11 Feb 2009 Interviewing Tips
Recently we had a team member decide it was time for them to move on to a new opportunity. As such I found myself a part of the interview process, something we had not done in a few years. I have not had to interview for a job in eight years and I honestly hope I can go another eight before having to pimp myself to others (in an interview, at least). I would say it is like dating, but with dating at least there is the hope for sex. So far none of the job interviews I have ever been involved with have ever ended in sex, although I am certain that others may have had different experiences. I mean, I would think women at the Chicken Ranch probably have a screening process that is much different than what we have in the IT industry, right?
Anyway, back to the post. So, I had to give interviews this past Monday to six different candidates. Since I was traveling to Atlanta for the interviews we decided to get all six done in one day, limiting ourselves to thirty minutes or so for an interview, then time to discuss the person before the next candidate showed up at the top of the hour. And the process went quite smoothly. I was essentially looked to for a lot of the technical questions and came prepared with eight or so to draw from, depending on how the discussion went.
So, what I want to do here is to cover some of the lessons learned in a hope that in eight (or more) years I can look back at this post to remind myself of things to remember and things to avoid. I am not doing this to call people out, embarrass anyone, or criticize. This is more for my benefit than anything else, and I hope it can help others as well.
And just to keep in interesting, I am going to tie each section into lines you may (or may not) have said while on a date. Of course, it has been much longer than eight years since I have had one of those, but I figured it is like riding a bicycle.
“You look great”
First impressions matter to me. If I have never met you, and you are interviewing for a job with a financial institution, find a coat and tie. Unless you are a woman, but even then most women look better in men’s clothes then men do, so perhaps a coat and tie would work for you as well. I don’t know, I would have to see you, I guess. Look, it doesn’t matter, the point is to dress for the job you want. If you don’t, you may find it hurts your first impression. It is not a show-stopper (for me at least), but would you really want to lose out on a job to someone else simply because they wore a tie to the interview? I know, it seems silly, but visual clues play a big part in any interview.
“You have beautiful eyes”
Acknowledge the existence of everyone in the room. One candidate did not look one of us in the eye. Ever. For thirty minutes. It was as if their opinion or questions did not matter. Trust me, that stood out after about twenty minutes to the point I was about to ask them “WTF is your problem?” I guess I was afraid they would say “I have trouble turning my head to the right” at which point I would be called to the mat for discrimination and this person would end up getting hired and that would not be good for anyone.
“Tell me something about yourself.”
Answer the questions that are asked of you, then STFU. We had several candidates that liked to tell stories. I don’t need stories, I just want some facts and then I want to move the questions along in order to drill into some particular areas. If you talk too much, then I may not be able to have enough time to evaluate you properly. And if I can’t do that, then your chance of getting the job is diminished to a degree. Keep the stories to yourself for now, we can swap them over lunch after you start. If you can not get to the point in an interview, do you think I want to sit through meetings with you? Remember, this is a date we are on, and if after ten minutes I am tired of listening to you talk, your chance of me calling you back are less than good. Sex, however, is still an option.
“Where are you from?”
Listing your past twenty-five contract jobs in the last ten years does not give me a warm and fuzzy feeling. Chances are there is a reason you have not stayed anywhere for too long. And if you have been on a contract for three months, do not try to tell me that you did twenty-seven things during that stretch of time. Focus on the project and the deliverables while there and less on the fluff. In my opinion a resume should not be more than a few pages. A curriculum vitae (CV), however, can go much longer and often does.
“Really? That’s interesting.”
Do not lie, embellish, or go out of your way to talk about yourself with superlatives. Your resume should be doing most of that for you. Now, clearly you want to make an impression, but this is a date. If you go over the top trying to impress then you cross the line into the “this is too good to be true” category. And if we think you are too good to be true, then guess what that means? So, if you tell us that you are a great programmer, be prepared to back it up if we ask you a technical question. If you tell us that you are great at query performance tuning, you should have an idea what a covering index is and why you would want to use one. If you tell us that you have never had an issue with a Microsoft SQL cluster, you are just lying (or you are truly one in a billion). If you tell us that you have a blog, you better have a blog that we can go look at after you leave the room.
“Where did you go to school?”
Education is important, no question. But when you combine education with motivation, then you really have something. Your degree typically measures the amount of work you are capable of doing. That’s the truth. Many years of your life, thousands of dollars spent, for a piece of paper that tells others you have the ability to do work. Certifications are nice to have, but do not replace an education. Certifications combined with experience and measurable deliverables speak volumes. As the interview goes along, make sure you point out relevant parts of your education, certifications, and your motivations. I do not really care that you have a certification of completion for a hands on lab at a Microsoft training center. I do care if you install SQL 2008 at your house and can list your top three favorite new features. That shows me education and motivation.
“I never do this on a first date.”
Again, be honest. If you have not done something, then do not say you have, or have something on your resume that implies you have experience you do not have. If you say that you have designed and implemented application Foobar, but cannot tell me who makes Foobar, how you used it, and then say “actually, I didn’t use it all that much” after subsequent questions, why would I believe anything else you are going to say after that point?
“I’m still looking for that someone special.”
Yeah, us too, that’s why we are here. If you have bounced around from one contract to another, don’t pretend like you are finally ready to settle down. If your resume is filled with 3-6 month assignments, there could be a reason why. Think of it this way, if a guy/girl has been in more than a handful of relationships in the past few years chances are whatever special feeling you have at that moment is going to wear off in roughly the same amount of time as all the others. And what do all those others have in common? Right, just you. You are the common link. So, do we think that they were all wrong, or should we think that perhaps there is something wrong with you. Maybe you are looking for something special. When you find it, let us know. Until then, we’ll pass on getting too emotionally attached. Sorry, it’s not you, it’s me.
“What’s the worst date you’ve ever been on?”
This one. This is the worst interview I have ever had, except for the comedic effect of course. And I once spent two days at Fort Meade getting poked and prodded by the NSA.
“Will I see you again?” or “Call me.”
When the date is over ask for a card. We had only one person do this on Monday, and I was quite surprised. We had some internal candidates, so I can excuse them. But the external candidates have no excuse. Their failure to ask me stuck out. Oh, and the guy who asked for one? Well, I didn’t have any with me! But one of us did, so we were covered. I had mine for the rest of the day, and I still have them now. So, my guess is that those candidates decided they did not want to see me again, which is fine.
“Here’s my number.”
Bring a pen or something, anything, to write with. Some paper would be good as well. I don’t care if it is a tattoo needle, just be able to write something, somewhere, if you want/need to. If I tell you “here’s my number”, you better be able to remember it. Having a pen helps. And it never hurts to leave a card with us. Or bacon.
All in all we were lucky to have a wonderful problem at the end of the day: too many good candidates to choose from. I wonder if that means the economy is getting tougher, or if our standards are getting lower. Still, it was nice to have a decision to make, and I know we made the right choice for our team at this time. Hopefully I will not have to be a part of either process (interviewing, dating) for quite some time to come.