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I recently attended a two part interview that put me in an unexpected situation. The interview consisted of a general interview (which I think went very well) and a technical interview a few days later.

The position I'm applying to is that of a front-end developer. However, the interviewer for the technical part was a back-end developer with very little experience regarding the position I'm applying to.

This meant that after a few generic questions (e.g. what kind of projects do you work on in your free time, what interests you about this field and so on) the interviewer ran out of topics.
I tried to discuss some recent interesting developments in the field, but the details seemed somewhat lost to the interviewer (as they're a specialist in a different field) and all in all it ended up being the shortest interview I've ever attended.

So the question boils down to this: What should I do in a situation like this? How can I prove my proficiency in a technical interview where the interviewer isn't familiar with the field?

  • 4
    Alternate question/line-of-thought. Is this a person/company you really want to sell yourself to? In my experience, working somewhere where they don't really understand what it is you do results in a lousy experience, independent of anything else, so these days I find myself making sure I want to work somewhere before I worry about trying to convince them that I'm awesome. – HopelessN00b Nov 21 '14 at 19:24
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    ^The previous comment is not a rhetoric question. If you are senior enough/have leadership skills, a lack of pre-existing structure is a solvable problem. But you should be honest to yourself, are you the right person for that role? – MSalters Nov 21 '14 at 20:22
  • It is not uncommon for companies to look for passionate people. If you aren't so passionate that you can talk non-stop in an enthusiastic tone, that may turn them off. At that point, you may seem like "just a warm body," showing up only to collect a paycheck. If you have the passion, you may show the interviewers you qualify for what the company needs (what @MSalters mentioned about structure). – ps2goat Nov 21 '14 at 20:29
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I would have asked him what problem he is trying to solve by hiring me and I would explain to him in what ways my skills set and work experience would help him solve that problem. And make his life easier. In large part because you know how to take care of the front end AND communicate with the back end.

And specific to me, I would have added that I am skilled in mocking up back ends if necessary until he gets his back end ready.

In general, it's a bad idea to talk past the interviewer and knock them senseless with stuff that's only relevant to you. You have to communicate effectively with people outside of your specialty and with non-technical people, if only because you have to work with them every day.

My view is that the interview was a fail because you never convinced that back end developer that you can work effectively with him - you were too busy trying to convince him that you know your stuff.

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    Excellent answer - even if he doesn't really know what they need, you're almost guaranteed to be able to put yourself forward for what he THINKS they need: it's hard to go wrong with this. – Jon Story Nov 21 '14 at 17:07
  • I was going to write an answer but this says it perfectly. You want to address what the person wants to know from their question, not necessarily what they are specifically asking. Sometimes (oftentimes) their question will be bad or misleading and miss this "core concern." – enderland Nov 21 '14 at 18:26
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    Thank you for your reply, you've given me a new perspective on technical interviews. Previously I considered discussion like this to be the central topic of the general, soft interview. – Nit Nov 22 '14 at 8:52
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First, identify what his role is in the company, and what his role is in the interview process.

You did the first part of that - you know that he's a back end developer.

What you didn't realize is that his role in the interview process was this: Is this a front end developer that I can work with the accomplish the company's goals?

Had you understood why you were both in the same room during the interview process, you probably could have spent time getting to know him, the work environment, processes, and how he prefers to work with others. You could have asked him who does the front end work now, and how he feels its going. You could have asked what he would like to see changed, or how he thinks a front end developer might help lighten his load.

You'll end up in similar interviews in the future. If you don't know who you're meeting with and why, feel free to ask questions until you do, then figure out what that person needs or wants in relation to the open position, and see if you can meet those needs as part of the interview process.

  • While we covered most of these topics (I abbreviated in the question for brevity), this is still very good input, thank you for your reply. – Nit Nov 22 '14 at 8:50
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Leave and never return. If they can't put a front-end developer in an interview room to hire more front-end developers, either their management sucks or they don't have any front-end developers from which you can learn the company's methodologies and existing work and, as such, your new job there wouldn't be very enjoyable.

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    If they don't have front end developers then this might very well be a chance to take charge and excel. Why run away from that? – NotMe Nov 21 '14 at 14:56
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    If all FE devs ran away from interviews without other FE devs to interview them, none would ever join a start up. – Neil Slater Nov 21 '14 at 15:08
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    I disagree with this. There were no front-end developers where I work and now I'm gaining experience with full stack work. – Lawrence Aiello Nov 21 '14 at 15:10
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    @NeilSlater while that's valid, in a start up the person hiring usually has a very good idea of what the company needs (since it's much smaller and people have likely been pitching in to different areas). I wouldn't agree with leave and never return, but I would be making sure that the role is defined and required, and that the expectations are clear. – Jon Story Nov 21 '14 at 17:06
  • @JonStory: I agree. I think the issue with this answer is that it makes assumptions that the workplace must be dysfunctional and the potential role a bad career move, due to not having a same-skilled senior or peer available for recruiting. Whilst that may be true, I don't think it's a good default position from the information in the question. Part of that is company (or department) size matters. – Neil Slater Nov 21 '14 at 17:40

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