7 Key Steps to Getting Your First Software Engineering Job

I graduated from a web development bootcamp in 2017. I had no experience working as a software engineer or in the tech industry. I started applying for jobs in October and began working full-time as a Front End Engineer in December.

The job hunting process was a short but stressful 5 weeks for me. There were things that I wish I had known, and other things that paid off way more than I expected. To save you a lot of time and stress, I’ve distilled what I’ve learned into seven key things I did to secure my first job.

1. Make a portfolio of a few standout projects
I’ve reviewed the resumes of other bootcamp grads where they only listed one or two partially completed projects. They don’t have to be perfect (my glitchy Phaser.js game isn’t), but they should show the progress you’ve made as a software engineer.

This means if you say you know React, you should have at least one React app in your portfolio. If you don’t have work experience as a developer, a portfolio of at least three projects is critical. These also shouldn’t be tutorials — get creative! The more fun the project is to you, the more work you’ll put into it. And the more passionate you’ll sound when you describe it to your interviewer. (Bonus points if you make your own portfolio website too!).

You should also be ready to discuss your project’s strengths and weaknesses with an interviewer. Several of my interviewers pulled up my Github and asked me to walk through my code with them. I definitely fumbled the first time this happened, since it had been weeks since I had looked at the code! Preparation is key.

Afterwards, I made sure I could navigate around my projects on Github and could talk about one tough challenge I solved in each project.

On the topic of Git, all my interviewers were impressed that I had experience using Git for version control and collaboration. I recommend familiarising yourself with Git + Github. If you’ve never used Git for team collaboration, I would definitely recommend making your first PR to an open-source project. Good Git habits also go a long way. One of my interviewers just stepped through my commit history to see how I “think,” and I was very glad it was a project with good commit messages.

2. Prepare for the technical interview

Image from Unsplash

There are lots of problems with the way tech interviews are done, but the fact is that for many companies white-boarding is here to stay. There are tons of great resources out there to practice this (Pramp, InterviewCake, and of course Cracking the Coding Interview to name a few).

I have to confess that I struggle with this a LOT — my mind tends to go blank under pressure. But the most important thing is that you practice thinking out loud. Complete awkward silence during an interview is the last thing you want, and the more you think out loud, the more the interviewer will know how far you’ve gotten (and be more able to help you, if they’re so inclined!).

I also just bought a whiteboard and dry erase marker so that I got used to working without a code editor (trust me, it’s jarring going from coding with the aid of a linter to a blank wall!).

Not all companies will ask you to whiteboard — but almost all will ask you some basic technical questions, which I call “trivia” for lack of a better term. For the positions I applied for, these questions usually focused on HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and web performance. There are also lots of online resources out there with lists of common questions — I just made a bunch of flashcards and practiced!

There are few topics with which any front-end or full-stack web developer should be comfortable. These include the event loop in JS, promises and async/await, the CSS box-model, CSS specificity weights, and ways to speed up the loading times of a web page. I’ve been asked questions about all of these more than once.

3. Define what kind of company or role you want

Image from Unsplash

In the beginning of my job search, I made the mistake of casting a very broad net, with a “beggars-can’t-be-choosers” mindset. But no matter where you land, you’re going to be devoting the majority of your time to work. What’s the point if you can barely muster any excitement about going to the office, or worse, dread it?

Making a list of priorities for your new job will help you a TON in staying in charge of the job-hunt, instead of letting the job-hunt run you. My top priorities were:

– Opportunities to solve challenging problems that interest me
– Good work/life balance
– Opportunities to work with a modern tech stack

These priorities led me to focus on jobs at companies where there was a healthy work culture (no working nights and weekends). I also wanted to used modern frameworks (sorry jQuery). They also had to have interesting missions that I could get behind (no thank you soulless corporations).

Also, remember that interviews are not just a time for the company to evaluate you. Often you’ll be able to find warning signs if the company is toxic or not a good fit. I encountered one company that issued a long coding challenge before even talking with candidates. Another company was working on a fascinating product, but my interviewers bristled when I brought up work/life balance. I could go on and on about all the warning signs I experienced.

Always, always ask questions during interviews. It shows that you are serious and interested, but can also help you detect these warning signs.

4. Stay organised and track everything

You have some killer projects under your belt, prepped for the technical interview, and have a target company in mind. Now it’s time to start applying for jobs. But holy moly, keeping track of dozens of applications can be a nightmare! I used to keep applications in folders on my computer, but it got unwieldy and cumbersome.

I ended up using Airtable instead to track all my applications. I used it to track the job listings, cover letters, any email or written communications, salary ranges, contacts, meeting logs, and more.

Here is a link to the template I used. (For all non-spreadsheet nerds out there, Airtable is like the love child of an Excel spreadsheet and a relational database.) One thing I love about Airtable is the ability to link between records in different tables. This allowed me to keep a thorough list of company contacts and individuals on the “People” page, and companies on another.

But why bother staying this organised?? Besides satisfying my love of spreadsheets, it makes it a lot easier to pinpoint strengths and weaknesses in your job search strategy.

For example, here is a breakdown of the state of my job applications after I had gotten the job:

Out of the 40 applications I sent, I received no response from ~50%, and job offers from 20%. Not bad considering the shot-gun approach I had for sending out applications. But, still not as high as I would have liked.

But if we take a look at the jobs that I had an opportunity to interview for:

Things look a lot better. I have a 50% offer rate. For a quarter of the jobs I interviewed for, I was still between rounds of interviews when I accepted my job offer. So they also might have turned into offers if I continued interviewing with them. I was only rejected by one company after interviewing (and that was likely because I laughed when I found out their average workweek was 60+ hours — a rather awkward interview!).

