Bootcamp Prep Answering Non Technical...

You’re interviewing for a technical position, but that doesn’t mean that only your technical merits will get you the job offer. You’re likely still going to have conversations where the focus is not on your technical skills but on your interpersonal and communication skills. Employers want to figure out if you’re a person they want to spend 40+ hours with every week. They’re looking for a person who is confident, can connect with people and can create a narrative of their history and background that is easy to understand.

Generally we have found that if you prepare answers to the below non-technical questions, that you’ll be ready for most interview questions that are thrown your way

  1. Tell me about yourself. (Also called “30-second pitch” or “elevator pitch”) Most important to nail down
  2. Why do you want to be a developer?
  3. What are you looking for (in a job, in your next step)?
  4. Walk me through your career history/background
  5. What have you built?
  6. What did you learn in this online program/How was your experience in Flatiron School’s online program?

Non-technical interview questions are always asked by HR professionals and recruiters. However, you can expect technical leaders who interview you to ask these sorts of questions as well.

Below are strategies to approach these questions.

Tell me about yourself.

Decoded: Who are you and how well can you speak about it?

Base your answer on the elevator pitch you prepared.

This is often the first question that an interviewer asks you, so be prepared to start off with your elevator pitch. In a formal interview setting, prepare to talk for longer than 30 seconds. One-two minutes to expand upon the narrative of your elevator pitch is totally fine.

Once you’ve mastered your answer to this, it will set a strong foundation for many other questions throughout your interview. Your answer for this should consist of your 30-second elevator pitch (as referenced in an earlier lesson) and contain a very brief chronological overview of:

  • What you were doing before coding
  • Where are you now (what you're excited to be learning and doing at Flatiron School)
  • Where you're going (looking towards your career future)

When answering this question, keep in mind that your interviewer is not only listening to your words but is also paying attention to how you say the words and the way you look when saying them. The interviewer not only cares about the content but how you craft the narrative of connecting your various experiences. Regardless of whether you’ve climbed the ranks at an accounting firm or you’ve bounced around to different jobs over the past 5 years, you can create a smooth story of how you’ve moved through each job or experience. If you own that story and speak passionately, it doesn’t matter where you come from.

Why are you interested in programming? / Why do you want to be a developer?

Decoded: Are you really serious about this career shift and is it genuine? Prove to me you want this because you love to code and not because you’re bored in your old job or want to make more money.

It’s crucial that you don’t give credit to someone else for your decision to become a developer. You need to internalize this career choice you have made, and be able to express with genuineness and passion WHY. Especially as a career changer, companies will be less willing to take a chance on investing in you if you can’t articulate why you are invested in this career choice.

Why are you so excited about this new career path? What has motivated or inspired you to get here? What is the special ‘connection’ you have to coding? These are the types of answers they are looking for.

It’s always best to be specific and tell a story about how you discovered code. Maybe it started in your Intro to CS class in college or perhaps you and a family member used to repair computers together when you were a child. Or maybe you worked in the marketing department at a company and collaborated with devs on a project and got really intrigued with their work. Use imagery to bring the interviewer to that place in time that was your “aha!” moment -- when you knew that you wanted to make programming a major part of your life.

It’s often helpful to explain the effort you put in on your own to learn to code before you arrived at Flatiron School. Did you try Codecademy? What tutorials have you done? What books or blogs did you read?

Walk me through your career history/Tell me about your professional background

Decoded: What have you done that’s impressive (professional, educational or travel-related) and why did you make the decisions and moves you did?

If you have a robust professional history, walk through what’s on your resume. If you’re less than 10 years out of college, start with school and then explain each job on your resume.

If you don’t have much of a professional history (or you’ve hopped a lot), if you were a stay at home mom, or you traveled extensively, think about how to craft a chronological story around those experiences.

Here your interviewer is looking for a concise overview of your path to present day, regardless of what you’ve done. Be sure to showcase your transferable skills and experiences that are relevant and valuable to each position you interview for.

Your answer should not be a long-winded history of everything you’ve done; just highlight briefly the things that they will want to know about you that makes you a great fit for the role and company at hand, and give them the opportunity to dig deeper themselves and ask more detailed questions. Make it a goal to leave the interviewer wanting more.

