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I'm currently preparing for a job interview for an entry-level web developer position. Although the job is entry level, I have really only just started learning the skills required for this job, and can not say with confidence that I could immediately start being productive.

I know job interviews are all about convincing the interviewer you are confident you could do the job, but I genuinely feel under-qualified for the position. I'm having a hard time finding advice on how to deal with a situation like this. I want the best chance possible to get the job, but to still give the interviewer a realistic view of my current abilities.

I haven't been able to find any advice on how I should approach an interview like this without embarrassing myself

Edit - I did not apply to this job, I was contacted by a employee of the company who found me through the college I attended.

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    Well, I'm sorry to say that you're most likely not qualified (I develop web applications for a living and can tell you that HTML and CSS are the least of my concerns). That being said, you got the interview, so you may as well go through with it. It might be a good opportunity to get a feel for the knowledge required in the industry. – AndreiROM May 31 '16 at 18:02
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    If you aren't qualified, how did you get the interview? – WorkerDrone May 31 '16 at 18:03
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    More importantly, if you don't feel qualified, why did you apply? Or is "I don't feel qualified" code for "I don't meet all the requirements" or "I'm nervous about the position"? – Lilienthal May 31 '16 at 18:06
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    Keep in mind that entry-level applicants are almost always lacking the skills required to do the job. This is not the same as being under-qualified. Entry-level positions are usually looking for people who have the right background and framework and have proven they are intelligent enough to quickly learn everything they need to do the job. – David K May 31 '16 at 20:33
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    Entry level jobs are most often positions of kids straight out of college. From my experience going through this almost 6 years ago now (i moved from The Netherlands to the US), they tend to look for someone they can groom into a position. If you are intelligent and you have good problem solving skills they should be able to teach you most of the required stuff fairly quickly. IF there is however a candidate that is more suitable than you it's hard to make an argument for that. Show them you're a quick learner and are eager to learn. People look for Energy and Enthusiasm as much as anything. – Puzzle84 Jun 1 '16 at 16:35
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Since you have got the interview opportunity, go for it and explain your experience level, noting that you know you are not exactly qualified for this position but you are a quick learner.

Most interviews are (at least ones I have been to) about getting a feel about your personality. Especially at entry level jobs, anything can be taught to the right person, if they are willing to learn. But personality can not be changed. If you are a good team player, have easy-going personality, are a go-getter, and somehow remotely aware of the technology that you are interviewing for, you are ahead of the curve compared to the whiz kid, who do not have any social skills or one who screams bloody murder when things don't go his or her way.

So, don't sell yourself short, unless of course, if you are one of those hard-to-deal-with personalities.

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    As a senior web-developer who has had the joy!! of interviewing and making recommendations on hiring, I would side with this answer above the rest. The worst thing in the world is when a candidate comes in and lies about their qualifications, we hire them on that basis, and then they fail - which costs us time, and makes us feel bad for putting them out of a job. However, if a candidate is forthcoming with their lack of knowledge and experience, but shows extreme enthusiasm, ambition, and honesty - I'll recommend we hire that person and bend over backwards to help them learn. – crush Jun 1 '16 at 20:37
  • @crush: Which is why most interviews are followed by a technical test as "homework", at least in the Nordic countries. Sometimes the technical test is before the first interview. Not that I personally agree with this practice, since you can easily describe your skills by walking through the technical details of some projects you've done. Especially for senior roles. – Juha Untinen Jun 1 '16 at 20:40
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    @JuhaUntinen I've found that those technical tests are often studied for in advance based on the job description, and or answered through sites like StackOverflow. I just haven't had a lot of luck with those. We just had a guy ace the test, and then was in here trying to select rows from a SQL database on a non-indexed varchar field, when he had the primary key available. It reminds me of the kids who would ace the Calculus exams, but had no freaking clue how to apply what they learned to a real life scenario, and would forget the material weeks later. – crush Jun 1 '16 at 20:43
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    That is my view too. In a way, every language does the end result in the same way, but they use different "words" to do it. As long as you know the what, you can easily learn the how of another language in a day or two. Which is why I think that it's better to talk about a project you did, than do a technical test. Even though the tests are very popular. I think the main reason for that is that the supply of developers is far higher than the demand is, at least in the Nordic countries. I don't think the tests are the best tool for gauging developer skills. – Juha Untinen Jun 1 '16 at 20:54
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    As a hiring manager who recently hired a dev-team from scratch, this stood out to me the most: "Especially at entry level jobs, anything can be taught to the right person, if they are willing to learn. But personality can not be changed." <- This was exactly what got every member of my team their jobs. – Mark Jun 2 '16 at 15:48
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Junior web developer here who went through similar situations recently. If there's one thing I can recommend, it's learning the fundamentals of Object Oriented Programming. HTML and CSS are important for visual aspects of Web development, but the truly important stuff happens behind the scenes. I would recommend learning the basics of C# (or Java, or some other OO language, but C# is my favorite for web development), gaining an understanding of the MVC pattern (Model, View, Controller), and maybe learning one or two other patterns.

