OK, you've done your
networking, you've gotten your perfectly worded resume into the
proper hands, and you got a call for an interview. Now what?
The following essay
is based on my experience as an interviewer in a number of roles
both as someone assisting the hiring manager and as the hiring
manager myself. Believe me, if you do it right, it's tougher being
on this side of the desk. I need to emphasize that this is just
one of many possible scenarios for interviewing - different companies
do things differently, and even I have interviewed differently
while working for different employers. What I present here is
"typical" for me and probably a lot of other people as well.
The "tips" presented
here are mostly oriented towards applicants who are seeking jobs
in a high technology area, but some of them are universal enough
in nature to be useful to anyone applying for a job. If you've
been around the industry at all, or if you've been though a couple
of interviews, you can take these suggestions more lightly, you've
probably developed your own style. Eventually, you will get to
the point where you can interview at a moment's notice. However,
that first time can be terrifying for anyone, and for some people,
almost anytime is uncomfortable.
The first piece of
advice I am going to offer is never turn down an opportunity to
interview. The job might not seem like it's exciting or meaningful.
However, I have heard several stories of people interviewing for
one job, and being offered a better one. One of those stories
is mine. At the very least, it's practice.
Types of interviews:
The three types of
interviews I use are screening, telephone, and in-person.
The screening interview
is used when there is a large number of applicants for a position.
It's purpose is to find the best candidates to present to the
hiring manager and staff. The interview is generally conducted
by an HR person and may come with little or no notice.
You may pick up the
phone and hear, "This is so-and-so from XYZ company and I'd like
to ask you a couple of questions about your application for such-and-such
position. Do you have time to talk?" If you feel confident and
are in a position to speak, jump right in. Otherwise if you feel
that you need to collect your thoughts, set a time with them to
call them back. But make that time soon - within the hour if possible!
The HR person's role
in the screening interview is to confirm some general information,
clarify things stated in the resume and cover letter, and to get
a general feel for the candidate's fit for the position. It shouldn't
be too technical in nature and generally speaking, shouldn't be
too challenging. You will probably be asked to confirm dates of
employment, amount of experience with such and such technology
or skill, perhaps even why you left certain jobs. You might even
be asked salary requirements.You will probably not get deep probing
questions on how you solved certain problems, what library call
to use in a given programming situation, or theoretical type questions.
Screening interviews typically take about 15 minutes.
I like to use telephone
interviews to do an initial probe of the candidate's technical
skills and experience. The way I conduct the interview is to talk
with the candidate on speakerphone with some of my staff present.
I usually have the same team assembled that I plan to use to conduct
the face-to-face interview. In my version you can expect to be
asked very technical questions to verify that you actually know
what you say you know on your resume. However, even here we don't
drill down too deep. Typically this type of interview lasts about
45 minutes, and we "hold court" at the end - I put the candidate
on hold and poll my staff to see if they want to hear more. I
take the candidate off hold and give our decision. If we decide
to call the candidate in, I'll set up the interview right then,
and backfill HR.
are the interviews that seem to get the most attention. Some companies
jump right to this step. There are a lot of variables here. Some
companies will have you talk with one or two people; some will
have you talk with many people; some will have you talk to a whole
group of people at once. In some companies and for some jobs,
the interview might last an hour. In other cases it will last
all day, or you may even be called back over the course of several
Since this is the
type of interview that intimidates most people, I will concentrate
on it here.
Being an applicant
in the job hunting process is not unlike being a mail order bride.
First you research the market, meet people (network), advertise
(the resume), and then you go into a whirlwind courtship (the
The first piece of
advice for attending an interview is PREPARE, PREPARE, PREPARE.
You have successfully cleared the first hurdle (getting a call
based on your resume). Now it is time to follow through.
While you have the
company on the telephone during this initial contact, keep them
on the telephone, and attempt to find out as much about the job
and the company as possible. If you are returning their call,
so much the better. You have time to study. Review the job posting.
You should have already logged onto their web site when you prepared
the cover letter and resume, but a refresher course wouldn't hurt.
If they ask you to
come in, there are some things you should ask if you don't have
the information before you hang up:
- Who will I talk
- How long can I expect
to be there?
- Who can I call if
there is a problem and I need to cancel?