Thanks to my meticulous spreadsheet, I realised that as soon as I talked to an actual person at the company, my odds of getting an offer went way up. My interview game was mostly on-point, but my ability to get that interview was not so great. If my job search had lasted a few more months, I would have definitely switched up my strategy. I would have spent less time writing a ton of cover letters and applications, and more time networking and cultivating referrals.

That brings us to my next few points…

5. Write a meaningful resume and cover letter
Instead of writing lots of low-quality applications, spend more time writing highly-tailored applications. After all, a resume or cover letter with typos or grammatical errors will get rejected immediately. Resumes that are over one page, more often than not, get rejected immediately.

Generic cover letters might not get rejected immediately. However, in a sea of job applications, they really don’t do anything for you. Take a few minutes to visit the company website, and come up with a genuine reason why you’d like to work for that specific company. If you can’t, well, maybe that’s a sign it’s not the right company for you.

Either way, you should tailor your responses as much as possible. Avoid copying and pasting any templates you find online (hiring managers will Google it, I promise).

I could write a whole article on resumes alone. But in general, you should highlight the most relevant technical aspects of your previous jobs. For example, I used to work in nonprofit development and fundraising — nothing about the job title screams “web developer.” HOWEVER, I made sure to highlight my work on migrating data and managing fundraising software. In addition, I placed my top three most relevant portfolio projects at the top of my resume. Thus, my technical ability was demonstrated BEFORE my work history.

6. Network!

So, I am TERRIBLE at networking. I’m a shy introvert and find it hard to mingle in large-group settings. But even for me, it was possible. I dragged myself to local meetups, and sometimes I even had fun chatting with other techies.

The vast majority of the meetups didn’t result in any job leads, honestly, but the handful that did really paid off. In fact, the job that I have now is one that I learned about through someone I met at a meetup!

So I really, really encourage you to put yourself out there and attend meetups, lectures, and Slack groups for tech professionals. Even connecting with people/companies online via social media is helpful. The best jobs are often never even posted, so it’s important to try and build your professional network even as a newcomer to the industry.

And remember — this is a mutually beneficial exchange! Many companies offer referral bonuses to employees, so it is often in their interest to lend a helping hand too.

7. Avoid settling for less, and negotiate, negotiate, negotiate

Image from Unsplash

At nearly every position I interviewed for, at some point, I was asked what my target salary was. This was frustrating, as in general, the first one to name a number is in a weaker position for negotiations. At the same time, you don’t want to waste your time interviewing at a company that falls far below your desired salary.

After fumbling with this question a few times, I finally got my act together and conducted some salary research. I looked up salary estimates for developers with my level of experience in my city on websites like Payscale, as well as a salary survey from my local tech meetup. At larger companies, you can also look up salaries on Glassdoor, so you can be surer that your range more or less aligns with theirs.

So whenever I was asked what my salary requirements were, I said: “My target salary range is $X to $X. However, money is not the most important thing. I’m really looking for a company where I can continue to grow and contribute to the team.” This was basically my way of stating my target salary in the politest way I knew how. I stated a range to express my flexibility but made sure that the bottom of the range was something that I would be 100% happy with.

And once you do get an offer, never be afraid to negotiate. It never ever hurts to ask! You can also negotiate on other things besides salary. These can include vacation days, delaying your start-date, and sign-on bonuses, which can be more flexible than base-pay.

Thank you to all of you who made it this far! I hope that you found this helpful in your job search. My last piece of advice is this: don’t worry about just getting a job. There is a ton of demand out there for software engineers, even outside of the major tech hubs. If you’ve studied and prepared, you WILL be able to get a job.

Focus on getting the right job — a role that involves working in technologies that you love, at a company that treats its employees well. It might not always be possible to get both at your first tech job, but once you get your foot in the door, pursuing the next opportunity will get a lot easier. It only gets better from here.

Be kind to yourself, and take care. Good luck!

This article originally appeared on freeCodeCamp.

About HackerTrail

HackerTrail is a curated marketplace exclusively for IT talent ranging from developers to infrastructure specialists to data scientists. Using clever technology and gamification, HackerTrail connects the right candidate to the right job opportunities with top companies across Southeast Asia.

Get your first engineering job by checking out which companies are hiring for recent grads on www.hackertrail.com.

The Secret Hack For Hiring World Class Talent

95% of conversations between founders and managers in Tech revolve around how hard it is for them to attract and retain top talent.¹ It is fashionable to commiserate about the tussle for talent. Plus it is objectively hard to hire 10x people and keep them happily engaged for the long haul.

But all hope is not lost. During my tenure at great companies like Google, Facebook, Intuit & Aleph, I’ve conducted hundreds of interviews.² I’m here to tell you about a hack that will give you an unfair advantage and help you hire high output people better and faster than your opponents can hire them away.

The trick is to be so good at interviewing that you out-hire the chumps at Amazon and Facebook³. But to fully explain, I’m going to have to ask you to connect with your inner-MBA and picture a 2-by-2: on the X axis is plotted how good a person is at Interviewing (which is a skill, and a game-able skill at that). On the Y axis is how good they are at actually working, doing whatever it is you’re hiring them to do. I’ve plotted this 2 by 2 for you above.

To make sure we understand — the up-and-to-the-right of this quadrant is people who are good at both working and interviewing (of course they are good at it to different extends — there can be many dots scattered there).

