Nervous about the Cultural Interview for a Junior Software Developer Job? Nail It with These Tips
Nervous about the interview process for your first entry-level software developer job? You’re not alone!
Between the technical expertise needed for the whiteboard interview and the confidence and soft skills required for the cultural interview, most junior developers find interviewing to be intense, to say the least.
Luckily, Launch Academy has your back. If you’ve prepared for your whiteboard interview but are uneasy about your cultural interview, we have several tips to help you wow your interviewer and increase your overall confidence during the hiring process.
If you’ve prepared for your whiteboard interview but are uneasy about your cultural interview, we have several tips to wow your interviewer and increase your overall confidence during the hiring process.
A Framework for the Conversation
When interviewing with another software developer, you can rely on your technical expertise to lead the conversation. But a cultural interview is typically conducted by someone who holds a different position at the company, like a project manager, designer, or member of the C-suite.
The conversation that occurs during this interview will center less around your computer programming skills and more on your experiences, failures, successes, and challenges from previous jobs.
Sharing Your Software Engineering Story
Our favorite tip for sharing your experiences during a cultural interview is to implement a story framework. Every story generally follows the same structure:
- Introduction. It’s important to start any story by endearing the character—in this case, yourself—to the person you’re speaking with. Set the stage for what’s to come by providing meaningful context and details about who you are. In an interview setting, this information helps put the interviewer on your side.
- Rising action. After introducing yourself in the story, explain the circumstances that led to the challenge you navigated through or the moment you’ve chosen to highlight in your career.
- Climax. The climax is when everything is revealed and you, as the character, achieve your moment of clarity. In the context of the story you’re telling, it might be the moment you had a big “win.”
- Falling action. Wrap up your story by explaining how an experience taught you something new or made you a better developer.
If you have trouble remembering this framework, think of the Star Wars movies. They start by introducing us to Luke Skywalker as a simple kid who lives on a farm. Then we meet Obi-Wan Kenobe and learn about the Force. We reach the climax when we find out (spoiler alert!) that Darth Vader is Luke’s father, and during the falling action, Luke and Leia triumph and continue the resistance.
The most important thing is to keep the story positive—avoid speaking negatively about past jobs, bosses, or colleagues. Even if your story is about a difficult coworker, frame it as a challenge you faced instead of going into detail about the other person. Always bring your narrative back around to what you learned from the experience and how it made you a better professional.
Little Things Set You Apart in a Cultural Interview
No matter what, having a stranger ask you questions in such a high-stakes setting can be nerve-wracking. Even if you have your story down, there are other little things that can help set you apart from the competition:
When you’re under the pressure of interviewing, it’s nearly impossible to remember every important detail of the conversation. Bringing a professional-looking notebook or padfolio to jot notes down can be a life-saver during and after the interview.
We recommend capturing who you spoke with, their role, how they define success, questions you want to ask during the interview, and high-priority items to follow up on once the interview is over.
Non-verbal communication is just as important as what you say to an interviewer. Something as simple as making eye contact throughout the conversation can go a long way in demonstrating self-assuredness and establishing yourself as trustworthy and confident.
Even if the interview is conducted via a video call, be sure to look into the camera as if the interviewer were right in front of you.
It can be challenging to build rapport with an interviewer when you’ve never met them before and only have a short time together. One trick we teach our coding bootcamp students to establish that relationship is mirroring.
Mirroring—a skill borrowed from the sales world—is the subtle art of imitating your subject’s mannerisms. It’s vital not to overdo it or make it obvious. However, when done correctly, mirroring is a great psychological tool to develop an affinity with an interviewer.
Playing rapport ping pong
If an interviewer asks questions and you answer each one to the letter, the conversation could begin to seem robotic in nature. You’ll constantly feel like you’re on your toes, and your interviewer will feel you aren’t giving them enough to work with.
Instead, we recommend interviewees ask reciprocal questions once they’ve answered the original question. For instance, if the interviewer asks you, “What was your biggest challenge at coding bootcamp?” you could answer the question thoughtfully, then ask the interviewer, “What kinds of challenges might I face in this role?”
Ideally, the conversation should feel like two people chatting over coffee, not like a cross-examination. Interviews are also an excellent opportunity to assess whether the role is a good fit on your end. Asking reciprocal questions serves both purposes.
Just because you aced your conversation during the cultural interview doesn’t mean your work is done!
Following up via email is crucial to setting yourself apart from the other candidates. Refer to the notes you took during your conversation when drafting your follow-up message. If your interviewer mentioned their weekend plans or hobbies, you could open up by referencing those tidbits genuinely and authentically. This approach demonstrates your ability to listen and participate in a meaningful conversation.
Use the rest of your message to fill in any gaps left during your conversation. If the interviewer made a point to tie success in the role to conversion rate metrics, address how your experiences have positioned you to help them achieve their goals. You could also use this opportunity to expand on or amend any of your initial answers.
The most important thing to remember during your follow-up is to be authentic. The software development world is small—especially in the Boston area—and word gets around quickly. Coming off as fake or shady can damage your credibility, which could potentially take years to rebuild.
Ready to begin your path toward becoming a software engineer? Check out the syllabus for Launch Academy’s coding bootcamp today!