The Soft Skills You Need to Ace Freelance Developer Interviews

Published Oct 27, 2017Last updated Nov 09, 2017
The Soft Skills You Need to Ace Freelance Developer Interviews

You’re an established developer trying to get into the freelance developing scene. You have the requisite technical skills and you have an interview coming up with a freelance developer platform or a client soon.

You want to increase your chances of passing the vetting process but you’re a little nervous because you're new to the freelancing game.

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Below, we’re going to talk about some important soft skills a freelance developer should showcase when interviewing with freelance developer platforms — including your communication skills, your ability to get along with others, and your professionalism — to increase your chances of success during the vetting process and in interactions with clients.

Communication

Spoken Communication

Speak clearly, give clear and logical answers, and listen carefully when the interviewer or potential client asks you a question. Don’t be afraid to politely ask them to repeat the question or take a second to think about how to best phrase your answer.

Instead of
Giving general answers when the interviewer asks you a question,
Do this
Give specific answers that show you’re interested in the job.

When the interviewer asks you a question, be as detailed as possible in your response (within reason). For example, when asked by the person vetting you, “What questions would you ask prospective clients on the phone,” don’t just say “just the general ones,” and leave it at that. Show that you care about the process by giving more specific answers.

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To interviewers, even asking about the hypothetical client’s timeline and budget would show that you’ve put serious thought into freelancing and that you respect your potential client and the process.

Another example question is, “How do you handle feature creep?” If your answer is “I’m okay with it because I’m being paid on an hourly basis,” you’re not likely to impress your interviewer.

Instead, say something like, “I’m okay with it, but I will explain what that means and what that means for clients.” This not only shows that you know your stuff, but that you will be able to explain concepts to clients and be professional and reliable when asked for domain knowledge.

Other possible questions:

  • What kind of client have you been working with?
  • What type of setting are you more experienced working in?
  • Have there been any instances where a client was not 100% happy?
  • In complex projects there’s so much variability, how do you make sure expectations are set right?
  • How would you determine what technologies to use? What kind of questions would you ask to come up with that?
  • 10 Freelance Engineer Interview Questions

Written Communication

With spell check, sites like Grammarly, and innumerable Chrome extensions, there is little to no excuse for spelling errors in email, especially for professional purposes. After all, very few things sour an interviewer’s impression of you more than receiving a grammatically nonsensical email.

Instead of
Writing little to nothing in your email or sending something rife with spelling errors,
Do this
Be polite and friendly, even in email.

You don’t want to stand out as being a bad written communicator. While your time is precious, it comes off as rude if you write an email with a subject line and nothing in the body (this has happened to an interviewer before). Nor do you want to write an email that is riddled with spelling errors.

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Instead, set a friendly tone in your email. Be pleasant and greet the person you’re emailing, ask a question or answer the question posed to you, and end with a “thank you” and/or “have a nice day,” which makes the email sound more friendly and sets you apart from the other people that weren’t as polite.

Before hitting send, reread your email, perhaps out loud, to make sure it makes sense. If you’re unsure about your email, particularly when it comes to tone, ask a friend to read it over to see if you came across as polite (and to see if there were any typos or ambiguities).

Finally, one interviewer noted that he liked receiving thank you or follow up emails from developers. This showed him that the developer was serious about freelancing, polite, and appreciated the time spent on his interview.

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Playing Well With Others

Being Patient

For many non-technical people, technology can be intimidating. Extended talk about coding or the intricacies of code development may not be their forte, so you must be patient when explaining concepts to your interviewer or client.

During an interview, be sure to pay attention to the interviewer or client's expression or tone of voice — if they seem lost, ask nicely if there’s something they’d like you to repeat.

Instead of
Being overeager to show exactly what you know while talking at lightning speed or assuming everyone is as knowledgable as you are,
Do this
Be proactive and ask if your interviewer if they need more (or less) information from you.

While it is tempting to show off everything you know, be considerate of your interviewer or client’s needs. They don’t need to know the entire history of JavaScript to hire a JavaScript developer. Provide clear answers but also be proactive in anticipating your interviewer’s needs.

