Tips for Finding (and Getting) the Right Software Engineering Job
Since CityBase is hiring many engineering and software development roles this year, several members of our technical teams have shared insights on what makes a candidate stand out to them, and other tips for engineering job hunters.
CityBase contributors to this article: Pedro Assumpcao, Lead Software Engineer; Chris Coté, DevOps Manager; Gabrielle Faust, Senior DevOps Engineer; Cliff McIntosh, Lead Software Engineer; Ben Howell, Senior DevOps Engineer; Matt Johnson, Lead Solutions Engineer; Alex Knowles, Senior Software Engineer; Jim Segal, Senior Software Engineer
What’s something that would excite you about an engineering candidate just from looking at their resume?
“I get excited when applicants include links to GitHub repos they have written on their own or contributed to. You can learn a lot about someone from their code — even if it’s in a language that they are just starting to learn or in a project where they are playing around with some new ideas.” —Alex Knowles
“When someone is working on passion projects, has non-dev related experience, or a similar work ethic.” —Chris Coté
“People who know how to write software for different kinds of platforms. Being knowledgeable about Prometheus and Linux.” —Gabrielle Faust
“Well-rounded experience that is not just engineering.” —Matt Johnson
“Consistent improvement trajectory tech-wise, able to work in a diversified field, ability to express the value that they brought to the prior companies. Contributions with the open source community, giving talks, and committed to giving back.” —Pedro Assumpcao
“I find that when I look through resumes, I look for technologies we are using or related technologies. I also like to look up their GitHub to see their projects that they are working on and if they have a portfolio site, how that looks and if there are any console errors that arise from it. I know that side projects and a portfolio site are not at all required, but if they are there, it helps to get a little more of a sense of the applicant than the resume alone.” —Jim Segal
What’s something a person you’ve interviewed said or done in that conversation that made them stand out?
“Sometimes the resume can be tricky. If the candidate can expose and go deeper about the interesting details, that is a win.” —PA
“During our interview process we have a take home test, and one thing that stood out was a candidate who enjoyed the project so they continued to make improvements and update things after the test was accepted. This shows the spark for building and that they could think of things to expand upon outside of the direct scope of the project.” —JS
“Any time someone has built an application to solve a problem that was unique to their environment. If someone is capable of building tools that fill a gap not provided by other software.” —Ben Howell
What’s something an interviewee has done that made you know immediately it was a no?
“A misleading resume. One candidate listed something as a skill on their resume, and when we asked about it, they said, ‘What’s that?’” —Cliff McIntosh
“We are trying to mold and create solutions for a growing environment, so it’s important that pride needs to go out the window. You can take pride in the work you do, but if you take pride in needing something to be built in very explicit ways, it won’t be a good fit. Too much pride also means you may not be comfortable asking questions or getting feedback.” —GF
“Anything that can’t go along with our current company culture. More specifically, if the candidate prefers isolation instead of collaboration. I am not referring to remote vs. local but in terms of individual vs. team.” —PA
“They didn’t have any questions to ask me. It shows that they are ill prepared for the conversation. With most information just a Google or LinkedIn search away, you can come up with a lot of questions about individual interviewers or the company.” —JS
“A lot of the immediate nos were when someone’s personality didn’t seem to jive. If a person doesn’t talk much — doesn’t go into any detail on their experience or ask questions about the position.” —BH
Technical skills vs. culture fit: what’s the balance you look for?
“Culture fit is important. Engineers can (and should) add new skills to their knowledge set throughout their careers, but someone’s attitudes and interactions with others are typically not as malleable. Projects at CityBase are highly collaborative, so it’s encouraging when I can imagine an applicant getting along well with peers and managers.” —AK
“Technical skills, which can include the ability to communicate. I have mixed feelings about cultural fit. I understand the goal of getting people who can fit into the team. At the same time, I think we should be open to people who might push us or challenge us to re-evaluate our culture.” —CM
“I generally weigh technical skills pretty heavily. I believe culture fit can grow over time, as they learn the culture.” —CC
“I prefer to say that the candidate does not need to fit any culture — that seems like too much of a constraint — but the candidate needs to contribute in a positive way to the overall culture the company has. Technical skills can be improved if the candidate shows a good trajectory.” —PA
“I think it’s probably 70% culture vs. 30% tech. If you have the basic technical requirements for the position and the desire to learn, that will get you most of the way with me. The remainder is judging if the team or I will want to work with you on a personal basis from day to day.” —JS
“I want someone to work with who I get along with and talk to easily. Someone who can discuss issues but is not argumentative. It’s a matter of flexibility — being open to other people’s ideas and also not afraid to make suggestions. The tech skill is necessary for the job, but the culture fit is a requirement.” —BH
What’s your favorite question to ask interviewees that goes deeper than their resume?