Now that we have the lay of the land straight, let’s look at the four quadrants. If you interview often enough, you are bound to run into all four types.⁴

The Quadrant of Disaster (Good at Interviewing, Bad at Working)
People who are good at interviewing but bad at the actual work are an unmitigated disaster. Google can afford to hire them (just) and offload them later. You can’t. You have to be super vigilant about keeping them away. The more you make the interview practical and hands-on, by working on a micro-problem that represents the real work the candidate will have to excel at, the better. I’m also a big fan of trial periods, and references. Some combinations of these can help you avoid disaster, which you *must* do.

On to the next group:

The Quadrant of Irrelevance (Bad at both)
Now this one’s easy. These are the interviews you will cut short, going directly to the cubicle of whoever did the screening for that candidate. They really shouldn’t have gotten as far as an interview in the first place.

On the plus side, there is little chance you’ll hire them, so all you’ve lost is how long it took you to place this person squarely in the bottom left quadrant.

The Quadrant of Value (Bad at Interviewing, Good at Working)
This group is the point of the whole exercise.

Here you’ll find an extraordinary software engineer who is just not that adept at answering situational questions, or simply didn’t take the time to prepare in a very systematic way.

Hire them!

Now you may be tempted to raise all kinds of objections: shouldn’t we worry that they didn’t prepare? or will their poor communications skills at the interview hamper their work in the collaborative environment we all surely encourage in our teams? and so on and so on.

Yes. OK. Maybe. That’s not the point. These candidates can do well in the role. You can think of them as value stocks. It’s not about finding their faults. It’s about the kernel of ability that you can recognise in them. They may not have everything but that’s not a bad thing. If they had everything — they’d be in the next quadrant.

The Quadrant of Entitlement (Good at both)
Here we find superstars who are supremely skilled. They are very good at their job, and they are very good at communicating about it and answering questions that start with: “Tell me about a time when…”.

You want to hire them. But so does everyone else. They found time to interview with you wedged between getting offers from two or three strategic over-payers. If you can get them and keep them, say because they fell in love with your earth-shattering mission — great! But if not, they’ll just take the offer you can’t possibly match.

So now you understand why you’re better off hunting for talent in the quadrant of value, if you can. Let’s talk about how you do that.

How to Interview for Value
In order to hack the system, you must become exceptionally good at interviewing, good enough to tell the difference between someone who just interviews poorly, and someone who is not good enough. There are several tricks to do that: Ask smarter questions. Beat the “Tell me about a time when” crowd. Follow up well if the first answer is not satisfactory. Draw out introverts. Find a way to talk to the person their way.

Unfortunately there is no magic trick to becoming a sufficiently penetrating interviewer to be able to tell. But the same techniques you need anyway to filter out Disaster quadrant candidates, will also come in handy here. Have them do an exercise and sit with them while they do it. Put them on trial. Give them a project as a contractor. See what happens.

Above all, when you exit an interview, picture the 2-by-2. Try to place the candidate in the right quadrant, and if they are in the quadrant of value, pounce to hire them. In all likelihood you will win yourself a long-term high performer.


1. Also, 95% of confidently quotes statistics are made up on the spot.
2. Mostly for product manager, but also many engineers, tech leads, managers, data scientist and even the odd biz dev.
3. They are of course not chumps. They just don’t have to hustle like you do.
4. Although not in equal amounts — any decent screening process will filter out most people from the bottom left side.

This article originally appeared on Hackernoon.

About HackerTrail

HackerTrail is a curated marketplace exclusively for IT talent ranging from developers to infrastructure specialists to data scientists. Using clever technology and gamification, HackerTrail connects the right candidate to the right job opportunities with top companies across Southeast Asia.

Looking to grow your tech team more efficiently? Post your tech jobs for free* and lock-in interviews with the right tech talent on HackerTrail.com today! Want to find out how to optimise your job postings to receive top profiles of pre-curated, responsive candidates? Get in touch with our Customer Success team at support@hackertrail.com.

*For a limited period only till March 2018.

Why Should I Learn Android?

You have firmly decided that you want to learn to create applications for Android using Kotlin. You are super motivated to create your first application.

Or are you?

If only it were that simple. There is that lingering feeling in your heart: “Perhaps learning iOS is better?” Were you thinking about Web and Desktop application development yet?

Choices, choices — everywhere!

Even if you’ve decided on Android, perhaps, you are still not sure what is the best starting point: Kotlin or Java.

There are a lot of comparisons between iOS and Android development out there, and they all talk about (if you haven’t seen those yet, go and search on the internet — there are plenty of those):

  • size of the market
  • jobs prospects
  • revenue gaining opportunities
  • development tooling
  • knowledge transferability (how the knowledge you learn on one platform can help (or cannot) on the other platform)
  • device fragmentation and many others

Let’s imagine that you have identified a benefit from one side, like Android’s market size being much more significant.

Next moment, you find a downside that either will cancel out the benefit or will make you spend a lot of effort to cancel out that itself (like device fragmentation and revenue levels).

So the choice is pretty tricky and not apparent.

I know how you feel right now. I’ve been there when I was trying to choose what mobile platform I wanted to learn first. It is frustrating and painful.

But hey, if you have already made a firm decision — great! Read on, and you will not be disappointed. Because what is to come — will surprise you.

In programming, when things go about learning, all of the above matters quite a bit.

But not as much as the learning benefit that you get.

Learning a Programming Language in a Day? — Impossible!

Or is it?

Did you know that a programmer who is an experienced learner, can learn a programming language in one or two days? And get comfortable with the platform, bunch of libraries, and a framework in another one or two days?

