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Tech Career Insights: How to “Flip” the Interview in your Developer Job Search

How to “Flip” the Interview in your Developer Job Search

By Andre Luis Araujo Santos

All recruitment processes have one thing in common: the interview. When interviewing with multiple companies, how do you minimise the uncertainties around career growth, company culture, values, and the actual job to ensure you find a position that’s the right fit for you? I recently found a job that energises me. I got here by “flipping” the interview and basically interviewing the companies I was interested in. Here’s how I did that.

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The process of looking for a new job is always intense. You reach out to companies or they reach out to you. We’ve seen so many new job opportunities come up in the tech industry, so it’s increasingly likely that companies approach you. With that bombardment of job offers, it’s easy to get carried away and look for the shiniest new thing, the job that pays very well, the company with the popular name or the startup idea that’s awesome.

In any new job, the story goes somewhat like this: you start at the company, there are new people to meet, the tech stack is different, you must learn a few things to get going and adapt to the new dev environment. Once you’ve settled into your new routine, when the “new” is not new anymore, things can get boring and it can be hard to find energy for your day-to-day. This has happened to me before, and it’s not nice.

I get frustrated if I spend a lot of effort getting a job that turns out not to be exciting. All those interviews, the coding challenges, the phone calls, the financial negotiation and the mental effort to pick the best opportunity. Changing jobs can be stressful and tiresome, so I want to make sure it’s really worth it!

This is why it’s also important to consider what I like to call “the intangibles” when searching for a new job. These are the valuable perks that companies offer but we as job seeking developers tend to overlook because the natural focus is on salary and technology.

The intangible aspects of a job can have a very powerful impact on your life: They give you energy and motivation to keep going, provide purpose at work and improve your career.

Figure out your values when job searching

These aspects often aren’t included in a job advert. When job searching for the best fit, I made a list of values I was looking for and made sure to address them with prospective employers. This helped me to find out more about the companies’ intangible perks.

In searching for a job that was the best fit for me, I looked for:

  • Clear roles, responsibilities and expectations that aligned with my professional interests
  • Horizontal, low-ego company culture
  • A product that I believe in, and could continue to believe in
  • Opportunities to learn and grow in my career
  • A healthy working environment
  • Decent work-life balance
  • A hybrid style of working from home and at the office
  • Working with good people

How do you spot these values, especially when it’s not a focus in the hiring process?

I got more clarity into these intangible qualities of a company by “flipping” the interview. I did this by preparing questions to ask during the interviews, and asking for additional meetings to talk through these points.

Before we jump into the list of questions, I’d like to stress how important it was for me to do this.

By flipping the interview, I learned about many aspects of a job that I wouldn’t have otherwise known about.

This process made me change my mindset when looking for a new job. It helped me figure out which intangible aspects I valued the most in a job, and what gave me energy and motivation to keep going.

Here’s how I asked about the values that matter the most to me. I hope they will help you in figuring out your values and how to ask potential employers about them.

Learning more about your roles and responsibilities

Jobs usually come with a very well defined role, like “Frontend Engineer”, but sometimes the responsibilities can be unclear. In one of my recent experiences, before I joined the team, I thought 90% of my work would be as a JavaScript developer, but after I joined I spent a considerable amount of time doing support for other developers as well as maintaining a Continuous Delivery/Continuous Integration (CI/CD) pipeline. That was not the plan but I used it to learn something different. However, I could see myself rejecting such an opportunity if I was not interested in CI/CD.

Because of this uncertainty, it’s good to clarify the specifics of a job during the interview stage so that you have an explicit idea about what will be expected of you. This is also an opportunity to clearly indicate how you feel about those responsibilities to any prospective employers .

Tip: during the interview, make an assumption of what you think your routine would be and ask the interviewer if you are correct. You may be surprised by how far off your assumptions could be!

Questions to ask:

  • In the day-to-day role, what would you expect me to do?
  • Let’s say I start tomorrow and I am fully onboarded. What would I be doing for your team?
  • Are there activities outside of development you expect me to carry out?

