There are a large number of PHPers looking for jobs right now. After having just gone through the process myself, I wanted to put together some of the most common PHP interview questions. These questions are all non-technical, but do represent the soft side of PHP interviewing. I cannot help you if you don’t have the technical skills to answer the technical questions, but answering these questions correctly is often the key to making or breaking your chances with an interviewer who otherwise has fine technical candidates.
Why did you leave your last position?
This question is a hard one to answer, particularly if (like me) your departure was public. However, no employer wants to hear you beat up on another employer. They also don’t want to hear that you “outgrew” an employer (I learned that lesson the hard way). They fear they’re going to be next.
Be honest, but be able to present yourself in a good light. If you lost your job, be careful about how you phrase it. If you left or want to leave your current employer, find a reason that doesn’t make you sound flaky, flighty, or arrogant.
How did you get into PHP?
Work up a good personal anecdote when you prepare to answer this question. This is not a time for the answer of “I wanted to make a lot of money,” even if that’s the true reason. My guess is that it’s in fact not the true reason.
My answer is that I got into PHP because I had a particular problem I needed to solve: I was running an online roleplaying game and I needed to find an automated way to do the calculations involved. I tried Excel but one player didn’t own a copy and wouldn’t have been able to play. I tried ASP and .NET but hated them; PHP worked for me, and that’s how I got into it.
The above answer is the truth, and also has the qualities of being able to show an interviewer that I love the language I’m working in. This isn’t just a job, but a passion. If you’re passionate about PHP, think up a (true) answer that makes them feel good about hiring you.
Where do you ultimately want to be in life?
Contrary to popular belief, the interviewer is not interested in hearing about your dreams. They want to know how well you’re going to fit into their organization.
This is not the time to talk about your desire to start a business or go off to law school in two years (also a lesson from the school of hard knocks). This is a time to talk about how you want to become even better at what you do than you are now, and maybe graduate into a team lead. Keep it focused on the organization at hand. And don’t give too much away.
How many gas stations are there in Los Angeles?
The good news: there is no correct answer to this question so any answer will work. The bad news: this is a question of “how do you think?” without asking that specific question. You’re being graded on your approach to big, abstract questions.
There’s no true way to prepare for these questions, but when you get one, you need to be ready to answer it. Your best bet is to try and reason out an answer with the interviewer; use them as a resource to check your logic and come up with an answer. The answer is unimportant; the thought process is wholly important. So go with that.
These questions are generally rare, but come up in interviews that employ the “Microsoft style” of interviewing. The good news is that if you answer coherently and competently, you should be more than fine.
What’s your salary range?
Never ever answer this question with a number. You’d be surprised at the number of people who think answering this with a number is a good idea. If you answer the question with a number, you can guarantee yourself a salary no higher than that number, and worse, you may even eliminate yourself from consideration by naming a number that is too high.
There are a number of answers to this question. First, there’s the answer that “I am open to considering all offers, and I hadn’t really thought about a salary range.” If that doesn’t work, you can also try and explain that you felt undervalued at your last employer, and that you’d rather not come up with a number right now. Do what you can to be polite but to not give a number to your interviewer, if you can avoid it.
Do you have any questions for us?
You bet your ass you do! You want to find out how well they do on the Joel Test and things like core hours. Ask about dress code. Ask about equipment you’ll be using. Ask about the projects you’ll be working on. Ask to see your workspace.
You also will have the urge to ask about things like benefits package. Don’t. Do. Not. Ask. Those questions are reserved for AFTER you have an offer letter in your hands. That’s right – you ask about the benefits package after you have a formal offer of employment that you can accept or reject.
Bear in mind that the questions you ask will shape your interviewer’s viewpoint about who you are as a person. And worse, the question and answer period usually comes at the end of an interview, meaning it’s their last impression of you. Don’t blow it by asking stupid questions that make them think all you care about is how much time they’ll pay you for while you aren’t doing any work (a.k.a. paid time off).
While the technical questions of an interview are something that require technical knowledge, these “soft” questions are just as crucial and often can make the difference. Prepare to answer them, and their variants, because you will be asked about these things. Answer them well and you’ll have multiple offers to choose from, every time.