“I’ve never actually asked it in an interview, but I like asking colleagues to name their favorite keyboard shortcut and explain why. There’s not really a wrong answer, but it can lead to some interesting insights. Developers spend so much time typing on keyboards that they inevitably absorb more efficient ways to do repetitive actions. Some people can get very passionate about this! Plus, there’s always a chance I’ll learn a new shortcut that I can add to my arsenal.” —AK
“I almost always do a technical interview. Sometimes that involves doing a coding exercise with the candidate. One of my favorite things is to ask the interviewee to take the work they have already submitted as a coding challenge and improve or enhance it. I feel it gives me a sense of how they approach a technical task and how they work through a solution to a problem.” —CM
“Asking if they are more orderly or more chaotic in their solution resolution style, in figuring out the solution.” —GF
“If there is a specific project that stands out, I usually ask for details in terms of what was asked, why did you choose that specific solution, trade-offs, and so on.” —PA
“If you could have any superpower what would it be and why? I feel that this adds a bit of personal touch, creativity, and gets out of the rigors of taking a deep dive through company, team, and workload structure or process questions.” —JS
“What was your least favorite aspect of working at your last job? It’s a good way to get insight into the things they are looking to improve in the new workplace. What do you expect to find here that you didn’t get at your last job? What about yourself do you want to improve?” —BH
As an engineer who has interviewed for jobs yourself, what are things that made you really want a job (not only at CityBase!)?
“Interviewers who project a sense of mutual respect and collaboration make me feel that the company is a place where that is valued. Interviews are stressful. If I have an interviewer who seems to be trying to put me at ease while also fulfilling his or her task of evaluating me, I get a sense that the organization values mutual respect and collaboration.” —CM
“Product/Service + Technology + Team Members” —PA
“When people are passionate about what they are working toward or who they are working with. As engineers we are always building things to solve problems, whether that’s a small project or a large enterprise system. It’s encouraging to know that you will be working for something that you believe in or surrounded by people who can help you grow.” —JS
What were some company red flags that let you know you didn’t want to work at that company?
“Not having free coffee for employees. I once worked at a tech company that didn’t provide free refreshments of any kind. This, in itself, is not a dealbreaker. However, I eventually realized that company management was out-of-touch and out-of-date in several other ways that were important.” —AK
“When you can’t get a sense of people’s personalities, it’s weird. If it seems like you could have a video running of people working to replace all the actual people in the room, you know something is wrong with the place. It comes off like people aren’t allowed to have personalities in the office.” —GF
“Lots of unknowns in terms of role, responsibilities, and collaboration with other teams. Whiteboard interview sessions with college/academic computer science questions such as, ‘I need to sort this array and explain different types of sorting algorithms.’” —PA
“No growth or career ladder in the role. I believe that people are driven and want to be challenged, and more responsibility is a way to get people to engage with the workload.” —JS
“A red flag would be going to an interview and it’s a bunch of people in suits and there’s no conversation, just direct questions. That tells me that I’d be working in a very strict corporate environment that I would definitely not fit in with.” —BH
Any overarching advice you have for engineers looking for a position / company that’s the right fit?
“Try to explain the real value you’ve brought to the table, not only the technologies you’ve mastered. Most important is how you used your skill set to improve your team, how your solutions contributed to the business needs of your organization, and how flexible you were facing business situations.” —PA
“Figure out what kind of people you enjoy working with. If you can’t stand your coworkers, you will never be happy no matter what kind of job you’re in.” —BH
Also published on Medium.