Questions Developers Should Consider Asking Potential Employers
If you are looking for a guideline on how to find a good employer, these questions may be a good place to start.
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During the whole recruitment process, we are asked a lot of questions to prove our skills as software engineers. This is understandable, as each company wants to get the best employee to meet their — more or less sane — criteria.
It is equally understandable that we, as engineers, also want to work for the best companies out there. The “best” company means something different to each one of us, but no matter our criteria, we still need to work out a way to filter out the right companies or at least cross out the wrong ones.
In this post, I will present some ideas on the topic. I will especially focus on the questions that we, as software engineers, can ask our interviewers and that may impact our decision about the company we will choose as our next employer.
Let’s start with a quick overview of what we can do to pick the best company.
This article was written from my perspective and expresses my views on the matter — with self-development and professional growth as priorities. Naturally, remuneration is another big factor that helps us decide where to work, but luckily, most job postings now include the salary range.
How To Select the Best Company
An obvious solution is to browse portals like Glassdoor, whose goal is to collect reliable opinions and data about companies. We can also rely on the common opinion on a particular company in the IT sector, seeing as a number of companies have established their reputations as good employers.
It is always a good idea to ask around whenever possible. You can learn that your prospective employer has interesting and challenging projects, or it may be quite the contrary and they have very bad projects but pay twice as much as competitors. If the rumor is that the company is cool, you still don't want to bet your life on it, so the right thing to do is ask questions.
During interviews, we should be given time and opportunity to ask questions about anything that is interesting to us in regards to our future employer. Many companies appreciate it when potential employees ask questions. It is an opportunity to show your proactivity, your approach to teamwork, and to express what you value. If you are not given this opportunity during your recruitment process, it could be a potential red flag for the company. Why would they not let you get to know them better?
Is there a clear path for promotion?
The answer to this question can provide quite a bit of insight into company culture and inner workings. An answer like, “Meet the goals set by your managers,” is probably very common, but it is not a clear promotion requirement. Other answers such as, “It depends on the project you will join,” or, “When you do something exceptional you will be promoted,” can also be a red flag.
In my opinion, the perfect answer will include an internal-based promotion system that is not based purely on the manager’s opinion about a person. In such cases, you at least know that the company spends time thinking about its internal workings or on your personal development inside the company.
What is more, after getting this kind of answer, you know that the company did not copy its promotion system straight from management guidelines found on Google’s first page. Of course, there are corner cases. For example, in startups, there may not be any promotion path because it was not developed yet, and that is completely normal.
Are there any offline integration meetings?
It is yet another commonly asked question but it is also quite meaningful, especially during the pandemic and post-pandemic times when a lot of companies work remotely. There is no particular "good" answer here. This question is focused on getting more insight into the company.
If you hear ”no,” then for sure it should be a huge red flag for this company, as nowadays, most corporate corporations probably have this type of meeting in one way or another.
On the other hand, if you hear “yes” then, you can also ask more questions on the topic like how often it takes place or what it looks like. I leave the interpretation of the answer up to you, as everybody likes spending their time in different ways.
What is the company’s approach to internal knowledge sharing?
Here, you can gain more insight into the company’s approach to their employees’ development. In my opinion, the more knowledge-sharing initiatives there are, the better. There are various initiatives, from a company reading club to internal courses and workshops. It is always good to ask for more details on the topic so as not to be surprised later when you hear that this famous internal knowledge sharing turns out to be one meeting once or twice a year.
Are refunds given for certificates?
This is quite a tricky question from the perspective of the employer because most companies claim to have budgets for career development courses, certificates, conferences, etc. Instead of asking about the budget itself, I would recommend asking about how to use it. Of course, the simpler the process, the better the answer. On the other hand, if the company does not have any refund system, you can add yet another red flag next to its name.
And these are all the “soft” questions for this article. Let's move to more technically-focused ones.
Let’s start with a bunch of questions regarding the topic of knowledge sharing and the company’s impact on the technical community they are a part of - as I would like to approach these questions separately.
Does the company have any open source projects?
This may be a surprising question from the employer’s perspective, as a lot of companies might not care about the open source community, and even fewer companies have such projects. For me, having actively developed and maintained open source projects is quite a thing for a company. It does not have to be Kubernetes or anything on that scale, it can just be a small library that does something useful. Nevertheless, it is a big plus for a company.
Does the company have a tech blog?
Company blogs are always a great place to start blogging yourself and build your personal reputation if you ever decided to go this way.
Does the company organize events?
One more question related to returning some value to the community. Maybe the company sponsors local groups like JUGs or has its own conference with some renown out there.
For me, it would be a huge plus to work for a company that cares about the community they are a part of. As a side note, I would like to add that most of the top tech companies out there in the wide world will answer “yes” to these questions.
Does the company have its own starter set for a project?
If they say “no,” it's not necessarily a big deal. A lot of companies do not have starters, but it can be a plus if they do.
It is quite useful to have some type of starter app like a Maven archetype, a base Docker image, or even a simple pre-configured Spring Boot app to use as a cornerstone for new services and projects. Besides the obvious pros of increasing the development speed, it may greatly reduce all the time you need to research the technology stack used by the company.
What is more, you will also know that the company spends time thinking about its engineering process.
Does the company have its own wrappers for commonly-used tools?
This question is somewhat similar in meaning to the previous one. Once again, it can greatly reduce problems, especially if you are new to some of the technologies used by the company.
Unfortunately, I view such company wrappers as a bad thing, as you do not have the chance to work with technologies directly and do not gain experience in solving production problems related to using them. It may be a problem when you decide to change the job.
You may be very surprised that you were not solving any real-life problems, only your company's internal tool problems. This may make it feel like your hard work is not worth much.
Do you have any partnerships like, for example, Lightbend or Confluent?
This question can give you some information about the possible technologies you will be working with. What is more, it can help you push your self-development forward, as most partnerships give access to certain courses or discounts for professional certifications.
It can be quite useful if you have to learn a new tool or just want to get acknowledged for your skills. It may be a great benefit if you decide to work for the company.
You may know the answers to one or all of the above questions before starting your recruitment process. They may even be the reason you decided to start this process at all. I hope you found them useful and that they help if you decide to start looking for a new job. If you have any ideas for questions to add or just want to discuss one of my suggestions, then I would like to invite you to the comment section. Thank you for your time.
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