Sounds shocking, isn’t it?

And no, I’m not trying to sound arrogant here. These are actual people, who I know. And they can pull that off. Moreover, they can join a team that has an entirely unfamiliar set of technologies, and be productive on their first day.

They are not some geniuses or super-talented people.

They do share one observable trait though: they all know five and more programming languages, and they are proficient with a bunch of different libraries and frameworks from these languages.

These developers can start being productive with a technology they’ve never seen before in a matter of hours.

For that, they need access to someone already proficient in this technology. While working on some feature, experienced learners would ask a few specific questions to the experts, so that they can fill in the blanks in their existing knowledge.

So two to three questions and they are already ahead of most learners by far. As far as by months and years of experience.

That sounds amazing and daunting at the same time.

Perhaps, you are thinking “That is not possible!” Or maybe you’re feeling down because you can’t learn as they do.


The point is that, when you will be able to command (comfortably developing production-ready applications) roughly five and more programming languages (that are not very alike), and about the same amount of different frameworks, then this skill of rapid learning is yours to take.

In fact, it will already be yours. And you’ll be just like these “talented” (more like hard-working) developers.

To get there, you’ll need to accept the “Life of Learning” into your heart. You’ll need to become a lifelong learner.

Just like them, you will want never to miss an opportunity to learn.

There is a weird behaviour of the library? — You go out of your way to read the documentation and sources. And you debug and use print statements.

You do all of that until you understand precisely why it behaves this way.

Perhaps, you catch a glimpse of a new concept, but made it work without fully understanding it? — go there, read about it, play around with it, until you have a full understanding of it.

Do you have a bug in front of you, and somehow your last code change made it fixed? But you still don’t understand the bug? — You don’t stop there.

You figure out why it was not working, and why your fix worked.

Sometimes, you’ll need to create a tiny application just to play around with a single new concept. Use it in all the forms and for different purposes, until you’re confident that you got this.

I hear you’re saying: “One day? No matter how much learning you do — it is just not possible!”

Heck, it takes months and sometimes years to learn a programming language!

I know, right?

That is true. It takes so much time to learn even a single concept in programming.

But it takes a tiny bit less time to learn your second concept. Especially, if that concept has some connection to the one you’ve just learned before.

But it all checks out.

Science Behind Learning Programming Language in a Day

In Human Cognition and Learning, there are few theories on how people process information and learn. These all theories are significant and complement each other.

There is one theory that contributes to this effect of learning a programming language in a day.

It is the Schema Theory developed by the respected psychologist Richard C. Anderson (Anderson 1977, 1978; Shallert 1982).

You can dig into these white papers in your own time, but let me quickly give you an overview of most important parts here.

The main concept in the schema theory is Schema. It represents generic knowledge. A schema includes slots for all the components and features included in it.

One schema can contain other schemata (plural of schema). Essentially, schemata are embedded within others at different levels of abstraction. But relationships between those are not necessarily hierarchical (like a tree in programming), but more like webs (bi-directional graphs in programming).

Let me give you an example of what could be person’s schema of a “variable”:

I’m pretty sure there is a lot one can add to that schema. You can continue expanding this schema endlessly.

At some point, you will even escape domain of programming and start talking about normal things in life and nature. Or perhaps, you can connect it to mathematics or linguistics domain. And so on.

Why do you think I’m so obsessed with cognition and learning?

I’ve spent a few weeks digging through papers to understand how a person can learn faster and better. Especially, I was interested in formal and abstract concepts’ learning.

I did it because I’m creating a few Kotlin and Android tutorials and I encourage you to become a member of iwillteachyoukotlin so that you can receive an early preview version of my “Ultimate Tutorial: Getting Started With Kotlin on Android.”

Anyways. Schemata like that are not just drawn on the paper by a learning student (not saying that you couldn’t — it might be a good idea).

They are formed naturally in one’s brain when individual gains more an more experience and concept understanding.

Schemata change all the time. Even right now, while you are reading this same text, your schemata are being expanded and re-structured (unless you already know everything here).

The most important point is that schemata like that are much more than a sum of its parts. Whenever your brain makes a meaningful connection between two schemata, you gain insight.

It is like having a breakthrough.

Did you ever have an “A-ha!” moment like: “A-ha! This thing over here is just like that other thing I know everything about but with such small difference?”

This insight might not be 100% correct. But it doesn’t have to. Such insights are something that makes you able to apply an otherwise wholly new concept quickly.

So here is the deal. The more schemata you have readily available to connect concepts to, the faster you’ll learn these concepts. Some of these schemata don’t even have to be from the domain of programming.

For example, if you are learning how double-linked list works, you might connect that concept to a schema of how cars are connected in the train.

Then you can understand all the operations with a double-linked list (such as insert and remove) as an operation being performed on the train cars.

And it will all check out.

Kind of.

Obviously, such connections between schemata are just what we call metaphors.

They give us meaningful and useful models for the understanding of a particular concept. But they have edge cases when concepts differ from these models.

So it makes sense to discover these edge cases, and learn how the concept behaves in these.

That, my dear reader, is exactly what experienced learners do when they ask precise questions about new programming language or framework to someone already knowledgeable in it.

They probe those holes in their models. They fill in the blanks in their schemata.

Alright, this is all great, but what does it have to do with the question whether you should learn Android or Kotlin for that matter?

Or should I ask the real question?

Why Should I Learn?

See what I did there?

I’ve changed the question and made Android, or Kotlin irrelevant.

So should you learn?

