Friday, November 17, 2006

Interview tips

I know this is too heavy a post for a Friday. But whimsical me writes about whimsical topics at whimsical times :-).

During my job search process, a couple of years ago, I came to know definitely that I was pretty bad at attending interviews. Extreme shyness and lack of confidence is not a good combination when speaking to strangers who don't know you at all and have to get to know you based on what you tell them.

Anyways, I managed to screw up quite frequently - acceptable when I knew I had tried my best but totally painful when I knew I was capable of much better and yet had messed it up.

That was a few years back. Now I sometimes get to be on the other side i.e. be the interviewer. And guess what, I realized that I am equally nervous about being an interviewer too! I guess the word "interview" is enough to start off cold feet, cold hands and butterflies in my stomach :-(.

Anyways, what I realized from being on the other side is this:

1. I couldn't care less if the resume is printed on ivory colored bond paper or has an amazing font or an awesome format. I am only interested in knowing whether the necessary qualifications are present or not. Even if they are well-hidden, I take the time to find it. So the key is having the right words and phrases in the resume and not having the best looking resume. BTW, this does not mean that typos and other shodiness is okay - it is not.

2. When I interview a person, I always start with an open mind. In fact, start positively with the hope that the person will be "the one". As I said, I am not fond of interviewing people and my ideal scenario would be one where I can find someone meeting the requirements with the minimum number of interviews.

3. I don't ask "trap" questions. Usually I ask questions which test how well the person will meet the requirements. The objective is to find reasons to hire the person rather than find reasons to show them the door.

4. Besides the above, I rely heavily upon what was said in the resume. When a resume says "expert in C++" and the person does not know what an abstract class is, I begin to doubt everything else the person has said in the resume too. Lying on the resume gets a person in may be but then gets them out even faster if it is found out.

5. It helps if an interviewee has a good personality. It leaves a good impression and plays a big role in the final decision when there is another candidate with similar qualifications.

6. Appearance - in my job line, formal clothes are not necessary. All I care about appearance is that the person is neatly groomed and dressed and not whether the blazers and black socks are in attendance. Of course, this factor is something that is highly dependant on the position.

7. Most of the times, when someone is rejected, it is not because their personality was bad or their qualifications were awful or they are useless. It is just that their profile does not suit what we are looking for and they probably won't be able to contribute their best to that particular role (I think knowing this for sure would have helped me when I used to take rejections rather personally - stupid, I know).

8. Even when an interviewee is only 60-70% qualified for a position, if s/he shows enthusiasm to learn, it makes a favorable impression. In fact, enthusiasm and passion are qualities which can make up to some extent for technical shortcomings.

I am by no means an interviewing expert (in fact the very opposite, I would say) and interviewing is not even a part of my basic job description (I am a software engineer, in case you are wondering). So I really couldn't say how much of the above applies to other interviewers or interviews. Or maybe all this is blindingly obvious. At any rate, hopefully it will help someone else.

Most importantly, I do think it will do me good to dig up and remember this the next time I have to sit on the interviewee hot seat :-D.

Update: Read the comments section to get some more tips.


pidhamagan said...

"Can you tell me about your most recent proj" - Anyone who gives a lengthy answer in jargon of the previous workplace (with no empathy that the current interviewer would have no clue about the terms) would be an easy early filter.

"Are you aware of XYZ" - it is perfectly ok to give no as an answer (sorry - we dont have current openings for brahma in our workplace) , instead of mumbling that they did that back about 3 years in their school / previous workplace and they *might* be able to do it now..big sign of desperation.

"Do you have any questions" - This is a very question that people ask to know about your enthusiasm. No -Thanks usually indicates coldness from the person who is giving the interview. Please , please ask some questions since you are going to work. (sorry - salary and position questions are too early in the process. If you know you are giving a technical interview - please do not ask salary / position since they are best left to HR / Manager - who is usually the last person to interview you. Asking over phone is downright funny :) )

Anonymous said...

lol..cold foot interviews ha??

pidhamagan said...

And to add more - asking some questions specific to your company as to what they are doing and what do you think would be your best contrib to the workplace is a definite +ve motivation. To be told that whatever we are doing is the best is downright fawning.

Anyone who had done a fair amount of research about the overall business of the company should be able to point out something they would like to contribute. It is ok if their idea is a little bit fancy since that indicates that they know something about what the company does and have their idea of how things could be improved.

"I am not a B-school guy. I am more interested in knowing about the architecture and not concerned with business model " is another ideal candidate for early filter. If someone is not so concerned about where the daily bread comes from - then it is highly unlikely that they would be able to make a meaningful contribution / convinced about what they are doing.

Anonymous said...

Good post :). And I agree about relying on what is mentioned in the resume. I had interviewed this guy a couple of years ago, who had every damn thing on his resume and whenever I asked him anything, he said he doesn't know and he is willing to learn :-\. That doesn't leave a good impression at all.

