5 red flags when interviewing for your first developer role

Jun 30, 2022 - 8 min read
Crystal Song
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You love learning new technologies, languages, and skills. That passion for learning is one of the most valuable assets you have as a new developer. At the start of your tech career, you want to be sure that your first role will have the right resources to help you flourish, learn, and improve. Having a supportive manager, helpful coworkers, and strong leadership can make a huge difference in your overall success and satisfaction.

You may not always find the perfect first role, and that’s totally fine. What’s important is that you avoid workplaces that are willing to take advantage of your lack of experience.

So, what should you look out for when you first start interviewing for a developer role? We’ll go over several red flags that consistently give away toxic work environments, important questions to ask as a new developer, and some green flags that indicate opportunities for growth.

Let’s dive right in!

We’ll cover:

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1. They struggle to clearly define job expectations

If your interviewers are unsure of what you’ll be doing on the job, that can indicate a lack of planning on their part, poor communication, or a lack of organization. As a new developer, you want to learn as much as possible from your first role. So, it’s good to find out what exactly you’ll be working on.

Without strong leadership or clear expectations, you may find yourself in a position where your learning goals don’t align with your responsibilities.

Ask:

  • “Could you tell me more about the tasks and projects I would be working on?”
  • “What are the key responsibilities and expectations for this position?”
  • “What would my first 30/60/90 days look like in this role?”

Green flag

Your interviewer is transparent about any ambiguity surrounding your role, and provides details on how the team communicates and works together to support each other when they need help.

Anecdote Time!

My previous mentor and supervisor had left a strong impression on me because she was genuinely interested in my career development. She often recommended resources that aligned with my goals and regularly took the time to discuss my plans for the future.

When I interviewed at Educative, I brought up this positive experience and expressed that I was looking for a work culture that was as supportive as the one I was leaving.

At the time, I had to make a decision between two fairly similar offers. The lack of hesitation and the enthusiastic response from Educative is ultimately what led me to accept their offer.

2. They’re not aware of specific growth opportunities for employees

Some employers are simply uninterested in investing any time or resources in anything that doesn’t directly profit them. This isn’t necessarily a dealbreaker, but for someone who is eager to learn and grow, it can be dismaying to hear that there aren’t clear paths to promotion or continuing education.

Without a sense of progress, you may start to feel the effects of burnout as your career comes to a grinding halt. Unfortunately, for many employees in this situation, their best bet is to quit and look for a new job elsewhere.

However, there are also many employers who genuinely want their employees to learn, succeed, and reach their highest potential. Software and web developers are in high demand, and plenty of companies offer opportunities to attend conferences, networking events, workshops, and much more. It’s worth finding a company that is interested in your future goals and wants to help you reach them.

Ask:

  • “What career development opportunities are available for employees?”
  • “What do you do to ensure that your employees have room to grow in their role?”
  • “Do you offer a professional development stipend?”

Green flag

Your interviewer asks about your goals for the future or freely offers up information about how employees can take advantage of career development opportunities at the company.

3. Unpaid labor disguised as a technical test

Coding tests and technical projects are a great way for employers to gauge your skills and see how you think. However, these assessments shouldn’t take longer than a few hours or look like something that the company could use. If it does, that might be a red flag that your time is not being respected. Worse, it could be a sign that you’re being taken advantage of by someone who has no intention of hiring you.

Ask:

  • “Could you provide an estimate of how many hours candidates are expected to spend on this assessment?”
  • “Is this project going to be used solely as a skills assessment?”

Green flag

If the employer offers to pay you for the time spent on a technical assessment, that’s a big green flag. Oftentimes, these employers will also be transparent about whether or not your assessment will be used as a company asset. These companies value your time and labor.

4. Any variation of “We’re like a family here”

Everyone wants an employer who respects the boundary between their employees’ professional and personal lives. Pay close attention to the use of any language that could be used to undermine this boundary because you don’t want to work with an intrusive manager who is constantly texting or emailing you outside of work hours. It can be particularly distressing for a new developer to work in this kind of environment because they can be coerced into taking on more work.

Take some time to figure out what your comfort level is when it comes to sharing aspects of your personal life with your coworkers, and then ask questions about the company culture to see if you’d fit in.

Ask:

  • “What’s your policy on contacting employees outside of work hours?”
  • “How does your team handle projects where overtime is required?”
  • “How is the work/life balance here?”

Green flag

Some workplaces have unlimited PTO, and a fraction of these workplaces have a mandatory minimum PTO in addition to unlimited PTO. This is a major green flag and indicates that a company is serious about making sure you have an optimal work/life balance.

5. A high junior-to-senior developer ratio

Does the company have a high turnover rate? As a new or junior developer, you will want to be on a team that has enough experienced individuals to help guide and mentor you in your early career. For example, if a company has one senior developer for every two or three junior developers, that’s typically a sign that you’ll be able to get valuable 1:1 mentorship. This ratio can vary depending on how comfortable a senior developer is with teaching and guiding junior developers.

If a company has a high turnover rate, it’s important to find out how that will affect the team you’re interested in joining. Having a senior developer that stays with the company and spends time mentoring you can help you establish an important professional relationship early in your career. If senior developers are prone to leaving, it may be harder for you to build a professional network.

Ask:

  • “What’s the ratio of junior developers to senior developers on this team?”
  • “How is mentorship prioritized at your company?”
  • “Approximately how long do your senior developers stay with the company?”

Green flag

If the company has a low turnover rate or an internal mentorship program, then that’s a pretty good sign that they will prioritize your growth!

Get hands-on with interview prep today.

Try one of our 300+ courses and learning paths: Grokking the Behavioral Interview.


Wrapping up and next steps

Navigating interviews for developer roles can be tricky because so much of your job satisfaction depends on variables that are outside of your control. As a new developer, it can be difficult to identify what is and isn’t a healthy work environment for you, because you don’t have prior experience to reference. What you should know is that there will always be other opportunities. Even new software and web developers have skills that businesses and organizations are competing for!

If you have the means to do so, you should always turn down an offer that puts you at risk of burning out.

You deserve to find a workplace that is just as passionate about learning and growth as you are. While this isn’t an exhaustive list of red flags, it’s still a good starting point for considering some important, non-technical questions to ask during your interview.

Happy learning!

To get started learning these concepts and more, check out Educative’s Grokking the Behavioral Interview.

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WRITTEN BYCrystal Song

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