Getting to know a company’s culture

This is a tricky subject, because culture can mean so many things. To me, culture is about how companies approach collaborative work between their employees. This includes work when achieving a specific task – such as how designers, frontend and backend devs work together – as well as vertically, when developers can contribute to the company vision and direction.

Companies that have inclusive processes rooted in their culture are always great to work at.

For instance, in one company I worked for, they really encouraged everyone to participate in quarterly meetings where anyone could speak up, ask questions and give suggestions which would be answered.

When I know I am being heard, it makes me more engaged in my job, in the product and in the company’s mission.

Questions to ask:

  • How do employees contribute to the long-term plans of the company?
  • How can I contribute to the product roadmap?
  • Is the development workflow Agile?
    • What Agile rituals do you use?
  • What’s the approach when someone makes a big mistake?

Find out how a company develops their product

Hopefully this is obvious. For some people, it doesn’t matter what the product is and that’s fine. I personally think it can be interesting to look at the products and see if you really believe in them. A product you believe in is a product that will be very energising to work with.

If the product is diverse, it can also mean different opportunities at the company if you’re interested in that. I worked on an application where my team provided tools and solutions to make the development cycle of other teams faster. In that team, I worked as a frontend engineer but I also had the opportunity to learn a lot about CI/CD and End-to-End (E2E) testing. This learning was due to the nature of the product. With that new skill, I was able to provide more value to the company and be a more well-rounded software engineer.

Questions to ask:

  • What are the features that constitute the product?
  • Who’s the customer?
  • What value does the product bring to the customer?

Be sure about your career growth and learning potential

Career growth is important. Learning something new is always exciting and satisfying. Being able to progress, learn and improve yourself is something every professional seeks. It gives us motivation to keep going. Therefore, having a job with a clear and tangible career growth structure is really important and key to continuing at any company.

Some companies have a learning budget. That’s very cool! When a company also has a structured way of learning, they make a personalised plan with you on how you want to grow. Then, you can use your allocated learning budget to achieve your personal goal. Your needs and ideas are prioritised and the skills you want to acquire also help the company in some way, so it’s not one-sided.

For example, you and your manager discuss what your plans for the next 6-12 months are. Together, you make a list of concrete goals where each of you is committed to playing an important role in achieving those goals. You put in the effort like personal study and specific projects at work, and your manager makes sure you get the resources and opportunities you need.

Questions to ask:

  • If I wanted to change careers within the company, for example from frontend to backend, how would you help me with that?
  • Apart from a learning budget, what other initiatives are there to help people learn?
  • Is there a reserved time in a week to learn?

Make sure you understand your future working environment

I found out about the importance of a working environment when I found a good one! Before, every working environment I’d been in was about getting things done as soon as possible, having to seek designers, backend teams or product owners to discuss a new feature, and merging code myself. This wasn’t ideal because I couldn’t focus on my work with all these side tasks, the lack of organised communication and code reviewing.

When I found a working environment that was very well structured, I could focus on my work while also enjoying a workflow that included interactions with peers, feature alignment and planning. This is what it’s usually like when workplaces use Agile development with SCRUM, which was the case in this organisation.

A good work environment not only helps you work more efficiently, but also gives you confidence in the way you work and doesn’t drain your energy at the end of the day.

Questions to ask:

  • Do you work in an Agile manner? How?
  • Which team events are used to streamline the workflow?
  • How does the product manager or any other non-developer help me get work done?
  • How many hours of meetings are there per week?

Be sure that the work-life balance works for you

Here I don’t mean contract hours, like a 36 or 40 hour work week, but rather how stressful the work can be.

Some products, aligned with the working environment, require developers to work intensely, even going overtime sometimes. That can be very stressful. The responsibilities might be too much for what you are looking for. I see this pattern of overtime and increased responsibilities in jobs that pay very well. I tend to not go for them because the developer experience is often not what I want and it can be harmful for my mental and physical health.

It’s good to be aware and carefully assess how a job will affect your health and lifestyle.

Questions to ask:

  • Do I ever need to be on standby?
    • How often are people called?
  • Do you expect me to work overtime or during weekends?
  • Who’s the user of the product?
    • How big is the audience?
  • How does quality control work?
  • How does the CI/CD work?

