Your 1st Impression as a Development Candidate Is Your Writing

Atomic Object Detroit recently assessed dozens of candidates to find a summer development intern, and we’re continually receiving applications for full-time developers.

As I reflect on the candidates that I’ve assessed both here and at previous companies, I’m struck by how revealing each candidate’s first email correspondence is. Those who’ve left strong, positive first impressions on me and my team have almost always made it far in the interview process, while everyone else has almost never worked out well, even if we advanced them to a later stage initially.

Clarity Matters

As job candidates, when we introduce ourselves in writing, we have no excuse not to construct a sharp and thoughtful message that leaves a positive impression on our potential employer. In practice, though, most of these messages fall short of their potential.

Refinement is defined as “the improvement or clarification of something by the making of small changes,” and that’s what many of these emails need. There are numerous ways a piece of writing might need refinement, but here are some that I see the most:

  • punctuation, grammar, or spacing mistakes
  • overly verbose writing
  • writing that resembles a stream of consciousness

When you refine your communication by going back and fixing issues like these, it sends the message that you care about the experience of those who are reading your words. This is especially important to us as software developers, as we often need to discuss complex technical ideas with others who might not have technical backgrounds.

Quality Matters

Using refined and precise communication also sends the message that you’re capable of writing high-quality code. Consider the following parallels between writing and coding:

Writing Coding Shared Skill
Fixing typos and formatting inconsistencies Finding small bugs and syntax errors Attention to detail
Expressing the idea of a paragraph in a more compact way Refactoring for duplication Willingness to revisit and improve
Shuffling the words in a sentence around to make it flow better Refactoring for readability Empathy
Replacing a word with its synonym to convey its meaning more precisely Renaming variables, methods, etc. Extensive vocabulary

Because of the skill set overlap that exists between coding and writing, we can see why software development employers might place high importance on assessing writing samples.

If your skills ultimately don’t meet the requirements of your potential position, no amount of communication scrutinizing will be able to land you the job. But it can leave a lasting positive impression that could help later when your skills are improved.