Preparing For A Front-End Job Interview

Advertisement

Moving on from your current job or stepping out into the real world once you’ve completed your studies can be daunting. Taking time to do a little preparation goes a long long way.

If you come across the perfect job, you will need to portray yourself in the best possible light to show that you are the right person for the position.

job-interview1
It doesn’t always turn out as you expected. Image source: opensourceway2.

Preparing for an interview as a front-end developer is hard. There is no “standard” interview, and what was relevant last year might no longer be relevant today. To make the process even more complicated, each company has its own way of interviewing prospective employees, its own desired skill set and its own duties for the incoming developer.

The interview process could be quick or drawn out. The process is out of your control, so don’t stress out too much about it. As long as you have given yourself the best possible chance of landing the job, that’s all you can do.

One thing to keep in mind: don’t be afraid to apply. Some job advertisements are worded to scare off some applicants and attract only the best of the best. If the job appeals to you and you meet the essential requirements, why not apply?

Getting An Interview

Once you have found a job that appeals to you, it’s time to pour a big cup of coffee and knuckle down.

Read the job advertisement — read it again and again and again. The most important thing to do is really address the selection criteria. Submit exactly what they want; if you cannot do that, then do your best to show why you are the right person for the role.

Things To Help You Land An Interview

Personal Website

For crying out loud, you’re a front-end developer: build a website! Take your time to learn while tweaking and modifying. If you don’t have the design skills, then pair up with a designer friend to help you out, buy a theme or even hire a designer.

Update Your Portfolio

How you incorporate your portfolio into the website comes down to personal preference. Showcasing the work you’ve been involved in can increase your chances of getting an interview. There is no need to show all of your work, just your best.

If you are a newcomer to the field, you might find it hard to fill out a portfolio. This is not a big concern. It might just take a little more preparation. For example, you could do the following:

  • Ask around to see if any family or friends need a website,
  • Build a website for your local sporting club,
  • Create a WordPress plugin,
  • Create a splash page for an imaginary application.

The possibilities are endless. It requires just a few more hours at your desk, but the effort will pay off.

Cover Letter

Not all job advertisements ask for a cover letter these days. Generally, the body of the email will suffice. If you are required to supply a cover letter, though, make sure to address the given questions, and write in a professional yet friendly manner. There’s no need to be over the top, but don’t be too casual either. Before hitting the “Send” button, double-check your spelling and proofread the email to make sure it reads well. Better still, get someone to triple-check it.

Resume

This is generally a one-page document and one of the first items an employer will look at. First impressions count, so make sure it conveys your skills, values and experience accurately.

If you are required to provide an online version, LinkedIn3, Zerply4 and Stack Overflow5 are all great services. Whichever you use, ensure the resume is up to date and sets out your skills, values and experience.

Go the Extra Mile

If the company you are applying to is outstanding, you will certainly not be the only one applying. To stand out, why not take the time to put together a personalized website specifically for this application? Doing this not only shows that you have gone above and beyond what is required, but shows off your repertoire of skills and shows that you really want the position.

Another great draw card is to be active in the community. Participate in online conversations, answer questions on Stack Overflow6, fork GitHub7 repositories, dig through code, and keep on learning. If you find you need a tool or resource that doesn’t exist, try to build it. Open-source the code and add it to GitHub. Having a solid GitHub account that showcases your projects and involvement in the community can add that “Wow” factor to your application, especially with more technically oriented companies.

Keep Your Online Profile Clean

Once you have submitted your application, there is a high probability that the employer will search online for you. Make sure your Twitter feed, Facebook page, LinkedIn profile and so on are clean and represent your professionalism.

Possible Pre-Interview Step

An extra step in the normal recruitment process is not unheard of. This often involves a simple coding challenge or a phone interview. Companies tend to do this in order to shortlist applicants.

Don’t be afraid of a coding challenge. Treat it as an opportunity to show off your skills. Go the extra mile — take your time and execute it to your best ability. Show them that you know your stuff.

For example, I have been asked on several occasions before an interview to code modules that were currently being used on the company’s live website.

If you are asked to interview by phone or Skype, be prepared. Do some research, and have some notes handy. Be confident and passionate about the role. Get comfortable wherever you take the call. The more relaxed you are, the better. Just because you are on the phone, doesn’t mean you should forgo general interview etiquette.

The Interview

Preparing for the Interview

When the interview comes around, put in as much effort as you can. Preparing will give you a huge advantage and will hopefully calm your nerves. It is the key to increasing your chances of landing the job.