Check if the way of working suits you

Don’t overlook this as it plays a fundamental role in your mental and physical health.

Working from home has become common now due to COVID. However, it’s important to check a company’s way of working because this could change with the removal of COVID restrictions. Companies that are very flexible today can be more rigid when things “get back to normal”.

I really value flexibility, so hybrid work is best for me. For me, working at home has its advantages when I want to focus on a specific task. But, when I want to collaborate with my colleagues, the office is the best place to go. Meetings via online conferences are sooooo tiresome and boring! To me, hybrid is best because it combines the advantages of both ways of working.

If you work from home, it’s also a good idea to make sure the company offers help in setting up your home office with good equipment, like monitors, standing desks and ergo chairs.

Questions to ask:

  • What does your work from home policy look like?
  • Are there any days when I need to go into the office?
  • What does the work from home set up look like?
    • Are company laptops with VPNs provided?

Try to meet your potential future team

To me this is the most important item on this list. You’ve probably heard that “you are the average of the people around you”. This can be cheesy but it’s really true. The people around you will push you to be better. They will help you and teach you, and you’ll also help and teach them.

In my experience, I learned the most when I worked with people smarter than me. These were people who were also good team players and who were willing to help with technical challenges, pair programming or even stuff outside of work - like recommending a good neighbourhood to live in when I was new to a city.

Moreover, as an expat, most of my friendships came from the office. During the interview process, ask the hiring manager if you can also talk to your future colleagues, not just the hiring managers or HR. This way, you can get a good sense of what the team is like.

Questions to ask:

  • How big is the team?
  • What does collaboration within the team look like?
  • Could you tell me a bit about each team member, for example their experience, what they do, the various nationalities in the company etc?

Social events

Working in a company must not only be about the work. You must have fun! Companies with nice social events, such as sports, karting or a trip, are cool because you get to meet new people, make friends with your colleagues and get to know a bit more about them. You also get to have some fun and disconnect from work.

Questions to ask:

  • What social events does the company have?
  • How does the team bond?
  • How often does the team meet to have fun?

I could go on with more intangible aspects you could look at, but this list is here so I can make my point: There are a lot of things that go beyond the salary that are just as important and that will play a role in your happiness and fulfilment at the company.

I wouldn’t take a job without inquiring about these intangible aspects. These are what I value and a suggested guide, but always spend time figuring out what you value before starting your job search.

Some quick tips on flipping the interview

If you’re going to flip the interview, here are some tips that worked well for me:

  • Make sure you write down all your questions! It helps to have a list within reach during the process so you don’t forget them.
  • It’s quite useful to highlight the most important questions and even the ones that are better answered face-to-face, because you or the interviewer could be limited on time. A “hierarchical” list makes the most out of the time available. You can always email the hiring manager to ask for another meeting or email them about the remaining questions.
  • I made two lists:
    • One that’s very general and would fit any interview regardless of the employer, and
    • One that’s focused on a specific employer and job details.

This helped me to prepare for the interview in terms of time, but it also helped to have a good flow in the interview. This meant I was able to have a good chat with the interviewer that felt more like a conversation than an interview.

In addition to giving you valuable information to make a decision in your job search, this approach makes you look serious, engaged and professional to your potential employer.

If you can, it’s very important to also ask these questions outside of an interview, to someone that worked in that company recently or is still there.

I, for example, used social media to find someone who had previously worked at one of the companies where I was interviewing. This helped me to understand what the work environment and culture were like from an outsider perspective. Even though this may seem like an unbiased opinion, remember that everyone has different experiences and biases so be cautious of this when using this approach.

After using this method, I can’t go back to the way I approached new career opportunities before. It changed the way I view the job search and this empowered me to make better decisions for my career.

I really hope that this guide helps you in your new job search! Remember to adapt it to your specific needs, desires and what motivates you.

Good luck!


Andre Luis Araujo Santos is a Software Developer specialising in frontend web development. He is passionate about working with people, solving challenges and helping teams to achieve their goals. He’s interested in Functional Programming, Data Science and Software Design Patterns. Andre was also an environmental engineer for 3 years.

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