Developer interviews in 2023/2024 - Asking questions and why it matters

This post is a short summary of everything I’ve learnt about asking questions at interviews for mid-level developer positions in late 2023. It’s been an interesting year for the tech industry. Companies have been gradually annoucing redudancies over 2022/2023, and with the start of a new financial year on the horizon; companies will soon begin to post job openings. With all that behind us, and interview season on the horizon, lets take a look at the segment of the interview process where you’re given the opportunity to ask questions to the person you’re being interviewed by.

I’ve had multiple interviews over the last 3 months (some successful, some unsuccessful). All of them were multi-stage interviews, where I found myself chatting to different people with different backgrounds inside the organisation. A majority of the interviews have been held by panels. In each one of these interviews, there is usually a portion at the end where the interviewer(s) will give you the chance to ask questions.

From my point of view, the current state of HR/Recruitment practice seems to place a lot of emphasis on this part of the interview process. From recent experience; it’s a more consistent feature of developer interviews than technical tests. Meaning, it’s fair to assume that most interviews you attend will be multi-stage interviews, with each one of those stages featuring a segment where you’ll get the opportunity to ask some questions, whereas technical tests generally feature 1-2 segments of the interview process at most.

With that in mind it’s probably a good idea to have some questions ready for when you next get called for an interview. However I do also think you could breeze through the interview process without asking any questions at all; assuming you’re skills are up to scratch.

What this blog post is not about

This post is not going to provide you with a magic list of questions to ask at every interview to garuntee wins. That question set doesn’t exist.

1 - Ask your own questions

This portion of the interview is a low-key way to demonstrate to the interviewer whats important to you. And let’s be honest, the rest of the process is really about satisfying their requirements. Asking questions is your chance to try to understand how they think about the aspects of working as a developer thats important to you.

For example, if you care about career progression. You could ask questions like:

“When was the last time a collegue was promoted from the role I have applied for?”.

“What progression opportunities does the company offer people working in the role I have applied for?”

If you want to try and see if there’s a burnout culture you could ask:

“What’s the average tenure of a developer at this company?”

Understand whats important to you in your next role, and ask genuine and open questions to try and get some answers to your questions. The information will go a long way here, especially if you find yourself having to make a decision about more than one job offer.

2 - Probably don’t start with salary negotiations; But be prepared for them

One thing I’ve noticed is how salary discussions are now a part of almost every interview process. Its pretty common to be asked about salary expectations in the first-phase interview at the moment (gee, anyone would think they would just post the salary on the job posting and save themselves some time… right?).

A couple of years ago my experience was that salaries normally weren’t mentioned until the process was over (probably because they were posted on the job ad). If I had to hazard a guess its a response to the late 2021/2022 “hot market” we saw as a result of the great reset of 2020/2021. At it’s peak in the UK the going rate for a mid-level JavaScript dev with ~2 years of xp was about £45,000gbp. I’m going to hazard a guess this is only mildly connection to companies annoucing waves of redundancies over the last year as the wheels came of that bus.

Starting the process with salary discussions is probably going to be a turn-off for most interviewers, so I would personally excercise some caution as to when you bring it up, but fully expect them to be surfaced early on.

Salary is an important aspect of working as a developer for me, as it is most people. I manage this segment of the interview process by defining a base rate thats in line with the current going market rates for a developer with a similiar skill-set/CV to me. These numbers change on a yearly basis, so it’s probably a good idea to do some research as soon as you’re looking for a job.

Giving your base pay expectation, knowing its in line with current market rates gives you the opportunity to see the employers hand when it comes to renumeration. You can relax knowing the number you’ve given is sane and in line with reality. So now its a question of “How much around the current market rate do they think your skills and experience are worth?”.

3 - Ask questions around the company’s product roadmap

This is generally a good question to ask anyone who is interviewing you. If you’re asking someone in HR during the earlier “culture check” stage of the interview then the answer will tell you how far around the company news around the roadmap is communicated. A company that cares about their mission is going to communicate it to all members of staff. If you’re asking the CEO/CTO or another exectutive level, then its a good chance to find out how invested in the company’s mission that person is. If you’re asking a developer, you get your chance to deep dive into the upcoming projects and technologies you need to be up to scratch with.

If everyone is aware and excited about the roadmap, it tell’s me I’m potentially joining a company with a solid mission for the next few years, that the position they are hiring into is going to be well utilised, and I get an understanding for the kind of things I might find myself working on at a higher level.

Asking questions around the roadmap demonstrates your interested in working for a company that has direction. Peronsally for me, I want to work for companies that have an exciting roadmap ahead, with a mix of greenfield and legacy projects, with plenty of variety.

4 - Ask questions about what the first 3-6 months in the job looks like

I’m generally keen to find out what the reality of the job I am applying for is going to look like. And this is very rarely accurately captured in the job description. Most job descriptions at the moment are reserved for claiming that you’ll be joining “the fastest growing technology company in the UK” (really… all of them?) and then going on to list the same personal soft skills and techincal skills as every other job advert that recruits for an X-type of developer. sigh.

Most interview processes will see you speaking to someone you’re going to be working closely with, usually a senior member of the team.

Ask the interviewer about what the early months of the role with look like. What expectations they have around their new team member. The kind of technologies and technical concepts they’d like thier new teammate to be familiar with.

The information you can gain here will be valuable in helping you build a picture of what to exepct should you be successful and accept an offer to work for them.

Summary - Why ChatGPT thinks its a good idea to ask questions when you go for an interview

  1. Demonstrates Interest and Engagement: It shows that you are genuinely interested in the role and the company, indicating your enthusiasm and proactive approach.
  2. Gathers Important Information: It helps you gather essential information about the job, company culture, expectations, and growth opportunities, aiding in informed decision-making.
  3. Assesses Fit: By asking questions, you can assess whether the company and the position align with your career goals and values.
  4. Highlights Critical Thinking: It allows you to showcase your critical thinking and analytical skills, as well as your ability to engage in a professional dialogue.
  5. Leaves a Positive Impression: Thoughtful questions can leave a lasting, positive impression on the interviewer, setting you apart from other candidates.