Research

Before the interview, take some time to look into the company, its people, its values, its current and past projects, and its history.

Investigating the company’s competitors is also a good idea. It will help you to see what the company and its competitors do well, and identify areas of improvement that you can discuss with the employer. It will also show that you have done your research and that you are able to think outside of your “code editing” role, which could make a big difference.

Moreover, knowing who you will be interviewed by and researching the caliber of the staff will be to your advantage.

Practice Answering Some Questions

Get comfortable talking out loud about yourself and what you have to offer. No two interview questions will be the same, but this compilation of questions8 on GitHub by leading front-end developers is a great resource.

During the Interview

First impressions count. Be on time (but not too early). Dress appropriately. Starting off the interview on the right foot will give you a massive advantage and will help to calm your nerves. Being polite, excited and knowledgable will put you in a good position.

Throughout the interview, show how passionate and enthusiastic you are for the position. No employer wants to hire someone who seems disinterested. Try to keep calm, even if you are ridiculously nervous. Try to convey positive energy, rather than let your nerves get the better of you.

For example, I was given the task of coding on a whiteboard in one of my interviews. Not only was this completely unnatural, but it really pushed my knowledge. Try to remain calm and focused if you are put in such a situation. Preparing for the unexpected is difficult — just do your best.

Know your strengths, and talk them up where possible. Turn any of your negative attributes into positives. If you lack a particular skill set or area of knowledge, there is no need to highlight it. Instead, emphasize what you have to offer; for example, that you are a quick and eager learner and can easily acquire any skill set necessary to perform the job.

Take Along Samples of Your Work

If you have a portfolio, take your laptop or tablet in with you to show the employer samples of your work. This will allow you to explain your work in greater detail, including showing off your code under the hood. This interaction with your work will create a more memorable impression than just giving a description or a link.

Talk About Side Projects

Talking about any interesting and relevant side projects will enhance your prospects. Much can be said about what someone does in their free time. If you live and breathe front-end Web development, make this known to the interviewer.

Answer the Questions

Be succinct, but give well-rounded answers. If you feel you can’t answer a question, explain how you would find the answer, or at least turn the situation into a positive and show them what you do have to offer.

Keep the interview flowing, but don’t waffle. Waffling is dangerous. You could easily divert into saying something you will regret. There is a fine line between giving too much away and intriguing the interviewer.

Asking Your Own Questions

Take along a list of questions to pose to the interviewer (or panel) in the final stages of the interview process. You might be too overwhelmed or exhausted to remember the questions, so a note might come in handy.

Here are some questions you could ask:

  • What kind of work will I be doing in general?
  • Is this a new position that has opened up because of more work?
  • What is the company’s policy on work-life balance?
  • What kind of tools or software are provided in the workplace?
  • What would I be working on first?
  • Am I allowed to do other work after hours?
  • Is there a budget for conferences or training?

Before Parting Ways

Before you leave, find out the next step — i.e. the timeline for when you will be advised of whether you’ve been chosen. Then, thank the interviewer for the opportunity and for taking the time to meet with you.

Post-Interview

If the interview has gone well, your referees (or at least one of them) will no doubt be contacted. Giving them a head’s up is courteous. It would also help if they knew some details about the position before getting quizzed about you.

If you feel you have waited long enough to hear whether you’ve gotten the position, send a follow-up email. Try not to come across as impatient, though. I have waited up to six weeks for an initial response.

Interviews are hard! Don’t be disheartened if you don’t get the job. Make the most of any positive feedback, and work on the negative feedback so that you have even more positives in your next application. And reflect on how the interview went. Jotting down any matters you felt you could improve on will assist you the next time around.

If you are offered the job but are unsure whether to accept it, you could contact current or past employees via services such as LinkedIn. This insight into their experiences and the workplace will help you make an informed decision.

Conclusion

The interview can make or break whether you land your dream job. Regardless of whether you have the right skills, the best portfolio and the most experience, if you cannot sell yourself during the interview, you might not convince the employer that you are the one for the job. Your skills and experience will not go unnoticed, but a poor interview performance would detract from them.

So, to put your best foot forward, make the most of pre-interview preparation, and have confidence in yourself.

Good luck!