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For example, ask your interviewer if they understood something you just said. If they say no, consider explaining it in a different way or ask where you lost them. If you feel like you’ve been giving too much information, based on your interviewer’s expression, ask them to stop you if they feel like that’s enough information.

A vetter we interviewed suggested taking initiative when asked about past projects by volunteering to show the interviewer or client an example of past projects on screen. This approach shows pride in one’s work and may make it easier for the vetter/client to understand the conversation when they have a visual reference to follow along with.

This will demonstrate to the interviewer or client that you’re considerate, patient, and willing to accommodate others, which makes them more likely to want to work with you.

Being Personable

Err on the side of caution and be a little more conservative than usual when it comes to showing off your sense of humor. Remember, tone is important and pay attention to the interviewer’s reactions to see if your jokes are being well received.

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At the end of the interview, be sure to thank the interviewer for their time and express appreciation for taking the time to talk to you. If you were late to the interview, even if it was unintentional, be sure to apologize. Interviewers often talk to many people in one day — you want them to think of you fondly as the polite person who thanked them rather than one of the many who might not have.

Instead of
Trying to be cool and aloof or come across as superior in your knowledge,
Do this
Act interested in what your interviewer has to say.

Even if the interview isn’t going as well as you’d hoped, always try to be interested in what the interviewer or client is saying. If you seem indifferent or bored, the interviewer, in turn, will also react coolly to you, perpetuating a negative cycle.

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Instead, look and be interested in what the other person is saying. Ask for someone’s name and address them by it during the interview. Ask questions about the engagement or about the company. If you can connect on a more personal note with an interviewer or client, they’re more likely to want to interact with you again.

Finally, at the end of the interview, sincerely thank the interviewer or client for their time. This will make them feel appreciated and leave them with a positive impression. Even if they don’t end up hiring you for this particular engagement, at least they’ll be open to speaking to you in the future.

Professionalism

Responding to Emails

If you live in a different time zone from your client, do make sure that they know this in order to prevent any misunderstandings about your communication speed, e.g., if your client’s time zone is more than 12 hours ahead or behind yours, let them know that if they send an email during their daytime (and your nighttime), you may not be able to respond until your morning. Be sure, however, to respond when you see the email.

Instead of
Brushing off emails or taking rejection personally,
Do this
Respond as soon as possible and as politely as possible.

A client’s (and freelance developer platform’s) fear is a MIA developer. This means potential setbacks, delays, and failed projects. From vetting process to interview to being hired, you don’t want to come off as a flake. If you build a reputation as someone who responds to email as soon as possible, it’ll follow you from job to job and act as an endorsement of your professionalism.

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If, by any chance, your interview did not go well and you didn’t get the job or pass the vetting interview, ask politely what you need to improve and thank the interviewer for their time. If you can politely handle rejection or failure, especially for a freelance developer platform, that says something about your character and professionalism, which may earn you a second shot.

No matter what, don’t burn bridges. Even if the situation didn’t end in your favor, don’t attack the interviewer or client via email or online forums. Knee-jerk emotional emails are never the answer, because they leave a bad taste in the interviewer’s mouth, and you never know who might see your message.

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Communicating with Clients

Try not to overpromise and underdeliver to clients, both in terms of what you can deliver and how fast you can deliver it by. By underpromising or only promising what you can actually achieve in a realistic amount of time, you show clients that you know your abilities well, have strong time management skills, and are reliable.

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On the flip side, do let clients know when you might need more time, ahead of time. Life happens, but as a professional, you should be considerate and let the client know that you might be late to a meeting or you’re running into roadblocks.
This way, they can reschedule or rethink progress on their end.

Instead of
Being passive and avoiding discussing setbacks,
Do this
Let the interviewer know as soon as possible that something isn’t going smoothly, and be honest about it.

Also, if you’re going to be late, let the interviewer or client know. In terms of a real-life example, an interviewer we spoke to said that although she preferred clients not be late, they wouldn’t necessarily fail the interview unless they were a complete no-show.

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She had a client email saying that they would be late for the interview because they were stuck in traffic and couldn’t call. While, of course, it would have been preferable that the developer be on time, the notice given showed that the developer would at least be considerate of a potential client’s time.

