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Recruitment from the Other Side - Part 2

Published Thu, 9 Jul 2009

Following on from my Part 1 article on tips to write a good CV and job application for an IT job, this article covers some tips for the interview process itself.

Tip #1 - Politeness and Appearance

TieThe job interview is a strange experience for all involved. It's one of the few occasions when your skills and experience are really put under the magnifying glass and examined by complete strangers. Similarly it's one of the few times you get to speak purely about yourself and what you've accomplished with a captive audience.

It's important to remember in this strange situation, the basic cultural nomenclature to which society adheres. That means -

It's easy to get uptight and anxious and forget basic manners and courtesy. The interviewer will certainly notice this and despite being understanding about your nerves, that old saying about "first impressions" is completely true, and you only get the one chance to make a good one.

Relax, and act normal. :)

Tip #2 - Enthusiasm!

SmileThis is the most important tip I could give any candidate:

Enthusiasm.... have some!!

If I could put it in flashing lights with animated arrows and fireworks I would - you'll have to imagine that for yourself. The one thing that will immediately improve your chances is to be enthusiastic and show that you have passion.

Passion for your work, passion for this job and passion for new things.

This was something I found surprising when conducting interviews - the number of candidates who don't seem excited about what they do, the prospect of a new job or even the opportunity to talk about their best attributes.

When asked "why did you apply for this job", you should have a good (and honest) response, that shows a bit of enthusiasm for the organisation you've applied to work at. If you're not enthusiastic about it, why the hell are you here?

Tip #3 - Relax.

Nervous GuyThere's a difference between being "enthusiasic" and a nervous wreck, sweating like a pig and speaking at 1/10th the speed of light.

Telling someone to relax when they're nervous is a bit like trying to extinguish a fire with vodka.

That said, try not to build the whole situation up in your mind and remember that your interviewers are (most likely) reasonable people. If they aren't reasonable people, you probably don't want the job anyhow so there's no need to be concerned. Remember that the people you are about to meet may be your future colleagues - they are under scrutiny here as much as you are.

It's not all about "am I good enough for the job", it's about "am I right for the job, and is the job right for me". So don't shout, whisper or rush, and if you're a big sweater, arrive early enough that you can cool down and relax before going into the interview.

Tip #4 - Know Yourself

Man in the MirrorThe key thing that your interviewers will want to know about is your past experience and achievements. If you don't have a clear idea of the things you have done, the challenges you've faced and your key achievements, then you are going to struggle to come up with good responses to your interviewers' questions.

One way to deal with this is to have a high level list of the conflicts and milestones in your work activities. I say "conflicts and milestones" because those are the things you are most likely to be asked to recall during your interview.

This is a list that you can either prepare prior to the interview, or a better idea might be just to keep a running list of these types of things. At the end of each week or month, take stock of what you achieved and what challenges (a euphamism for "conflict") you faced.

Reading over a list like this can be interesting from a personal point of view, because we rarely take stock of the actual high level outcomes of our day to day stresses.

In addition to listing these things you will want, firstly, to have a "60 second run-down" of the present state of your career; where you are, where you're going. Make sure it's not confused or boring. Secondly, you'll want to reflect on any negative outcomes you have experienced and think about what you learned, how you would approach these situations differently.

If you go into an interview with these things in mind, you are far more likely to present well, and come up with good examples when asked those inevitable "what's a situation when..." questions. It's also healthy from a personal point of view, to do this from time to time.

Tip #5 - Technical Role = Technical Questions

CircuitsIf you're applying for a technical role, don't be surprised if you are asked some technical (and difficult) questions. There's no advice I'd give you here about ways around this. You're either going to know it or not.

But, if you don't know the answer to something - admit it!

You could go on to explain how you would go about figuring this out, but don't guess or worse, make stuff up. That sends a really negative signal. The interviewer knows that it's not reasonable for any candidate to answer everything 100% - so just admit it if your knowledge is lacking in some areas.

When you are talking about technical things, stick to concepts and don't get wrapped up in business domain terminology. Try to keep your explanations as simple as possible. If your interviewer wants more information, or a clarified answer, they'll ask. Don't get "flop sweat" and try to "over-answer" a question.

So that wraps it up - I hope that helps some people out next time they go to a tech interview. As I mentioned in Part 1, it was interesting to be on the otherside of a large hiring process, and I know I'll read over these notes next time I'm back on the recieving end of probing questions. :)


About the Author

Richard Nichols is an Australian software engineer with a passion for making things.

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