Further Reading

Footnotes

  1. 1 http://www.flickr.com/photos/opensourceway/6809909114
  2. 2 http://www.flickr.com/photos/opensourceway/6809909114
  3. 3 http://linkedin.com
  4. 4 http://zerply.com
  5. 5 http://careers.stackoverflow.com/
  6. 6 http://stackoverflow.com/
  7. 7 http://github.com
  8. 8 https://github.com/darcyclarke/Front-end-Developer-Interview-Questions
  9. 9 https://github.com/darcyclarke/Front-end-Developer-Interview-Questions
  10. 10 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2009/04/01/10-handy-tips-for-web-design-cvs-and-resumes/
  11. 11 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2010/05/04/seven-tips-design-job-interview/
  12. 12 http://www.campaignmonitor.com/blog/post/3458/the-importance-of-standing-out-in-the-job-market/

↑ Back to topShare on Twitter

Front-End Engineer at Yahoo!7 & the curator of Web Design Weekly.

Advertising
  1. 1

    Thanks, that’s really helpfull.
    Great job Jake ;)

    3
  2. 2

    Remember, as much as you are being interviewed for the position, you are also interviewing the company. Determining if the company is a fit for you is as important as the company determining if you are competent for the job. What questions you ask (beyond compensation) will be very telling on both sides of the table.

    Don’t approach compensation until negotiation starts or until the interviewer brings it up. If the interviewer asks how much you are expecting you need to be prepared to deflect the question, my stock answer is usually “My rates/salary are very competitive with the local market, I would be happy to discuss them if an offer of employment is on the table”. Don’t show your hand too early or you will lose any leverage you have during the negotiation phase.

    I don’t see a problem with coding modules being assigned before the interview, but if the company puts a paper test in front of me during the interview its a red flag that exposes a weakness in their hiring practices. From my perspective its a lazy determinant of my skills and the company gets a check in the “not a fit” column.

    “take your laptop or tablet in with you to show the employer samples of your work”

    I never thought of that one, I will definitely do this for my next interview. That being said I never take my resume with me to an interview. The company already has a copy of my resume that I submitted, if the interviewing/hr managers didn’t take the time to print out a copy for the interview its a red flag that their internal processes are lacking. I get the warm fuzzies when I show up for an interview and all participants are present, on-time and have a copy of my resume in their hands.

    Even if a printed copy of your resume didn’t make it to the interview you should have talking points for each project you have on the resume. Interviewers, especially the novice ones hate to ask questions, the more you can talk naturally and take the interviewers through your resume the better. The interview should feel like a conversation, not a quiz show.

    The more you interview, the better you get at it. As a freelance/contractor I have about 10 interviews a year, I can spot a novice interviewer a mile away and can mold the interview to my needs. At the same time I very much appreciate an expert interviewer, they don’t waste my time with meaningless questions, they get down to work and determine if I am a fit for their company right away.

    26
    • 3

      ^ Bingo on that, except I no longer take a laptop, just an Ipad (cooler and longer battery life)

      I ALWAYS take a copy of my resume, specially printed with extra white space between assignments for notes.

      3
    • 4

      Really solid advice Ashey. Thanks for taking the time to post a detailed and informative comment.

      6
  3. 5

    What if it’s for a Web & Print designer (a ton of listings I see wants to hire someone that can / has done both). Do you still bring your laptop/tablet or a print portfolio? What’s the consensus on this? THANKS!

    1
    • 6

      I have a custom url that I give them that lets me know who visited and what they looked at and how long they stayed. Your own site is a must.

      For those jobs though, while they like to see what you’ve done, they are really more interested in how quickly you can translate the raw material (user/customer specs and feedback) into a finished product or at least a prototype.

      A portfolio site that goes into your design philosophy or style (i.e. I take a quick template and mod it for presentation before I do ANY coding, thus giving me a chance to get feedback and be on the right track is something a boss wants to know about!)

      1
    • 7

      Hey Reihe,

      If I was going for a Web / Print designer job I would think about taking both, laptop and a printed portfolio into the interview. Even if you take both resources you don’t have to use them.

      But, if you have documented your work very well online you might be able to just take your laptop or tablet.

      2
  4. 8

    Nice article – thanks Jake!

    0
  5. 9

    David Gottschall

    January 4, 2013 3:46 pm

    Jake, this is a solid overview of the inteview process. I’d mention that you want to make sure to send a short thank you e-mail to anyone you interviewed with. If you meet them in person, get their business card (hopefully they have one), since it will have their contact info. You may meet people you haven’t had communication with in the lead up to the interview.

