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Today I'm excited to introduce a new series on my blog called "The Developing Developer" for early-career developers. Over the course of my career, I've worked as a mentor, trainer, and line manager. In this series, I'll be sharing a little bit of my (meagre) wisdom with you. Although the advice is aimed at people at the start of their career, a lot of it is generally useful for anyone interested in developing their career a bit further.

For the past 6 months or so, we've been doing a lot of hiring at the University. I've sat on so many recruitment panels that I've become one of those soulless business people that says "JD" instead of "job description". Surprisingly, I discovered that this process works quite differently from what I imagined when I was sitting on the other side of the table.

As a job candidate, here are some simple tips which can really help you nail the application and interview process.

Be concise

This first point is key to getting anyone to even consider your application. As a recruiter, I may have to read a lot of applications for a single role. Please: make my job easy. Don't make me dig through pages of text to find your qualifications.

For covering letters, don't worry about putting together a beautiful piece of writing (unless you're applying for a job as a writer). Covering letters are often a bit stilted, so this isn't unusual. It's more important to make sure you cover all the relevant points than it is to write something original.

  • Format your CV so that it can be easily skimmed. This means using lists and highlighting key points so that they can be found quickly. Give short bullet points rather than wordy paragraphs.
  • Absolutely do not let your CV get longer than a few pages (1-2 is preferable, no more than 5 max). A long CV doesn't impress me with your experience, it just makes me think that you can't summarise well.
  • Similarly, don't allow yourself to waffle on in an interview. Answer questions completely and concisely, and make sure you stick to the allotted time for the interview slot.

Do your homework

I'm constantly amazed in interviews at how often candidates fail to read the job descriptions. Guys - the job description is your main source of information about the job. Read it thoroughly.

At the University, as well as in many other organisations, we are required to score candidates against the criteria we have outlined in the job description to ensure that recruitment is done fairly. This means that at every point, you are assessed against this criteria. It isn't a secret - everything you need to do well is written right there.

  • Make a cheat sheet: read through the job description and make notes against each item on why you meet this point, using examples. If a list of criteria isn't given, make your own list of skills based on the information that is there. Use this to write your application and prepare for the interview.
  • If there are terms in the job description that you don't know, Google them. I'm always puzzled when candidates don't do this, as it's an easy thing to do and shows you are interested in the job.
  • Read the organisation's website so you understand their goals. If you know who will be on the recruitment panel, look them up as well. Learn as much as you can about the people who are hiring you.
  • Tailor your application and covering letter to the job. A generic letter will make me doubt your commitment, a one-line letter saying "see my LinkedIn profile for details" will cross you off the list completely.

Sell yourself

A lot of people are embarrassed talking about themselves, so interviews can be pretty uncomfortable. It feels awkward to say, "I'm hot shit amazing, hire me."

While this is understandable, the application and interview are not the place to be humble. Often recruiters are screening and interviewing many candidates at once. I don't have time to read between the lines to discover how awesome you are - you have to show me.

  • Use evidence to show how well you can do something. A story about a time you helped a customer is more convincing than just telling me you are great at customer service (which can also come across as bragging).
  • Leave the self-deprecation at home. If you don't seem confident in your skills, that will make me feel less confident too.
  • Don't feel that an example isn't "good enough" to share. For early-career developers, you probably won't have a lot of previous jobs to discuss. Any relevant experience is ok. One candidate for a developer intern role told us about his job as a waiter. It was a great example of being organised under pressure. (We hired him.)
  • Let your passion shine through! Show me what makes you special and different from other candidates.

As an important aside - while it's good to showcase your strengths, make sure they are backed up with evidence. Never lie about your experience.

Stay professional

An interview is a good test of how well people are able to perform under pressure - try to approach it this way. The most important thing is to remain calm and professional, no matter what happens.

  • It's ok to be nervous - most people are during an interview. Remember that the interviewers have probably seen a lot of nervous people that day.
  • Don't allow yourself to get flustered, even if it seems you aren't doing well. If you don't know the answer to a question but give me a well-reasoned response, that is still positive.
  • Dress for success. It doesn't hurt to dress up a little as it shows that you are keen. If you are a student, you may not have professional clothes, and interviewers usually understand this. Anything quiet in solid colours is fine - for example, a dark jumper with jeans.


Applications and interviews can be a nerve-racking process, but a few basic points can help you stand out. Here are the main things that you need to remember:

  • Be clear and concise. Make it easy for the recruiter to understand why you are right for the job.
  • Read the job description thoroughly and learn as much as you can about the organisation.
  • Don't hide your light under a bushel. Use evidence and examples to show your strengths.
  • Stay calm, and keep a professional appearance throughout.

Even if you do everything right, sometimes you still won't get the job. This is really discouraging, but try not to take it to heart. Applying for a job is just like going on a date - even when you like someone a lot, sometimes the sparks just don't fly. If possible, ask the recruiters to give you feedback so you understand how you can improve for next time. With a bit of perseverance, you'll find a job that you want to grow old with.

Illustration of the Cornus seedling in the Developing Developer logo is by W.H.L from the USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database.

© 2019 by Marissa Warner-Wu. All rights reserved.

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