Also, during the interview, make sure your phone is turned off and there are no distractions, such as doorbells. Another vetting expert noted that it came across as extremely unprofessional when a developer interrupted their vetting interview to answer the doorbell.

Presentation

On top of communication, being personable, and remaining professional, one other factor to consider is your presentation. Before a vetting or client interview, make sure you update your portfolio to highlight your strengths and latest accomplishments. While you know you’re an expert in your language or domain, your interviewer or prospective client may not know this, so give them a chance to get to know the most current version of you professionally as they get to know you personally.

During the interview, make sure that you look presentable, professional, and well-groomed. While you don’t have to wear a tuxedo, make sure you’re wearing a clean, pressed, dress shirt and your hair is combed. After all, first impressions are sometimes the last impression that people have of you.

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If the interviewer can see your surroundings, make sure the space behind you is neat. Although you’re free to do what you like in your own home, you want to present yourself as a professional to interviewers, and a messy environment isn’t going to inspire confidence in your abilities.

A vetting expert we interviewed mentioned that she has had potential developers wear ratty t-shirts with uncombed hair, tank tops, or robes, and others who turned on the webcam to reveal themselves lying in bed with a pillow behind them. While they were comfortable, being too comfortable for a formal interview shows a profound lack of professionalism that can be hard to overcome.

Before an interview, either tidy up or position yourself against a wall if you don’t have time to clean to give the interviewer or client the best possible first impression.

Cultural Differences

Be sure to keep in mind cultural differences when it comes to interviews. While bluntness and a projection of extreme confidence may work for you in one culture, it could be a turnoff for an interviewer or client from the United States.

Americans tend to enjoy talking to warm, friendly, and assertive people with a sense of humor. Interviews sometimes have a sense of casual professionalism, where candidates are expected to be friendly, but professional, and small jokes are typicially appreciated.

In American culture, punctuality is very important, as are verbal promises. While some cultures may consider overpromising as enterprising and a mark of initiative, Americans may find it disappointing and irritating when promises aren’t kept.

Oral contracts are as important as written ones, so if your word is your bond, you don’t want to let them down. When working with U.S. based clients, it’s important to strike a balance between the amount of goods delivered and the time it takes to deliver those goods when discussing engagement details.

Finally, Americans are generally open to new ideas — if you take the right approach. While it may be acceptable in some cultures to press for your idea based solely on your domain expertise, this may be off-putting. Instead, be flexible, provide clear ideas and solutions, and a healthy amount of discussion.

One Last Piece of Advice

There will, of course, be times where, as a freelance developer, all of these soft skills come into play at the same time. One possible situation where you could be using all of the soft skills we listed is when it’s time to discuss changes.

For example, if a client is asking you for changes or features that are impossible given the development schedule, how should you approach the situation?

First, stay calm, and be firm, but polite. Let them know that the changes or features won’t be possible because of X, Y, and Z reasons. If the client understands why this is unreasonable or inefficient, he or she might be more open to suggestions. This requires patience and spoken communication skills on your end.

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Second, if you had prior knowledge of proposed changes or features ahead of time, perhaps via email, then you might have thought of other possible workarounds or features.

Now is the time to present these ideas to the client after you’ve convinced them through clear, logical reasoning, why their changes would not work. The client may need time to think about your proposals and may not accept them right away, or at all. Don’t take “no” personally, and remain professional.

By working on your soft skills, and reminding yourself to be patient and communicate well, you’ll be able to navigate potentially thorny situations with ease. This will, fingers crossed, lead to repeat engagements as a freelance developer.
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Conclusion

Soft skills like communication, playing well with others, and professionalism are just as important in freelance developing as your hard, technical skills. Even if you’re the biggest JavaScript rockstar there is, if you can’t impress a client or convince a vetting expert from a freelance developer platform that you’re reliable, professional, and someone clients want to work with, it’ll be twice as hard to book jobs.

To succeed as a freelance developer, strive to work on your communication skills, both written and verbal, keep in mind cultural differences when interviewing with different clients, and make adjustments accordingly. By taking a deep breath, doing some mock interviews for practice, and putting your best foot forward by improving your soft skills, you too can be an in-demand freelance developer.

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