    Lastly, your work, even if it’s awesome, can not speak for itself. If you’ve written all the JavaScript yourself, or created the design yourself, make it known. There are plenty of people who use other people’s plugins or code or templates. If you can set yourself apart from them, you’ll stand out and be remembered.

    5
  6. 11

    Thanks for your useful information.

    0
  7. 12

    Do most front end developers that are applying for a job with a company have a formal education? I’d love to here from anyone who is self taught that got hired into a salaried position. What is your job description? How big is the team you work on? Dare I ask numbers?

    1
    • 13

      ^ self taught ( I went to school learning Pascal and other old school languages) taught myself the new stuff, 100k

      edit: 15 member team

      0
  8. 14

    PLEASE BE AWARE that…

    Many people who are interviewing you are NOT INTERVIEWERS!
    They may be developers, dragged away from the work they are good at and comfortable with and forced to do something they may not be good at or comfortable with!

    Also be aware that
    1. Your skill as a developer may well be secondary to your ability to work with a team/group, deal with idiots (who may or may not be your boss/customer). Think about your PEOPLE skills, and the times you have excelled in challenging person to person encounters.

    Have you ever mentored/supervised a junior coworker (especially one who did not want to be mentored/supervised/corrected?) how did that work out?

    2. Skype interviews.
    Clean your work area, and the area immediately behind (and around you)
    remove posters and imagery from the room or find a different area. The worst thing is to be silently judged (and eliminated) because your interviewer has a conscious (or unconscious) bias against Romney, Obama, white cheese, Duke etc.
    Wash your face and put on makeup to cut oily sheen (which may make you look nervous and perspiring – which naive interviewers may associate with incompetence or deception)

    Practice with a mirror (so you will see what THEY see) and maybe do a few minutes “trial run” with a friend (you do have one, dont you?) to get feedback.
    They may help with meaningful advice, pointing out dandruff or camera angles that highlight the inside of your nose.

    Good luck!

    6
  9. 15

    This a great work.

    -2
  10. 16

    I’ve been interviewing developers for a few months now trying to build up our team. Some advice I would give to potential candidates is:

    1. Dress Business Casual. It’s bad to be underdressed, not bad to be overdressed.
    2. Show how passionate you are about what you do. Good employers want someone who is energetic and excited about the work they will be doing. Like the article mentioned, highlight some of your side-projects.
    3. Don’t say you’re an expert at everything. You don’t know how many people I’ve interviewed that have had “expert” level experience that have turned out to be intermediate at best. You don’t want to look like a fool when they ask you the difficult questions. Maybe it’s better to just use length of time as experience.
    4. Show your personality. Interviewers want to like the person they are going to hire. I’ve found it a good practice to tell a short story about an experience to answer a question. Specific examples are a good way to show relevant experience.
    5. Don’t EVER ask “How did I do?” or “When do I start?” at the end of the interview. They will probably be interviewing other people and it get’s really awkward when the interview actually didn’t go so well.

    5
  11. 17

    What is generally defined as business casual?

    0
    • 18

      Closed toe shoes that are NOT sneakers or running shoes – plain, subdued leather loafers, NOTHING with a garish or loud logo.

      Pants: down to the ankles, with clean matching socks covering the feet.*
      *The only hole allowed in your sock is the one that you put the foot in.

      Shirt.
      Clean shirt, not a tshirt. No loud logos, text or graphics although a modest Polo, Ralph Lauren logo is generally fine.
      Ties are generally optional for ‘business casual’

      Hands clean, nails very clean, teeth flossed and mouth fresh.

      Hair clean (of course)

      Also, if you are very short, hold a mirror over your head to see what people look (down) at. Similarly, if you are very tall, hold or angle a mirror upwards so you can see what a shorter person sees. (the view may surprise you as an upward looking mirror may show that what a short person is most likely to see is your untrimmed nose hair or *gasp* a booger!)

      (if you are very short, the mirror may show that you need to ‘comb over’ your bald spot better!)

      1
  12. 20

    Good article, not sure why it’s cataloged for front-end developers though..

    0
  13. 21

    That list of questions and answers on GitHub is so achingly geeky it is not even funny.

    0
  14. 23

    If you are a front-end junkie and you keep yourself updated from the blog posts and the newsletter I would say don’t worry at all … your knowledge will be ahead of the person interviewing you … seriously.
    I was interviewed via video conference by a group of front-end developers at one of the largest multinational banks. After a few questions about my workflow and If I implement unit testing, one asked me a direct question “Do you know HTML5?” I replied “I can write poetry using HTML5!”. The answer made them smile … I decided to go further … I started talking about media queries, new JavaScript APIs, new CSS features, LocalStorage, mobile first approaches … the guys was like “what? these things work now?” I nailed the job immediately!

