My recent front-end interview experiences
Arden de Raaij Mar 10 Updated on Mar 28, 2018
I'm super happy to tell you I recently accepted a job offer here in Lisbon and started working with a great group of people since last week! I've been seeing many posts about job interviews, how to prepare for them and what to expect so I thought I'd share my interview experiences while they're still fresh in my mind.
Over six month ago I wrote about my 'coming of age' in webdevelopment and my doubts on how to continue at the time. The TL;DR: "I recently relocated, everything is exciting except for doing freelance work once again. Life is good, but maybe I should look for a challenge"
You'd think that six months would be enough for me to make a balanced decision on where I want to go with my career, but I didn't really. I continued freelancing until I saw an interesting job vacancy and thought "A decision is better than no decision!". After the first application I felt more certain that I wanted to work in a team again. It would be good for me to get to know the tech scene here in Lisbon and to get grounded in Portugal.
I can count all the job interviews I've had in my life on one hand, and those were over ten years ago! I've been a freelance developer until the first agency I worked for made me an offer I couldn't refuse.
So you can see how I was totally new to this interview game. I've always ignored recruiters and haven't had to create a resumé since my early 20's. It was time to wisen up.
Before I could do anything I had to make a resumé, and I had no idea what those looked like anymore. As it turns out, nothing has changed and employers still like a printable document which they can quickly glance over.
Now I had to think about what I could put on my resumé as my past ten years of experience is basically summed up in eight years of freelancing and two years of working for an agency. Furthermore I have no relevant degrees or background in Computer Science, something mentioned in many vacancies. I had no idea how greatly degrees are valued here in Portugal, but I can't work with anything else with what I have! Or from a positive perspective: It was easy to keep my C.V. well structured and scannable 😅. In the end I went with the following structure:
- List of (technical) skills / languages
- Work experience (freelance and agency)
- Last two studies
- Three relevant side-projects
This made for a one and a half page resumé and that was as good as it was going to get.
Some of the companies I applied for had a lot of information online. Things I looked out for were company blogs, Linkedin profiles, Github accounts and other resources they shared online. For the bigger companies I found great amounts of information on glassdoor which helped a lot with knowing what to expect from an interview process.
I also discovered that doing whiteboard interviews, Codility tests and other assignments are a thing now. This was something I never did before and seemed scare. I thought the 'Sieve of Eratosthenes' was an Indiana Jones movie, and if that were the kind of things I had to explain during interviews I'd be doomed.
The type of companies I applied at are divisible in three types: Digital agencies, local and foreign startups and multinationals with a technology center in Lisbon. There were plenty of vacancies available, but as I didn't have great urgency I only applied to vacancies I truly deemed a good match.
The first cover letter I wrote was completely written for the first vacancy I encountered. As it got a foot in the door I re-used the structure for my following applications as well, but made sure to rewrite it for each vacancy. In my cover letter I started with an introduction explaining why I was excited about their vacancy, followed by a list of relevant points about myself and things I've recently been working on and ending with a summary stating why I thought this was the right challenge for me.
For every cover letter I did the basics like trying to find someone to address my cover letter to, and mentioning specific information about their vacancy I was interested in.
In total I had interviews with five companies of which two were in person and three over Skype / phone. In every case the conversations were greatly enjoyable, although I was noticeable nervous at some. In many cases they asked me why I moved to Lisbon, why I wanted to quit freelancing and work for an employer again and went over my past experiences. I've been very upfront on not having a Computer Science degree, but no-one really asked.
Some companies had done quite some research on me and mentioned my Codepen Pens, Github projects and blog posts. I've had more than one positive comment on being organized, which is something I work hard on as I'm a bit chaotic of nature.
As I was grateful for every interview I got, I made sure to value everyone's time and be honest about other running applications.
I wasn't really prepared for salary negotiations. I hadn't really researched the market in Portugal. Although I knew the salaries were lower than in the Netherlands, I didn't exactly know by how much. In most cases I tried to defer those negotiations until later, and in the cases I did put in a number it was way of the mark.
In all cases I got positive feedback from the first interview and was asked to do either a small coding challenge, assignment or a second interview.
Coding challenges were also completely new to me. The first thing I had to do was a Codility test which I instantly messed up. I was afraid it was going to be some super mathematical computer sciency stuff, but in fact the tests were really practical and mostly about data and DOM manipulation. Still, I botched it because I wasn't well prepared and lost track of time.
In another case I realized I would be able to do the assignment of building a Vue application, but that it would take me quite a while. As they were in need of developers to jump in as soon as possible, I felt like I wasn't 'senior' enough to begin this job without a considerable on-boarding time. I decided not to do the assignment and was candid with the company about why, which seemed to be greatly appreciated.
One company (re: Codility test) was a hard rejection, two companies felt I might not be the perfect fit for the position I applied for but offered to remain actively in contact with me. Two companies made me an offer of which I chose the one that I had the greatest first connection with.
Applying for jobs in a new location was greatly out of my comfort zone, but turned out to be really reassuring. I got a lot out of the experience and feel more confident as I know that there are definitely opportunities for me out here. For now I am absolutely stoked with the choice that I made and hope to create, learn and share loads of cool stuff with my new team!