According to the schema theory, the answer is a definite “Yes.”

You’ll need all the learning and all the schemata that you can get to achieve your life goals. So learning every day and at every opportunity should not even be a question. That is just what you do.

The simple reason to do it always is that the more you do it, the easier and faster it gets.

My famous phrase “learning is a skill that can and must be trained” shines here. The more you learn — the more schemata you have and more interconnected they are.

As a result, it gets easier and faster to learn new concepts — to expand said schemata.

That is all unless you don’t want to learn anything in your life again. Sorry to break it to you, but as soon as you want to achieve anything you haven’t done yet, you’ll have to learn and grow.

From the fact that you are reading this, I firmly believe that you want to learn.

That makes this question answered, you want, and you should learn.

What about Android?

Well, no matter how much you weigh the upsides and downsides of all the different platforms, you won’t arrive at the decisive solution. It depends a lot on what kind of application do you want to create, what business you are trying to build, and what is your market.

If you already have all that information, you should be able to make a choice.

If you are just looking at what new technology to get in your toolbelt as a software developer, then it doesn’t matter as long as it is something that is widely used. Android is.

What about Kotlin?

These two years and a half, Android community has seen a rapid increase in Kotlin usage. Every single software developer that I’ve met or been working with were super happy about Kotlin.

They’ve converted company’s application to Kotlin as soon as possible too.

Some of them made a conversion even before the stable 1.0 release of Kotlin. Which was a bold move, but it was worth it.

Moreover, Google and other big companies and communities are making their bet on Kotlin.

If you are reading this, you’ve perhaps already made a choice. If I were you today, I would do the same — learn Kotlin.

This article originally appeared on Hackernoon.

About HackerTrail

HackerTrail is a curated marketplace exclusively for IT talent ranging from developers to infrastructure specialists to data scientists. Using clever technology and gamification, HackerTrail connects the right candidate to the right job opportunities with top companies across Southeast Asia.

Looking for an opportunity in Android development? Check out top companies in Singapore hiring for Android developers now on www.hackertrail.com.

The Best Interview Questions We’ve Ever Published

Hiring is by far the biggest concern we hear from founders. Finding the right people to work at your company is high-stakes. Poor performers can take a catastrophic toll on your success. Most seasoned CEOs say that founders should be spending as much as 50% of their time early on getting the right talent in the door. Yet, the actual hiring process tends to remain more of an art than a science for startups — regardless of all the structure and rubrics they try to impose.


This makes the questions you choose to ask during interviews of paramount importance. You only get a narrow sliver of time with each candidate, so you need to maximize your learning per minute. How do you do that?

Over the years here at the Review, we’ve collected and aggregated hundreds of interview questions recommended by top leaders in every field. Our goal in this piece is to present the very best questions we’ve heard for hiring incredible performers — with deep dives into interviewing technical and product candidates in particular. We hope having them all in one place will make your future hiring that much easier.

1. Ask these questions to test for the 7 most important high-performer attributes.

As Co-founder and CEO of KoruKristen Hamilton has long worked to bridge the gap between graduation and employment, and place people in jobs where they’ll excel. Working with candidates who lack real-world experience has had a surprising byproduct — she now has a crystal clear sense of the skills and traits that make people great performers. She’s identified seven characteristics that, taken together, best translate into someone killing it at their job. These traits transcend department or career stage, and they apply to entry-level engineers and marketing executives alike:

  • Grit
  • Rigor
  • Impact
  • Teamwork
  • Ownership
  • Curiosity
  • Polish

To test for each of these qualities during a standard interview, Hamilton has curated very specific questions—

For grit, ask:
Tell us about a time in your career that you wanted something so badly that you were unstoppable in pursuing it. What obstacles did you overcome to get there?

As you listen to the answers to those questions, pay close attention to both the tasks and the duration described. “Try to get a sense of how long that person can stick it out. How long are they going to beat their head against a problem?”

For rigor, ask:
Tell us about a time you used data to make a decision.

Look for details about the complexity of the data and how the thinking happened, rather than focusing on them immediately getting to the right answer.

For impact, ask:
1) Tell us about a time you had a measurable (read: quantitative) impact on a job or an organization. 

2) Tell us about a person or organization that you admire. Why do you think they have made an important impact?

You’re looking for signs that the candidate understands the larger picture, and that they can speak to the importance of making trade-offs and prioritizing appropriately.

For teamwork, ask:
1) When working on a team, what’s hardest for you? 
2) What about a time you worked on a difficult team? What was your role and experience? Do you know where the other people involved were coming from? Tell us about the situation from their perspective.
3) What makes you happiest and most effective when working with others?

You want to use their answers to measure EQ and ability to empathize. Are they able to acknowledge and understand the experiences of those around them?

For ownership, ask:
Tell us about a time you experienced what you perceive to be an injustice.

“Regardless of their answer, empathize with the unfairness,” Hamilton says. “Say, ‘Are you kidding? That’s crazy. What a jerk.’ True owners will immediately respond with something like, ‘Yeah, but I recognized it wasn’t worth my time to complain about it.’ They won’t buy in and double down on venting or complaining.”

For curiosity, ask:
What’s the last thing you really geeked out about?

You’re looking for them to say something they then obsessively taught themselves about. “If someone doesn’t have that quality — if they don’t need to learn every single detail of the topic in front of them — they’re probably not going to reflect that level of engagement in their work, either.”

For polish:
1) See how they handle themselves when you interject or interrupt them in the conversation.

2) Do they send a thank you note shortly after the conversation?

