Before we start I would like to point out that I’m doing generalizations here and I’m sure that there are exceptions to what I’m saying in this post. There are different approaches to the junior and senior developers. What you can ask a senior you don’t ask a junior. I’m just writing about what has happened to me.
The most common thought about good developers I have ran to is that they are very rare to find on the market, because they always have great jobs and when they change it it’s really fast because they get to pick a company and not the other way around. My case is very different - (Guess I’m no good, huh?) - I like to be in the market and I like to know what’s out there. If I see a really good job offer I will maybe go and talk to them not because I’m not happy with my job, but because I’m simply curious about the market and how things are changing. At least once a year I make a campaign and go to a series of different interviews. This gives me a knowledge of:
- How are the salaries changing
- Whats the tendency in term of technologies
- If there are any new cool companies around
There’s more. By practicing interviewing you get to be a better interviewee, which basically means, you’ll find it less stressful to be in an interview and can negotiate better.
On to the main topic!
I have been working in Poland for five years as a programmer. It means I went to a couple of interviews each year. I don’t think that I’ve changed jobs too often: at the first company I’d spent one and a half year, at the second little over two years and a year at the third. Right now I’m working in London where I’ve been to a couple interviews when I was considering a move. I find that interviews in Poland and The UK have the same structure:
- Theoretical questions
- Practical excercises
- Negotiating a deal
But boy, there are differences!
If you want to apply for a job in Poland all you need is only a CV full of buzz words that match the specific position. If you’re applying for a .NET role than just type every .NET-specific buzz word you know. It’s also nice if you have some experience. That’s all you need to get to an in person meeting. Sometimes there is a phone screening with some trivial questions like: the difference between interface and abstract class.
Note that the Polish employer really doesn’t have any real measurement on your skills and interests at this point. You can pass phone screening by googling most frequent questions on stackoverflow.
I was applying to The UK via a recruitment agency so they helped me to get here. They’ve been advising me on what I have to do. I’ve noticed that the CV is the least important in all of this. You need to write a good covering letter and pass equally easy phone screen as in Poland. This may seem easy, but the writing of the letter is a tricky one. First of all you need to show that you know how to write and communicate your ideas. I believe this is one of the most important skills any good engineer should have to be able to I/O with the business. Secondly, you need to show that you care about your work. That you are passionate and that you spend time after hours on some home programming projects.
By reading the covering letter a UK employer has some understanding about the candidate’s mindset, in comparison to the Polish one.
The theory questions in the interview are very similar on both sides. Only one thing. In Poland they were asking a lot of “AHA!” questions and checking if you know Books Online by heart. Except from that both Polish and British interviews are pretty much the same. Some design questions, patterns, practices and general discussion on programming.
In both countries you will do something on the whiteboard. In Poland it’s very rare to sit in front of the computer and do a pair programming task. Even if you do, it’s very likely to be a for-loop with some string manipulation. Pair programming happens very often in The UK. You read the spec and do some TDD development. This helps to verify if you can take the lead or you have to be lead by hand. I think it’s a big difference because UK version is more practical: There is a problem, a methodology and a discussion. You either show you know what you’re doing or not.
While it’s very simple in The UK, it’s not so straight forward in Poland. In The UK what happens is: you say what you need, they say how much they can give you, it’s all in the open. You probably know the place’s salary range from the job advertisement. In Poland though, it can be very different. First of all, very few employers disclose the salary range. You always have to ask around or guess. Very often I would go through the entire recruitment process and then get disappointed because the employer’s maximum wage was half of what I was making. Total waste of time. Other time they will ask you how much would you like and then just disappear without any feedback.
At the beginning of my career when I was at an interview I was worried “what if I ask for too much? They won’t give me an offer!”. It’s a pressure. There was a simple way to change my mindset: not getting an under paid job is a bigger win than getting well paid one. Unless you are desperate of course. Thankfully I never was. Don’t be afraid to ask for too much.
When I was writing this article I was trying not to judge anyone. Mainly because there is an exception to every rule. I simply can’t stand the level of culture in Poland when it comes to salary negotiation and I really like The UK’s standards and transparency.
I just want to point out that I believe that in Poland an average employer is a nightmare and an exception one is a very good work place.
Right now I also believe that in The UK the situation is opposite.
Time will verify.