NOTE: You might be asked about why you left certain jobs and why you took that job that came after that. Keep the following in mind:

Don’t speak ill of past employers

  • Don’t say you hated your boss
  • Don’t say you hated your job
  • Don’t say you were bored
  • Don’t say you weren’t paid enough money

Good reasons to explain why you left a job:

  • Found a better growth opportunity/new challenge elsewhere
  • Wanted to try a new industry/experience

If you were laid off or fired, below are a few ways to explain that elegantly. Remember to keep it very brief and do not complain or go into detail. If appropriate, share something you learned from the process. Most importantly, don't lie about it. If you're still processing the experience, especially if it was an emotional departure, be sure to talk with your coach and write a script to follow so you'll be prepared to explain how you left your last job. If you can move on quickly, the interviewer will too.

If you were laid off:

  • "I transitioned out of the role following a company restructure/downsizing. Soon after I started working at Company X."
  • "The company decided to close down the division I was a part of. Following that I found a great opportunity doing X at Company Y."

If you were fired:

  • "My manager and I decided to mutually part ways. I didn't fully understand their expectations when I started in the role."
  • "Regrettably, my performance didn't meet the company's expectations. Since then, I have reflected a lot on how I can improve and am much more confident in my skills now."

What have you built?

Decoded: Do you know how to talk about technology? How well do you understand how a project is built from ideation to creation? How well can you present that understanding to different audiences?

When you’re asked this question, the interviewer wants to gauge your depth of understanding of what you’ve been studying. Passing a lab on Rails doesn’t make you an expert in Rails or qualify you to be a developer.

No matter who your audience is, the best way to approach answering this question is to ask yourself “what problem this app is solving?” Start your answer by presenting this question, followed by explaining how you approached building the app, including each feature purpose and what technologies were used to build each feature.

If your interviewer is an HR or recruiting professional, don’t get too deep into technical jargon that likely won’t be familiar to them, possibly making them confused and distracted. Instead, briefly touch on why you built each feature and what mini problems they solve without getting into technical details beyond the names of the languages and frameworks you used.

If your interviewer is a technical professional, you will have to go more in depth. In this case, refer to the tips in our lesson in this track on talking about what you’ve built.

What are you looking for in a job?

Decoded: Don’t be fooled -- this still isn’t about you. This is your chance to demonstrate the ways you want to contribute to a company, not the place for you to ask for mentoring or to remind the employer of how junior you are.

Your answer should not be focused on what you want from the company, but rather what you can contribute to them. However you choose to respond to this question, make it centered around the company, not you.

It's fine to say you want to learn in your next job, but that can’t be the only thing you want out of a job.

An employer is thinking about paying you money to write code, which will likely be linked to that employer making money. What can you do to help this employer make money? Here you can talk about how your specific skills and passions can contribute to that.

Why shouldn't you ask explicitly for mentoring?

When you ask for mentoring from an employer they may misunderstand your abilities and presume that you need excessive supervision or that you cannot work independently. Asking for mentoring outright makes you appear less confident that you can get the job done yourself (of course you’ll have questions along the way, and that’s expected). Some companies have formal mentoring programs where new employees are paired with more senior employees, and in these cases, you can mention this but the focus of your answer should still be about how you can contribute to the company.

What questions to do you have for me (the interviewer)?

Decoded: Did you do your research? Do you care? Were you engaged in our conversation? Do you understand standard expectations of interview behavior?

You absolutely need to have questions for your interviewer, no exceptions. Ask thoughtful questions that show your interviewer you have done thorough research to understand the company and its needs (refer to our earlier lesson on Doing Research Before an Interview) and you are genuine, passionate and committed to contributing to the company.

We will discuss ways to develop your questions in a later lesson.

Further research:

Some companies will ask more in-depth behavioral questions in addition to the ones listed above. To ensure you are prepared, google a list of behavioral interview questions on the internet to get a sense of the diversity of questions you can potentially expect, such as ‘What is your biggest strength?’, ‘What are you most proud of?’, or ‘How do you use data to solve problems?’


9 Things Interviewers Never Tell Job Candidates, But Should

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