You’re looking for calm confidence when they might otherwise be flustered or thrown off their game. Gratitude following an interview indicates humility and a sense of professional standards that will translate into their work.

For more on how to ask these questions and suss out the 7 traits for success, read the rest of Kristen Hamilton’s interview here.

2. This is the anatomy of the perfect technical interview.

As the former Technology VP for both Amazon and Zynga, Neil Roseman‘s interviewed hundreds of people and believes every phase of the process needs to be meticulously designed to drill deep into skill sets, actual accomplishments, culture fit and leadership potential.

In his opinion, great interview questions focus on specific examples of the candidate’s unique contributions, actions, decisions and impact. Ideally, you want to:

Probe: give me an example…

Dig: who, what, where, why and how on every accomplishment or project

Differentiate: we vs. I, good vs. great, exposure vs. expertise, aprticipant vs. owner/leader, 20 yard line vs. 80 yard line

“I look for past projects and accomplishments that seem to have enough weight and depth that I can apply STAR questions — STAR stands for situation, task, actions and results.” Roseman subscribes heavily to an approach called Behavioral Interviewing, in which STAR questions are a staple. They include:

  • What’s the background of what you were working on?
  • What tasks were you given?
  • What actions did you take?
  • What results did you measure?

When it comes to soft skills and culture fit, Roseman is a big fan of one question — he asks everyone, no matter the position: Do you consider yourself lucky?

“I’m looking for the people who embody the phrase ‘fortune favors the prepared,’” says Roseman. “It’s the willingness to be ready and take advantage of every opportunity that presents itself. At a startup, this is particularly valuable.”

For more questions and advice on how to structure interviews from Roseman, read on here.

3. Identify ‘Adaptable Leaders’ with this list of questions.

According to Anne Dwane, former CEO of Zinch, CBO of Chegg and now Co-founder of Village Global, the most important quality any startup leader (current or aspiring) can have is adaptability. And the most defining attribute of adaptable leaders is who they surround themselves with. They are often on teams with other flexible, resourceful, innovative people. Whether now or in the future, Dwane recommends a certain hiring framework to help you identify self-motivated individuals who will enrich your team’s aptitude for learning.

“The most powerful way to construct a job description is to clearly communicate that unyielding, consistent learning is a core part of the job,” she says.

After making introductions, Dwane begins with a pointed two-part question: What motivates you and what do you want to do next?

Most candidates deflect the question by repeating their resume. “They try to add to it but it doesn’t demonstrate what I’m looking for which is: active listening, the ability to answer the question, and self-awareness.”

She then asks these questions to identify whether a candidate is an adaptable learner:

  • What have you started?
  • How would you describe yourself in your own words?
  • How would a colleague describe you in three adjectives?
  • What current trends are you seeing in your profession?
  • What new things have you tried recently?

The last two questions are strong indicators that your candidate is self-motivated to explore and embrace new trends, routines, and technology. Take note of this as a critical demonstration of self-learning in your interview. Dwane advises probing more about the new process he or she introduced, why it intrigued them, and the results of implementing it.

As for homework: “I love to give people an opportunity to give a compelling presentation on a topic they care about,” Dwane says. “That’s the game. If they look pained while they are doing it or don’t enjoy the assignment, then you know someone isn’t going to have a gameful approach. You want someone who is going to enjoy talking about the topic and putting the presentation together.”

For more on how to spot, hire and nurture adaptable leaders, read more from Dwane here.

4. These questions are designed to bust bureaucracy before it starts.

As VP of Engineering at Airbnb with an impressive track record behind him, Mike Curtis has seen the dire impact that bureaucracy can have on a company. In his experience, hiring well to begin with is one of the most powerful antidotes to paralyzing bureaucracy. You want to recruit and onboard people you know you can trust, so you that you don’t have to set up a bunch of newfangled process just to ensure productivity and quality.

To hire specifically for this type of trustworthiness, Curtis recommends allocating at least 45 minutes to an interview that is entirely about culture and character. Diversity of backgrounds and opinions is championed at Airbnb, so ‘Culture fit’ is about finding people who share the high-performance work ethic and belief in the company’s mission. If people don’t share your conviction in your company’s success, they aren’t a fit.

At Airbnb, Curtis found that these four moves truly extract the most value out of this type of interview:

Let them shine first. For the first 15 minutes of your culture interview, let a candidate describe a project they’re particularly proud of. The idea here is to get a sense of what excites them — is it technical challenges, for example, or perhaps personal interactions? “Try to suss out what gives this person energy,” Curtis says.

Then make them uncomfortable. The other side of that coin is that you want to learn how candidates react when they’re not excited, too. Ask them about difficult experiences, or moments when they were somehow not in control. Some of Curtis’s go-to questions are:“Describe a time you really disagreed with management on something. What happened?” and “Think of a time you had to cut corners on a project in a way you weren’t proud of to make a deadline. How did you handle it?” This exercise is all about reactions. “Does the candidate start pointing fingers and say, ‘This is why I couldn’t get my job done, this is why this company is so screwed up’? Or do they start talking about how they understood another person’s point of view and collaborated on a solution?”

Calibrate your results. It’s easy to see if someone nailed a coding challenge. It’s a lot harder to get comparable reads on candidates when you’re working with a group of different interviewers. It takes time to get on the same page, but you can help the process along. “We get all our interviewers together in a room and have them review several packets at the same time to help expedite the process of getting to some kind of calibration on what’s important to us,” Curtis says. Essentially, try to make the subjective as objective as you can.