    1
  15. 24

    One thing you should do is prep your LinkedIn profile! I just went through a job search and LinkedIn was the vast majority recruiters and employers I was talking to used. Try and get some clients to write some testimonials on LinkedIn.

    Know the buzz words out there today for possible employers and scatter that into your profile. You should start seeing hits from companies and recruiters pretty quickly.

    The other thing is get on sites like Behance or other places to have your work showcased besides your own portfolio site.

    0
  16. 25

    I have to say I’m not interested in a CV, cover letter or portfolio when interesting. Show me your GitHub account or solve a problem: http://maketea.co.uk/2012/08/31/a-baseline-for-front-end-interviewees.html

    -1
  17. 26

    I have to say I’m not interested in a CV, cover letter or portfolio when interviewing. Show me your GitHub account or solve a problem: http://maketea.co.uk/2012/08/31/a-baseline-for-front-end-interviewees.html

    0
  18. 27

    I’d recommend getting a feeling about the company ethos from their own site and then tailor your application to that. If the company is more “business-like” then you need to be. If it’s a bit more light hearted then you need to take that into account too.

    For my current job (web support/designer) it had a short list of rather general requirements like “experience of website code”, “experience using adobe creative suite” but as the role involves being the first point of contact from clients I needed good communication and organizational skills. The posting also specifically mentioned “laughter and fun”.

    Sounded like a fun company so rather than bore them with a resume and all that, I simply created a web based resume with my information, experience and skills and emailed the company at the address listed with a short “cover letter” and a link to the online resume I created. On the webpage I wrote it like a story but made sure to specifically hit every single bullet point mentioned in the job posting. I wasn’t a web designer previous to this, aside from some personal projects, so I was light on “portfolio”. Instead, by coding the resume with HTML5, decent colours and a few little effects (rollover a picture of my face and it changed to a picture of my wedding day) I was able to show I knew enough and appeared personal and friendly.

    Got an interview. Actually it was a two stage interview, first one with the CEO actually and the second with a panel of a few managers and other designers. After getting the job I was told the point of the interviews was to determine if I was a good fit in terms of personality and humour as much as it was to determine if I had the “skills”. I would imagine a lot of smaller design studios are like this.

    Big things at the moment are HTML5 and mobile/responsive design so even if you’re not totally up to scratch if you can at least mention them and explain why they are useful it’ll probably help you out in an interview.

    1
  19. 28

    An excellent read that I’ll be sharing with my web design students right away!

    0
  20. 29

    Make a collection of all your works in a file and show it to them. Show your client’s review about you. Have a online blog that contains all your works.

    0
  21. 30

    Interview tomorrow, so glad I came across this article!

    0
  22. 31

    I’ve been on a lot of frontend developer interviews, some with job offers, some not, and some very large and well-known companies. Usually you are interviewed by 2 or 3 programmers, who will test your abilities. You can take interviews as an opportunity to learn something new, if you don’t know the answer, the interviewer will usually share with you what the general idea is. I always bring an iPad to show my work, and make sure you have a phone with internet sharing, that helps too, as you might not always be able to connect to the company’s wifi. Sometimes you’ll find a job you know you can do, but for whatever reason you don’t hear back, don’t get too bummed out over those, just keep moving, there’s plenty of frontend developer jobs out there!

    0
  23. 32

    Hi Jake,

    Just read this article and thought it was excellent; I wanted to know your thoughts on the ‘test,’ that I’ve usually found to be a part of the Front-End interview. The employer sends a PSD-to-HTML conversion and asks you to code it up. I’ve seen a lot of these lately and was wanting to know your thoughts on whether or not job-seekers should be paid an hourly rate for this type of work, or if it’s a decent test of a developer? I’m of the opinion that a shorter test sat during the interview is far more helpful, but I’m keen to know your thoughts!

    Cheers, and thank for a great article!

    Ivana

    0
  24. 33

    i want to online job.

    0

Leave a Comment

Yay! You've decided to leave a comment. That's fantastic! Please keep in mind that comments are moderated and rel="nofollow" is in use. So, please do not use a spammy keyword or a domain as your name, or else it will be deleted. Let's have a personal and meaningful conversation instead. Thanks for dropping by!

↑ Back to top