interviewing them as much as they are interviewing you.
Good questions to ask at your first programming job interviews
Here are some questions I’d expect (and hope) to hear if I was interviewing a junior developer:
- What do you expect me to accomplish the first week, the first month, and the first 90 days?
- This will give you an idea how quickly the company expects you to understand their codebase and be able to contribute to it.
- Will I have a mentor?
- Does the company provide any training?
- What’s the typical path to becoming a senior developer?
- What skills and technologies are they looking to move to over the next few years?
Notice that those questions are about how you can grow and contribute to the company – which is what the company is looking for. They’re also a good sign if the company will be a place you can grow at.
You can definitely ask questions about the benefits, but I’d do that in a single question, like, “Can you tell me about the benefits?”. If you have specific needs, you can dig deeper.
Just remember, you normally only have a few minutes at the end of the interview to ask your questions. If you spend 90% of that time asking, “What do I get?”, instead of, “How can I grow?”, you’re not going to leave a good impression.
NOTE: Besides having good questions to ask, do some research on the company beforehand. If nothing else, it will show the interviewer you’re the type of person who thinks ahead and prepares for things.