How to Interview in the 21st Century

Now 150% better with the addition of relevant musical selections sprinkled throughout the post,  for your entertainment!

Usually I blog about UX or WordPress or other things that interest me, like B2B2C. Today, I want to talk about interviewing. Why? Lately, I’ve been doing short interviews with freelance folks. The results have been all over the map, so here are some observations and potential tips for freelancers.

Number One: Connect via your phone for audio

The internet, Zoom (or whatever platform you are using, the small mic on your laptop or on your earbuds: all of these have issues periodically and can’t be relied on. Unless you are stationed on top of a mountain, living in a “shotgun shack,” your smartphone is going to provide better audio.

Number Two: Sound interested in the work

Once you are on, introduce yourself! Sure, wait for the interviewer to introduce themselves, but after that, sound conscious and say something like, “Hey Matthew, good to meet you. I’m Chuck and I’m excited to hear about your project!”

Number Three: Act like you are at least a little busy

Here’s a clue: most agencies who are looking for outside help are super busy. We need you. However, this doesn’t mean we want you to seem like you have nothing on your plate. Why? Not being busy makes you seem unqualified. It immediately makes me wonder if you just got into this or maybe you’ve botched a bunch of past jobs. I know that’s not fair, but I’m in Baltimore and you’re in Arizona. We don’t know each other. This is your time to get to know me and let me know who you really are.

What if you’re in-between projects? Fine! Let us know. Here’s a simple line: “I just wrapped up a three week gig that I was doing outside of my primary job, so I have time to take on your project in the evenings or on the weekends.”

Number Four: Learn how to talk about yourself

You’re a full stack developer. Cool. That can mean lots of different things. Let’s talk more about you. Who are you? What do you like to do outside of work?

This is the time to convince me you are human and have interests other than working non-stop and making money. You’re a yo-yo enthusiast? Wow, that’s unique. How’d you get into that? Do you compete?

Number Four-point-five: Show something you’ve built via screenshare

“I’ve built multiple SaaS platforms.” Okay, can you show me one? Even better, show me something that is running on your local so I know it’s really your work. Sorry, saying you built Airbnb yourself isn’t going to cut it. I need evidence.

Number Four-point-five, version 2: Know how your portfolio pieces were built

This should go without saying, but if you claim you built a site in WordPress and it was really built in WebFlow, I’m going to figure it out. I’ve been doing this for 20+ years. Get a clue!

Number Five: Don’t repeat the same sentence five times as your explanation of what you are passionate about

Let’s get specific here. Repeating the same thing over and over makes you sound like a robot. “You know, I am a full stack developer and I have experience with [ mumbled and incoherent name dropping of platforms and frameworks ] and I like to make things.”

Side note: my other favorite lyric from David Byrne is in this song.

Here’s an alternative: “I’m passionate about React. I used Redux for a long time, but I prefer to use [ insert some new challenger to Redux ]. I like client side rendering, but understand that server-side has advantages [ maybe go crazy here and list out the advantages ].

Be Humble

I appreciate humility and I recognize that this post may not be super humble.

Look, I’ve bombed plenty of interviews in my time. Not every day can be a time when you perform your best. I get that! I just want to encourage my fellow humans to embrace their humanity.

Have a personality. You don’t need to have an ego. Egos suck.

Figure out how you stand out, what makes you interesting, then explain that.

If you want to perform better tomorrow… if you want to work on cool stuff… start working on how you present yourself today.


P.S.: Hours after I wrote this post, I had a great call with a person who was able to do all of these things. It was refreshing! I’m thinking we’ll talk again soon.

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