Watch out for signs of coaching. If a candidate seems to have uncanny command of your internal language, take note. The public domain is exploding with tips and tricks from past interviewees and journalists. “Especially as your company starts getting more popular or well-known, there’s going to be a lot of stuff about you out on the Internet. If people start quoting things to you that they obviously read in an article or something that is your own internal language, they were probably coached. They either read something or they talked to somebody who works at the company,” Curtis says. That’s not to say you should reject them immediately, just don’t let yourself be swayed.

For more from Curtis on not only how to hire, but onboard and train new employees to head bureaucracy off at the pass, read more of our interview with him here.

5. Recruiting practices and questions for hiring ‘Originals’.

Bestselling author and Wharton professor Adam Grant has spent years researching and interviewing people he refers to as ‘originals’. In his book of same name, he shows how to identify, foster and nurture nonconformists — and the brilliant benefits they bring to their work and the organizations they join. Here are the questions he suggests asking to recognize and recruit them in a startup setting:

Tell me about the last time that you encountered a rule in an organization that you thought made no sense. What was the rule? What did you do and what was the result? “You’re not excited about candidates who just let it go. But you also don’t want somebody who says, ‘Yeah I saw this rule, marched into my boss’ office, argued and quit over it,” says Grant. “What you’re looking for is somebody who says, ‘I saw this rule that I thought didn’t make sense. I first did some research to figure out how it was created and why it was this way. I spoke to a couple of people who’d been at the organization longer than I had, asking if they knew what it was initially set out to do. If they didn’t know, I reached out to some people who have influence and sought their advice on ways forward to improve the rule and made a few suggestions on how. I got tasked to lead the committee to change the rule. We made a change and here’s the evidence that we had an impact.’ That’s an original who’s learned to be a tempered radical.”

Why shouldn’t I hire you? “In Originals, I talk about founder Rufus Griscom, who pitched his startup Babble to investors by listing three reasons not to invest in his business. Sarah Robb O’Hagan once opened her job application the same way, describing why she shouldn’t be hired. In one breath, she outlined which qualifications she didn’t meet, but also why she was suited to do it anyway,” says Grant. “She challenges the job description and shows that she can bring something different than what a company thinks it needs. Part of why this worked is that, in one fell swoop, she shows extreme awareness: not only of her abilities, but also of the proposed requirements — and why some don’t really matter.”

It’s your first few months on the job. What questions would you first ask and to whom? Presidential candidates are often asked what they plan to accomplish in their first 100 days in office, and hiring managers tend to evaluate candidates for leadership positions similarly. “This idea came from one of my collaborators, Reb Rebele, an applied positive psychology expert who leads many of our hiring projects,” says Grant. “He observed that when new people are coming in, their first few months should be as much about learning as doing. Originals distinguish themselves by asking questions that no one else has thought to ask, and posing them to people who have fresh perspectives to offer. Ask candidates what questions they’d want to ask in their first two months on the job, and who their ideal sources would be. Listen for examples of open-ended questions — rather than just yes/no or testing-my-own-thinking styles of inquiry — as well as a willingness to draw from and challenge many sources of information.”

How would you improve our interview process? “I find this question powerful for a couple of reasons. One, it’s an opportunity to see if they’re willing to speak up. Two, it’s a window into their thinking process. When they encounter something that they don’t like, do they have the instinct not only to raise why it may be broken but also suggest how it can be better?” asks Grant. “It’s a chance to learn about their tendency to share opinions that might be unpopular but beneficial. It gives you a little bit of perspective on their ability and inclination to improve their environment.”

For more on fostering an environment where original talents can truly thrive, read more of our exclusive interview with Adam Grant.

6. Interview questions for hiring the best product managers.

Todd Jackson has led product organizations across some of the best companies in tech, from Google to Facebook to Twitter. Now VP of Product at Dropbox, he’s worked with hundreds of product managers — and hired dozens — over the course of his career. In every product manager interview, he recommends making sure a candidate fits the following criteria:

  • Intellectual ability
  • Communication
  • Leadership
  • Effectiveness within the company culture
  • Knows that users wants
  • Strategic/ Analytical Thinking
  • Technical background
  • Entrepreneurial spirit

Below, Jackson lists the questions he’s found to be the most valuable when interviewing product management candidates in person, what he believes good answers sound like, and the responses that should give you pause.

QUESTION 1 (Product Sense): Name a product that you think is exceptionally well-designed – ideally a non-electronic product. Tell me what makes it well-designed. (Testing intellectual ability, communication, and whether they know what customers want.)

WEAK ANSWER: Something superficial or cliché. “If they don’t go into a lot of detail and say something fluffy like, ‘My electric toothbrush is so great, it’s won a bunch of design awards,’ that’s a strike against them.”

GOOD ANSWER: First, the candidate will get excited to talk about a product they admire, and it will show. “One of the best answers I heard was about the Micro Kickboard scooter for kids – I remember the candidate getting really excited telling me all the details: ‘I recently noticed how thoughtfully designed my niece’s scooter is. It’s the mini scooter that you see a lot of kids riding lately. It’s got two big polyurethane wheels in front and a third small one in the back, so it goes over cracks and bumps smoothly and prevents faceplants. Also, instead of handlebars that turn, it has a ‘lean-to-steer’ design which is really intuitive for kids, teaching them how to steer by shifting their weight. And it’s also just super easy to assemble and disassemble—basically just two parts that click together.’”