If you can talk semi-intelligently about a few of these things and have a personality that fits the company culture, I think you'll stand a decent chance at getting the job. Entry-level development jobs typically come with the expectation that you'll be learning a lot on the job, but a basic understanding of the principals of programming is typically expected.

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    I think this probably matches the OP's situation best. – AndreiROM May 31 '16 at 19:01
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    I am somewhat familiar with these concepts, its more a matter of never actually having done anything with them besides the most basic tutorials. I know I have a long way to go. I could probably have a conversation about these things but that is very different from actually being able to do it. I definitely don't want them to hire me and then realize I don't have the skills, but I don't want to look stupid in the interview either – Niahc May 31 '16 at 20:14
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    @Niahc I definitely felt the same way for my first few interviews, but managed to get a position where I've learned an insane amount in the time I've been here. If you're able to intelligently discuss the concepts, and believe you'll be able to learn quickly on the job (you can even be honest about your skill level in your interview), I don't think you'll sound stupid. Remember, this is ENTRY level. If expected someone who could be super productive on day 1, they'd go with a mid-level. – MK2000 May 31 '16 at 20:23
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    That is what I am hoping for! If they are willing to be patient with me, I am sure I could learn very quickly. It is exactly what I want to be doing in the future, and getting this job would be amazing experience. It all really depends on the interpretation of "entry level". Sometimes this just means "cheap but with 5 years experience". But I will just have to do my best to show potential – Niahc Jun 1 '16 at 14:47
  • Why does he have to learn OO versus some other paradigm? – gardenhead Jun 1 '16 at 15:13
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No worries. I got hired as a full-stack web developer for a Ruby on Rails project. I was an experienced developer with many platforms and languages but knew nothing about web development. I didn't know Ruby, Rails, HTML, CSS, the DOM, or Javascript. I read: Programming Ruby, Agile Web Development with Rails, plus O'Reilly books on HTML, CSS, and Javascript. After a couple of weeks I realized that the other developers hadn't read any of those things and were just copy-pasting their way to creating a huge mess.

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    It's still relevant that you had knowledge of programming logic, best practices, etc. Not to mention, you knew how to write back end code. It sounds to me like the OP doesn't simply lack knowledge of some technologies, but basically doesn't know much of anything about programming at all, in which case it will take a lot more than reading a guide to get up to speed. – AndreiROM May 31 '16 at 18:59
  • It depends on the task too. OP could be creating HTML templates in a CMS. – Juha Untinen Jun 1 '16 at 20:44
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The proper question is -- How qualified are you to learn the job well and quickly enough to make hiring you a positive experience?

Assume the person who contacted you is not stupid; he has read your resume and still thinks the company should hire you. Why? Try to find out what he sees in you, and emphasize that in the interview.

Maybe the company is not looking for someone who "has written HTML" and "knows CSS". Maybe they are looking for a good employee. I have a really good feeling about this.

Please post here and let us know how it works out.

  • If you are interested in the work and are a quick learner, that's what I'd focus on in the interview. Tell them about a time you needed to learn something quickly, and did so. Be honest about what you don't know... but also show your confidence in your ability to learn. – mhwombat Jun 3 '16 at 23:21
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From my experience entry level/junior developer positions don't expect you to know a great deal and they are more interested in your willingness and ability to learn.

My advice is don't try and bluff your way through the interview, be straight up, if you don't understand or know what they are asking about say just that. Make sure they know you are very able and willing to learn and will learn in your own time if required.

I interviewed for 2 web developer jobs straight out of college and felt the same as you and both interviews they asked me questions I didn't have a clue about and I remember looking completely blank at the interviewers. Eventually I admitted I didn't have a clue what they were talking about. I got offered both jobs.

It will be a steep learning curve if you get it, but don't get disheartened if you don't.

4

The wrong way to deal with a failed interview is to lose confidence and let it negatively effect your job search.

The right way to deal with a failed interview is to see it as a learning experience. Interviewers asked you their questions for a reason. Those questions cover topics that are important to them and likely important to other interviewers at other companies. During the interview, remember the questions that stumped you. Write them down. Try to remember your answers too. Afterwards, do your research to fill in gaps in your knowledge. This will help you for the next interview.

For instance: suppose that during the interview, the interviewer asked you to implement QuickSort. If you forgot QuickSort, or worse, don't know it at all, make a note to yourself. (You should bring a small notepad with you (with copies of your resume in it)). When you get home, Google "QuickSort". Learn about what problem it solves. Implement it in some language. Actually use it. Hope that the next interviewer asks you about QuickSort, because the sting of the last, failed interview should still be fresh in your mind. (Don't go back to the first interviewer with your new-found knowledge. You won't get a second chance.)

Interviewing is a skill. The best way to get better at interviewing is to interview.

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If there is a technical screen, you either pass or you don't. Let that be your guide.

If there isn't a tech screen, you might want to give a hard look at the job. If it is salaried or paid hourly, I would not be too worried about the legitimacy of the job itself, but if you will be paid by assignment, be on the lookout for a scam. Even if the job is legit (and it probably is) if there is no tech screen, how do you know who to learn from? It's good that you know your limitations, but Dunning-Kruger syndrome runs rampant in the software industry and people who do not really know what they are doing are strongly attracted to no-screen shops. What you want from this first job is experience more than money, and when you want experience you want to be careful about working with clowns.

