7 Things Developers Should Never Say in a Job Interview

Whether you’re a beginner or a professional with 20 years of experience, most developers know the importance of making a good impression during an interview.

Despite best intentions, however, some applicants say things that hurt their chances of landing an offer. To keep you from making an unfortunate slip of the tongue, here are some things you want to avoid saying during your next interview.

“I don’t like language X or framework Y.”

Disparaging a particular language, library or framework shows a lack of flexibility and a potential unwillingness to learn new technologies, explained Rudolf Olah, software development expert and tech career coach at NeverFriday.

“This comment raises a red flag because it may limit the type or number of projects a developer can work on,” he noted. The goal is to be as flexible as possible, because you never know what kinds of projects or opportunities may materialize down the road.

“No one at my prior company cared about quality. I was the only one who wanted to fix bugs.”

Bad-mouthing a previous team in a job interview never makes you look good. Beyond that, this remark signals that a developer may be unable or unwilling to work collaboratively to come up with a solution to a critical issue.

“The idea that no one in the entire company was concerned about code quality is unlikely,” explained Rolf Buchner, senior engineering manager for real estate brokerage Redfin. Developers who prefer to work in isolation often make this type of comment, he added.

Not everyone agrees on what constitutes high-quality code. Rather than listen to you complain about the coding at your last job, hiring managers want you to describe how you helped boost quality and engineered consensus on your previous teams.

“The optimal (and only) way to solve this problem is to use a HashMap. Everything can be done with HashMap.”

HashMaps can be extremely useful, but you raise concerns when you suggest that any tool is a one-size-fits-all solution. Moreover, the best developers ask questions to define the requirements and constraints before walking the evaluator through their processes and possible solutions.

“The last thing you want to do is make assumptions or recommend an approach that creates technical debt,” Buchner said.

“I want to work on this project and then lead the next project.”

A huge red flag in an interview is when a developer immediately wants to jump ahead, either in projects or positions. While ambition is usually a positive quality, the hiring manager is usually filling a very specific role—not the role you want three years from now. Focus on what you can bring to this opportunity and how you can solve the company’s immediate needs.

“I would estimate the spacing between these two elements to be roughly…”

Do not say “around this much” or “approximately that much” unless you are specifically asked to approximate your answers to a technical question, advised Vikram Joshi, CTO and founder of Pulsd. Ask to use a calculator if the calculations are complex.

“Even if you are interviewing for a front-end developer position, which is mostly about your artistic side, you still need to have a good grasp on the numbers,” he noted. “Nobody wants a webpage where alignment is off even by a few pixels.”

“I don’t do testing. Everyone knows a tester’s job is to find bugs and improve quality.”

Displaying a “that’s not my job” attitude will almost certainly cost you an offer. When it comes to software development, quality is everyone’s responsibility.

“I don’t know.”

Never say “I don’t know…” in response to an interview question without immediately following up with “…but I’ll find out.”

“Developers are expected to be problem-solvers, and must show their curiosity and demonstrate their problem-solving abilities and reasoning skills,” Olah advised.

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6 Responses to “7 Things Developers Should Never Say in a Job Interview”

  1. I take issue with some these responses. It is OK to say what your preferences are regarding tools and frameworks. If you don’t say something you will get stuck on a project that you do not like or be forced to use technology you do not like. Why take such a job if you are going to be miserable. Admitting that you don’t know something is acceptable as long as you make it clear that you are willing to figure it out. If the hiring firm demands that a new hire is to know everything on their wish list then they are not exhibiting any flexibility.

    • Anonymous

      I agree. I am a hiring manager for a large corporation. I actually intentionally present candidates with a very difficult question (that I don’t actually expect them to know the answer to) to see if they will tell me “I don’t know”. This shows a level of humility, integrity, and self-awareness. If a candidate will not be honest with me during an interview, I would expect the same after they are hired. The problem is that recruiters, advice columnists, and other interviewers set up candidates for failure. If an employer expects you to know everything, you don’t want to work for them. They will set you up for failure in your job.

  2. “No one at my prior company cared about quality. I was the only one who wanted to fix bugs.”

    I agree saying this paints one into a corner. It is overly broad.

    But showing integrity is important. I once contracted at a major O&G company. Two of my fellow contractors openly engaged my support to sabatoge code in order to keep the contract renewed. I refused, and in an informal way I let the company’s supervisor who I was friendly with (have drinks, discuss shop after hours) know what was going on. He did not care, was not bothered by it. I did my work to by best, and did not renew the contract.

    Generally I would not bring this up in an interview, it was 30 years ago.
    But it would depend on the interview question.

  3. Anonymous

    I agree. I am a hiring manager for a large corporation. I actually intentionally present candidates with a very difficult question (that I don’t actually expect them to know the answer to) to see if they will tell me “I don’t know”. This shows a level of humility, integrity, and self-awareness. If a candidate will not be honest with me during an interview, I would expect the same after they are hired. The problem is that recruiters, advice columnists, and other interviewers set up candidates for failure. If an employer expects you to know everything, you don’t want to work for them. They will set you up for failure in your job.

  4. Actually – Id correct this. Always say I dont know if you in fact dont know. After interviewing over 60 candidates for senior developer positions in the last two years and watching them come up with answers that they obviously didnt know Id rather them say I dont know. It makes them look better instead of them making up some answer which is clearly wrong. Know what you know and know what you dont know. As an example a java developer in the main will know not much about h264 video encoding and decoding or advanced compression algorithms. So just state that.

  5. Alejandro Germenos

    I don’t know is not valid? I think anyone is allowed to say “I don’t know”. I’m sorry, but why on earth wouldn’t people be allowed to say humbly “I have experience on this and that, but I haven’t worked on this”? There’s a world of new technology out there, and we can’t know it all. And I HAVE to come back with a “but I can research it?”. I am sorry, but many of the young people that fall into this cliche of “I’m tons of possitive attitude” that ends up breaking them apart is in part for this pieces of advice.