Engaging Your Interviewer

We’ve been looking for Windows devs to help us work on our Todoist for Windows 10 app.

I want to share a few tips on how to have a good interview. They’re based on my interviews of around 50 people. If the tips feel basic, you’re probably already making a consistent strong impression during an interviews!

For the busy crowd, the tips are:

  1. Prepare Good Questions
  2. Go into Specifics
  3. Provide Criticism
  4. Have a Conversation
  5. Don't Ramble

1. Prepare Good Questions

This is a big one. Lots of candidates have no questions. Not about the role, not about the culture, not about our tech. It’s a red flag for a few reasons:

  • The candidate didn’t prepare for the interview. It might not be true, but a lack of questions creates that impression.
  • The candidate doesn’t care about our specific company. We’re looking for people excited to live our culture and build our products.
  • The candidate lacks curiosity. Again, it might not be an accurate assessment. But when you go through our blog and products, at least a few questions should pop up.

Thoughtful questions give you more information about us. They also serve to show your qualities as a prospective colleague.

Great questions are many, here are few common themes:

2. Go Into Specifics

Some candidates are reluctant to talk about the technical details of their work. It gives the interviewer less information to assess a candidate’s technical prowess.

I sometimes share this feedback with candidates. They frequently say they were afraid to stay within the interview time constraints. The best candidates demonstrate their expertise while keeping their answers concise.

Interviewer: “Can you share a technical difficulty in your last project and how you overcame it?”

Interviewee — Bad Response: “We were working with a large codebase that was very complex. Our biggest challenge was to try to simplify it. We worked for a few months on making the overall architecture more simple. We successfully made the app more maintainable.”

Interviewee — Good Response: “We inherited a monolithic codebase. It was tough to introduce new features without unintentionally changing behaviors of other parts of the system. So we broke the code into smaller components while using a DI container. We picked Unity because the interception feature is cool; we use it for a few cross-cutting concerns. Do you use a DI container in the Todoist UWP app?

3. Provide Criticism

It's very hard to be critical of what the interviewer says. You want to make a good impression and are afraid that the interviewer won't like you if you criticize them. If they get offended, you're better off looking for a different job anyways.

Candidates that offer constructive criticism during a job interview impress. Giving feedback during an interview shows you enjoy both providing and accepting feedback. Willingness to express criticism under challenging conditions an essential quality for companies that want to keep improving.

For more on how to provide good feedback, give the Radical Candor book a shot.

4. Have a Conversation

This one is the hardest to do, especially if you’re not a great conversationist. But if you manage to draw the interviewer into a discussion, you will make a strong impression.

Aside from creating a strong impression, there are other benefits. Having a fluent conversation reveals more about company culture and engineering values. In cases where the interviewer is your future team lead, you can get a much better sense of what kind of boss they’d be.

If you don't feel like a skilled conversationist, here are a few great tips from Sean Plott, one of YouTube's engaging storytellers.


Sean's Conversation Tips

5. Don't Ramble

Rambling answers are common during job interviews. The interviewer asks difficult questions, and the interviewee doesn't always have a crisp answer at hand. It's easy to start answering and come up with the rest of the answer on the go. Don't do this.

If you get a hard question, follow a three-step process:

  1. Take a few breaths; organize your thoughts.
  2. Answer the question.
  3. Stop talking.

Step three is the most difficult one. You will inevitably come up with more imaginative ways to answer the question as you're answering and want to share it. This approach frequently results in hard-to-understand trains of thought from the interviewer's point of view. It's better to finish your thought and let the interviewer engage if they choose to.


When having interviews, try to be engaging and give the interviewer enough information to make a fair assessment.

Adopting these tips can also make the interview a fun experience; instead of a tense and stressed-filled one.

If you notice you’re having a good time while the interview is happening, you’re on your way to getting a great job. The best interviews are the ones where everyone learns something.

Cover Image Credit: Photo by Juri Gianfrancesco on Unsplash

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