- Confirm the interview
date and time and location (how to get there). ·
Spend the time between
the phone call and the interview finding out as much about that
type of work as you can. I recently applied for a job as a project
manager and had short notice for an interview with Weyerhauser.
I pulled out all my reference materials on project management
and scanned through it so I started talking the language automatically
again. I got on the web and took a crash course in Forestry -
I was at least able to get familiar with the terminology.
Once you have gathered
this information, you may consider re-hashing another copy of
your resume, and make it one more tailored to the job. Take 5
copies of your best resume for this job with you. Let the interviewers
know that you have an "updated" version available, and give it
to them. There have been cases where company emergencies have
caused an interviewer to "no show" and a last-minute substitute
had to interview the candidate. This person may need a fresh copy
of your resume.
The first version
of the resume was to hook them into calling you. The second edition
of the resume can be lengthier and may give you and the interviewer
a better outline from which to work. However, it is most likely
that the interview will go with your original resume. The second
resume is sort of a contingency maneuver.
If you have done "informational
interviewing" with people in the company, then you will have a
good idea of the culture and how they get work done there. If
you are going in "cold" then one of your objectives in the interview
process is to find out what it would be like working there.
There are two types
of questions interviewers will use: closed and open-ended.
Closed questions are
ones that can be answered true/false or multiple choice.
- Do you have experience
- How many years experience
do you have with MS-Word?
- Can you work weekends
Closed questions are
designed to probe for specific information. They don't allow you
much room for maneuvering, but they should be relatively easy
to answer. An inexperienced interviewer may use too many closed
questions, and the session will seem like an interrogation rather
than an interview. That's their problem not yours. Answer the
questions and get on with it.
are ones that make you tell a story.
- How did you find
out about the job / company?
- Why are you leaving
your current position?
- What did you like
most about your last job? What did you like the least?
- Who was the best/worst
manager you ever worked for? Why do you feel this way?
- Tell me about your
work with project X?
- Give me an example
of how you used (such and such a tool)?
- What do you consider
to be your best strength?
- What do you consider
to be your greatest weakness? How do you plan to improve?
- How do you manage
priorities? What do you do when your boss gives you more than
your can do?
- What are your career
plans? What do you see yourself doing here in 5 years?
Trying to answer these
questions on the spot can be difficult, so have them answered
before you get to the interview. Develop a "script" for your interview.
Anticipate the questions you will be asked, and have a story or
anecdote that illustrates the point.
Yate has an excellent book containing questions
asked at interviews.
About half of the
questions you will get will be technical. The other half should
be designed to see what kind of person you are, and if you will
fit the corporate culture and be a team player. Smart companies
hire people who will be happy working there.
Think about what you
would like to say to the interviewer in response to questions
and think about the questions you'd like to ask. Some questions
that might be appropriate are:
- If you offer me
this job and I accept, what will be my biggest challenge? (Be
prepared to answer the comeback question, "This is what you'll
face, how are you going to solve it?").
- Why is this position
open? (Hopefully the answer is because of an internal promotion
or exanded growth and not turnover. Few companies will confess
to the later).
- What kind of training
can/will I get to help me do this job? (This is appropriate
if there is some aspect of the job you are not expected to know
as a newcomer such as proprietary information).
- Typically, how much
overtime can be expected to get this job done? (You may want
to continue with "I realize most 40-hour jobs require a lot
more than that. I want to know what I'm getting into.")
- What is my opportunity
for growth in this position? (Assuming you are interested in
- You may want to
ask relevant technical questions such as, "What kind of configuration
management system do you use?" "What email system do you use?"
or anything else that you might think you need to know to be
able to do the job.
- Before leaving the
interview: "What are the next steps in the process?" "When can
I expect to hear back from you?"
to ask until you have an offer or one is imminent:
- "How much does the
- "What are the benefits?"
You can always schedule
you own interview with HR when you get to this point to get this
information. Chances are, most bosses don't know what the company
benefits are, and will give you the wrong answers anyway. ·
Run your strengths
and weaknesses checklist one more time. Be thinking about what
you can say about each area as it applies to the job. Don't try
to hide weaknesses. Be prepared to let the interviewer know exactly
how far your limitations go. I asked one interviewee to tell me
what she meant when she said she had a "familiarity with C". She
told me she did mathematical algorithms in the main program only.