Which is why I usually tell people to put what they "know" on the resume.

Saranya Kishore said...

Cold feet and interviews - thats me. :--) During our campus interview after under grad, I cried right after I came from the interview room. Our PRs were consoling me. I got the job later, but that was in India.

In US, I gave so so many interviews and got so many rejects, and earlier I used to take in personally too, when I was looking to switch fields, I kind of became an expert. I took each reject as a stepping stone. ;--))

Anonymous said...

heyy, nice post, Archana. me too in the same category :D :-)

anita said...

Lovely post. I cant believe you have actually overcome your mortal fear of interviewing and actually been able to give some pretty cool insights! Good show.

Anonymous said...

Back in my day, as the interviewer, it was well to remember that if the candidate was good, there were two interviews going on. How the interviewer is asking the questions is a reflection of what working conditions will be like if the candidate accepts the position. Go into each interview determined to sell the position to the candidate. Assume he/she is the ONE. If responses serve to change your mind - so be it. Above all, don't ask trick questions.

Anonymous said...

Interesting topic. :-) And nice guidelines ;-). I'll keep them in mind too when I start looking for jobs :-).

But you know, I do believe that there is a 20-30% chance factor in any interview which you cannot do away with. Because we are ultimately people. And judging someone's capability in 1 hour is obviously a difficult job!

Shilpa said...

Well timed post for my job hunt hehehe.

hkarthi said...

Thanks for this post. I am looking for a job and your post is excatly what I am looking for... :-)

kuttichuvaru said...

I think I shld send u my resume!! interviewer therinjavangalaa irukkarathu nallathu thaane :-)

Anonymous said...

Sokka sonna baa!
Adhellaam thaana varudhu-la?

dinesh said...

Very relevant and helpful points those. It provides a nice understanding of the other side of the spectrum. And the part about taking this personally, is so right. A lot of times, rejection in an interview, says very little about the candidate and his/her shortcomings, and says a lot more about the misfit in profile. When I get ready for another interview (whenever that is), I'll remember to look at this again :).

"10 things to remember when you face an interview" nu oru topic kudithrundhaa, yahoo la publish pannirkkalaam idha :). On a serious note, the points mentioned here were far more relevant than those in any of the sites. Good job Archana !

Anonymous said...

I initially thought I was going to fall asleep at the serious post. But I must admit that it is a really well written, well thought of, and very relevant posts. Hits the nail right on what and where the interviewer wants.

I'd like to add that one of the other key things in an interview is the art of asking questions. If you are not clear, feel free to ask what might make the problem easy. Sometimes the question is left intentionally ambiguous. Any person who asks questions gets brownie points for thinking about the problem and if the interviewer thinks you are way off the mark, he/she will bring you back on track.

Another point is to keep thinking aloud. Never keep quiet during the interview. That doesn't mean you overdo your enthusiasm and irritate your interviewer. Just keep the interviewer in loop with your thought process.

spark said...

to be honest, the whole interview thing seems to be a bit of a joke. i've been on both sides now and it's no more a serious business. i guess, it's just me. but you've done a fair bit of advice in the post and good one too!

rads said...

good one, i do my set of interviewing too and i'd say 'most' of us fit the bill. unfortunately there are always some harda**es who love to mess. desi-desi especially!! Been there and know.

Thanks for your encouraging comment on my blog, some days are well, just bad.

Archana said...

Pidhamagan - nice additional tips :-)! Thank you! I find people who nod yes to *any* question very weird!!

iamvisheshur - :-( - yes!

Deeps - I know - thats so true! It is so much better to not have it in the resume in the first place - at least then, you can be sure that people have called you for the interview because of things you do know!

Saranya - ah, company for me :-))! Hmm, my undergrad campus interview was a big joke - as in, I got called for my turn when I was least expecting it - so did not have much time to get tensed :-)! That's so true - they are actually stepping stones!

J - ah, some more company for me :-)! Welcome aboard J - I read your blog from time to time - from SK's blog - its nice :-)!

Sindu - thank you, thank you :-D!

Floridora - Those are good points! I guess the interviewer has to remember that the interviewee had other choices too!

Archana - Thank you :-)! That's true - luck and chance play a role too usually. I guess the best we can do is try to make sure that we do well with the tangible factors!

Shilpa - LOL :-D! Anytime for you :-)!

hkarthi - you are welcome :-))!

Kuttichuvaru - adhu romba correct :-D! Unakku java theriyuma?

Prabhu - LOL :-D! Edhu ellam?

Dinesh - thank you :-))! Mez feeling all flattered now!

Anon - thanks for the additional tips :-). Contrary to what it looks like, asking questions is usually good rather than bad.

Spark - nee romba expert pola :-)! With me, I don't think I will ever completely reach that stage!

Rads - LOL :-D! Yeah some desi-desi interviewing needs a whole new set of rules :-). Hope you are completely back now :-)!