Otherwise, just be candid. There is a lot more to a job than raw programming skills. Most entry level programmers need to learn software engineering tools (source control, build systems, etc) and willingness and ability to learn is critical. Do you work hard? Can you communicate with co-workers, supervisors? Can you manage your own time? Do you show up? Do you have the tiniest iota of common sense? Are you gonna complain about language/tools/platform every time you read some blog post about another system? (The people who think people should be hired on pure programming skills tend to have real problems in those other areas.) It is a real problem for a manager to hire somebody who can't actually get stuff done or who other people hate. Focus on your strengths, all of your strengths.

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It is not your job to decide if you are qualified, once the interview is scheduled.

I assume there was a phone interview first, to talk a little about your background (academic and professional) and your experiences.

If they still want to meet with you, it means they think you look like a potential match.

No one wants to lose time, so interviews are usually not given to people obviously under-qualified.

During the interview, be clear about your experiences, what you've learned so far, what you expect you'll have to learn then. Don't try to hide what you don't know, but don't throw it at them. Answer the questions, and don't sell yourself short.

Since you are preparing the interview, learn about the current state of the art, find out what kind of technologies they are using (in terms of architecture, frameworks, methods, tools) and at least know what those are about. As a junior, you are not expected to know everything, but you are expected to know about a lot of things.

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I think my experience here can help also shed some light onto this. Currently, I'm a Principle Consultant for a pretty prominent firm. Never had really any formal training aside from 3 OO programming classes in C and JAVA in college. Self taught everything else I know. My first programming job, I wasn't anywhere near qualified for it. So, I simply put in the hours and took some extra time to actually learn the languages and area's I was going to be working in. Jumped around every couple of years and kept up with various Microsoft Certs(their MVC/C# classes/Cert is pretty good). Eventually got up to team lead, and management levels. Now doing software, architecture and cyber security work. So to speak, I was never actually qualified for any of the positions I've held. The phrase "fake it until you make it" is quite true.

With my background aside, the best advice I can give you for interviewing is be prepared. Go into the interview and have the following written down on a pad of paper: 5 Strengths, 5 Weaknesses(this is more a trick question as if you identify weaknesses you should be working to fix them or explain how you identified and fixed a couple of weaknesses), 5 questions to ask (3 about the company/job and 2 about anything else you want to know) and 5 topics of conversation that you can tell a story about should certain questions come up(problem solving, working in a team, overcoming adversity, overcoming unforeseen problems, etc). Companies are looking for intelligent, problem solvers that can work independently and in a team. Additionally, always ask at the end of the interview, "Do you have any questions or concerns about anything we have talked about today?" This gives the interviewer an opportunity to bring up anything so you can give further explanation or clear up any misunderstandings.

Lastly, always dress professionally unless specifically told otherwise. Always bring at least 5 copies of your Resume/CV with you. Listen and respond, that pad of paper you brought? It's only for the answers to the questions you ask. After all, an interview is to simply determine if you are the right fit for the company, as well as, if the company is right for you.

  • "fake it until you make it" might be true, but the fake it better come with some serious effort, or you are just hurting both parties. Sounds like you put in that effort - not everyone seems to do that. I think you nailed it here: "Companies are looking for intelligent, problem solvers". I don't care if you know C# - you can learn that. What I want to know is that you can solve a problem if I give it to you, and you can do it intelligently - not just throw some hacks and code you pulled down off StackOverflow at it to close the ticket. – crush Jun 1 '16 at 20:52
  • And your last point is very strong. Unless you know for a fact that a company wants you to dress casual for the interview, you better be dressed in your best suit, pressed and clean, neat trimmed beard or clean shave - no stubble - and distracting jewelry left at home. Remember, the interview is for you to ask questions too, so it's a perfect time for you to ask about the dress code. Just because a company offers you a job, doesn't mean you have to accept if you don't like the working conditions you observed while coming in for the interview. Any decent company should give a candidate a tour – crush Jun 1 '16 at 20:59
  • Some of this advice is reasonable but some is questionable or typical "hard sell" advice. If I have reservations about your candidacy I'll either ask you or keep them to myself to think it over after the interview. Asking me will rarely help you. Anyhow, only your first paragraph seems relevant to the question asked here. – Lilienthal Jun 1 '16 at 21:09
  • "dress professionally" what is professional for a web dev? 5 CV? the HR have it, obviously, and if you have to meet someone who didn't get your resume but still asks you for it, that's a pretty bad sign. (let alone 5 such people) – njzk2 Jun 2 '16 at 1:21
  • @njzk2 Dress Professionally = black, grey or navy suit. Adding a little flair to help you stand out is always a decent decision, unless you bomb the interview. To clarify, a little flair is something like Cufflinks, a bright colored tie or pocket square; never more than one of these. It's a job interview, not a fashion show. As far as the 5CV.. You never know when someone will be pulled into an interview, having a couple of extra copies shows that you are prepared for unforeseen circumstances. It can only help you, never hurt. – seroki Jun 2 '16 at 13:31

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