Why coding skills are not enough for a developer to get hired
The more languages you know, the better a programmer you are, right? Not always – your coding skills are just the beginning of what most companies are looking for in a fresh programming recruit.
So you’ve got coding skills. That’s a great start, but what else are you good at? These days, coding skills are not enough to get a developer hired.
There are many programmers entering the workplace daily, as well as a new generation planning to make a living doing your job in the next 5-10 years. Your first order of business should be to make sure your technical skills are updated to fit companies’ current programming needs, and to make sure those skills are reflected on your resume. After that, the secret to getting hired is to have better “soft” skills than the other developers showing up for the job interview.
Aside from the dreaded “passion for coding” that has been used and abused in pretty much every developer job description, let’s go over some other “soft” skills companies are looking for.
To quote Matt Weisfeld, a Cleveland-based developer, author, and teacher, “you don’t have a single 30-year career, you have 30 one-year careers.” Whether it’s the project you’re working on at a company that is continually changing or the companies that you’re doing the projects for, you’re going to need to work with other people. This includes colleagues and clients.
If it’s a small company, the person hiring will want to see that you’ve taken on roles that may be slightly outside the typical developer’s job description. Because it’s usually “all hands on deck,” your ability to take on other facets of the project, such as management or even customer support, will be a major asset. In a medium or large company, this translates to how well you play with others.
The best way to show that you’re a team player in an interview is to talk about projects you have collaborated with others before. Written recommendations from team members and employers also go a long way. In general, are you a pleasant person to be around? While this is highly subjective, it is also a major thing companies care about.
Have you ever done the coding for a project and gotten it perfect on the first try? Chances are you’ve had to go back to the drawing board multiple times in order to meet somebody’s changing expectations. Flexibility is the name of the game. If you don’t check your ego at the door, you’ll likely be shown out the door.
The last thing a company wants is to hire a jerk who won’t compromise.
Unless you’re the boss, you don’t have the final word on any project. Show a positive attitude in a job interview by mentioning a project or product that became even better when you took another person’s recommendation or incorporated your team’s feedback. The ability to listen to other people and try their ideas shows that you’re open-minded and not tied up in your own ego. If you get defensive about any criticism during the interview, this usually raises a red flag. Show that you’re eager to learn new things and aren’t afraid of changes.
You’ll likely have to talk about what you’re working on during progress updates, so you need to be articulate about projects you’ve done before. Drop the jargon and explain what needs to be explained in plain English so non-technical people can also understand you.
Companies are always on the look for people who can communicate their ideas well and listen to others, so as much as you may dread verbal communication, you still have to work on it if you want to land a job. The ability to provide constructive and meaningful feedback during code reviews is also a bonus.
Only losers blame other people for their own problems and mistakes. If you make a mistake, own up to it. Don’t lie and don’t blame anybody else, since doing so won’t solve anything. Employers want to hire people — in any job position — who don’t have to be perfect, but who hold themselves responsible and accountable for any mistakes that they do make.
Always try to sympathize with the end-users who are having trouble with what you’ve builded, and strive to figure out what you did wrong and how you can fix things.
Not a skill per se, but if you’re not fresh to the developer job market, know how your role in development has played into a company’s business. What value did you bring? How would this help clients or users? Being able to offer ideas on how you can help improve a company’s business is definitely a bonus.
In addition, you may have some pretty sleak coding skills and hold your code quality to high standards, but you shouldn’t get toohung up on details to the point where you’ll never be able to deliver things on time (assuming the deadlines are fairly reasonable). The window of opportunity is often short-lived in the business world, so companies want to hire developers who are able to find a balance between what’s best in terms of code and what’s best for a company’s business.
Most companies probably don’t need to hire exceptional programmer gurus. While your coding skills are important, keep in mind that technical skills can always be learned and improved. It’s a lot harder to change your character, though not impossible. As Meri Williams articulated in her “Geek | Manager” blog, there is no such thing as the Soft Skills Fairy. Thus, don’t use your lack of these necessary skills as an excuse for not trying to develop them. At worst, not having soft skills may cause projects and businesses to fail.
If you not only want to ace your job interview, but eventually be promoted into a senior position in the company, you’re going to need to hone your soft skills. Start practicing today!