Particularly strong candidates will look at the product from the user’s perspective and talk about the problem it solves. In the above example, “the candidate spoke about how the users of the product (kids) are actually different than the customers of the product (parents) and all the product design and marketing ramifications of that, which I though was quite insightful.” The candidate will have a lot to say and will be very enthusiastic as they speak, especially about the very small details that provide a finished and delightful experience. “That’s how you know the difference between a passionate product person and someone who just wants a job.”

To take it up a notch, you can follow up with the question: “What would you improve about it?” or “If you were the CEO of the company that produced this product, and you wanted to sell 10X as many, what would you do?” Look for educated guesses or reasonable assumptions about the market for the product, who the target buyer is, how the market could expand, the constraints of production, etc. Those are the components that should drive the next best step for the product, it shouldn’t just be a random idea.

Note: It can be easy for PM candidates to prepare for this question. You can make sure they’re thinking on their feet by constraining the space they choose from. For instance, the example must be a physical or non-electronic product or one they have at home.

QUESTION 2 (Technical Skill): In as much detail as possible, tell me what happens when I type yahoo.com into my browser and hit enter. (Testing intellectual ability, communication skills and technical background.)

WEAK ANSWER: Their response might be rudimentary or confused. You could get an answer like, “I see the Yahoo homepage, right?”

GOOD ANSWER: Something like, “Your browser generates an HTTP request. A DNS lookup gets the IP address of the host. The server receives the request, checks for cookies to see if you’re logged in, and eventually generates an HTTP response containing the content you should see. Your browser receives the response, parses the DOM and starts to render the page. CSS, images and Javascript are loaded to modify the page.”

The strongest candidates can answer this question in good detail, taking about five minutes to walk you through the process. This is a good level-setting question for product managers so you can see where they stand technically. They don’t have to hit every single action that happens. Watch out especially for candidates who say they’ve programmed in the last few years but are clueless about this question. That’s definitely a red flag.

If you think that candidates may have prepared for this type of question, you can mix it up by drilling them on specifics at various junctures of their response. Or you can ask them similar questions about the fundamentals of iOS or Android programming if they have a lot of mobile experience.

QUESTION 3 (Leadership): Tell me about a time when you disagreed with engineers and designers on your team. What did you do? (Tests communication, leadership and effectiveness within the company culture)

WEAK ANSWER: There will be allusion to finger-pointing, or mention of blame. The tone of their response will be generally negative, and you might see a dip in self awareness, complemented by a spike in defensiveness. They’ll be more concerned with smoothing over their role in the confrontation than sticking to the facts.

GOOD ANSWER: They’ll demonstrate leadership by diagnosing root causes of the conflict. They’ll show humility. “One candidate told me she couldn’t agree with her engineering and design team on one feature — they all wanted to build it and she didn’t. She said, ‘Okay let’s time-bound it. We’ll do the idea, but if it doesn’t pay off in four weeks, we’re going to change it to this other idea.’ I thought that was a great solution to avoid gridlock.” The candidate knew when to push back and when to disagree and commit.

A candidate who ends their response by saying what they learned from the situation and how they applied these lessons going forward should get serious bonus points.

QUESTION 4: What are all the implications of self-driving cars? (Tests strategic and analytical thinking and entrepreneurial spirit.)

WEAK ANSWER: A response that is boring, cursory, or disorganized. They might throw out some obvious answers, like unemployment for taxi drivers, or self-driving big rigs. But they won’t go deeper into the ripple effects in other industries that will create a whole new wave of businesses. They’ll stay in the inner ring of cause and effect.

GOOD ANSWER: Showing vision and imagination, they’ll paint you a picture of what could happen. Maybe car seats will be arranged in a circle around a coffee table! No one will own cars anymore, which means no one will have garages anymore. “I got an amazing answer to this one the other day: ‘Google will open-source the software for self-driving cars so that any manufacturer can build them, the way they offer Android,’” says Jackson. “I have no idea if that will be true or not, but I thought it was pretty creative.”

Most importantly, the answer should come packaged in some sort of organizational framework. Maybe they’ll say how life will change for drivers, and then the auto industry, and then urban planning. Ideas should be presented within themes, not as a free-association jumble.

QUESTION 5: What aspect of product management do you find the least interesting?

WEAK ANSWER: A PM who complains about doing nitty gritty work (e.g. taking notes, scheduling meetings) and implies that these things are beneath them.

GOOD ANSWER: A great PM understands that they need to lead from the back, and they relish their role as an unsung hero. The candidate doesn’t have to say they love the tough nitty-gritty stuff, but they should get points for acknowledging the grungy parts of PM work and why it’s important to be in service to the team and mission their supporting.

QUESTION 6: Why do you want to work at this company or on this product?

WEAK ANSWER: “X industry/company is getting a lot of buzz. Everyone is talking about it. It’s really hot right now.”

GOOD ANSWER: Clearly passionate about the industry, company or project. Look for specific ideas and plans for what they’d want to do and how they want to make things better. This indicates that they really did their homework and have thought deeply about the company. In particular, keep your eyes peeled for long-term thinking, which indicates commitment to the industry or type of product. For example, is the person talking about what robots or drones will look like in 5 or 10 years? Or do they just talk about how robots and drones are exciting now? Here are some examples:

I’ve always wanted to work in X industry, I’ve done Y and Z in the last couple years to really prepare for this career move.

Company X has a huge competitive advantage because of Y.

I have been using product X for a while, and I really like feature Y. I think feature Z could really improve growth/engagement/monetization and here’s why…

You want people who are excited about the space, not just this one opportunity.

For more on finding, vetting and closing the best product management candidates, read more from Todd Jackson here.

This article originally appeared on First Round Review.

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