She didn't know functions, and didn't know pointers. That told
me that she at least knew more than just how to spell "C". She
at least knew what she didn't know. (She was applying for a non-programming
position in which a familiarity with the C programming language
was desired -- She got the job).
If you are not familiar
with the geographic location of the interview, you need to plan
for your arrival. Arriving at the interview late because you got
lost is not a good way to start. There is a chance that your tardiness
may annoy the interviewer, but the worst damage will probably
be done to your confidence. In some cases, interviews are scheduled
in shifts, and the interviewers have to keep you on schedule.
Don't get "short changed" on time.
If you are coming
in from out of town, plan your trip carefully. Don't arrive on
the "red-eye" 2 hours beforehand and expect to make a good showing.
Arrive the day before, and get a good night's sleep. If it is
a company sponsored trip, call them and confirm the arrangements.
Let them know you got your ticket, reconfirm dates and time, etc.
Allow plenty of time to get to the interview. Check the route
from the hotel to the interview site the night before. Use the
extra time upon your arrival to do some reconnaissance on the
Pick up some brochures
on apartments or housing prices. Study a town map. Is the only
place you can afford to live (and want to live) a two-hour commute
away? You can use the interent to study road
maps and cost of living
comparisons when you get back (or before
you go), but seeing some things in person will give you a better
feel for if you want to live there.
Also plan your departure
to allow plenty of time to get to the airport without rushing
the interview. Normally this is taken care of for you on company-sponsored
I once made an arrangement
with a company. I told them that if they could arrange a Monday
morning interview, I would fly out on Friday, (staying over the
weekend and saving them airfare), and stay with a friend (no rental
car or hotel fare), all they had to do is get me back to the airport
after the interview. They saved money, and I had a chance to visit
my friend and check out the town thoroughly. Not every trip works
out this well, but stay alert for opportunities.
Dress for success.
There has been a lot of talk about dress and grooming at an interview
(beards, long hair, etc). Some companies don't care how you look
at the interview; others look very closely. Dress codes vary according
to section of the country, company, and job for which the application
is made. If the job is in Boston or New York, and in a financial
institution, for a job in a salaried position, dealing with the
public; then a custom made, 3-piece suit is probably appropriate.
For less formal atmospheres, you may "get away with" less. Some
"progressive" companies might be impressed by the cut-offs, shower
clogs and obscene T-shirt you wear, but when in doubt, err towards
the conservative side.
Business dress has
gotten a lot more casual over the last 10 years. A suit used to
be mandatory for interviews. Now, a good pair of slacks, a jacket
and tie (and the counterpart for women - alas, being male, I am
not qualified to give advice in this are) work most of the time.
I've advised candidates
that I interview to show up "business casual" attire if that suits
them, but unless your interviewer advises doing this, dress up.
If you are concerned
about working for a company which will not allow you to express
yourself through the way you dress, look around as you move around
the office or ask about dress codes at the interview. Even very
liberal companies will require you to "dress up" on occasion.
Prove to them that you can.
Next, practice. Sit
down with a friend, and go over a "dry run" several times. Have
your friend role play the part of the interviewer using a prepared
script if necessary. Making your mouth actually say the words
in practice will make them come out easier later. You may even
consider inviting yourself to a couple of "job fairs" to get some
real world practice. This practice will build confidence.
OK, now you've prepared
for the interview. Now it's show time!
Do your last minute
preparation. Memorize the names of any contacts you've made, remember
you have those customized resumes, and take care of any last minute
details. Most interviewers are courteous enough to offer you a
cup of coffee. Most don't think about offering you the opportunity
to get rid of one.
Get yourself to the
interview on time. Arrive about 15 minutes early, if possible.
In some companies, a manager sets up the interview based on the
availability of the technical staff. What managers tend to forget
are the multiple forms needed to satisfy Human Resources. Showing
up early will allow you to complete the paperwork, and still get
started "on time".
Having arrived on
time, in a presentable fashion, you are now ready to engage in
the first of several interpersonal contacts.
The first person you
are most likely to see is the personnel director. Take advantage
of this meeting to "warm up" your social skills. The personnel
director probably won't grill you technically, but don't feel
that you are not "on the spot" yet. Some companies are smart enough
to include this person in the decision making process. (Teamwork
starts as you walk in the door. The HR person, or even the receptionist
might be asked, "How do you think the applicant will fit in?").
You are "on stage" from the time you drive onto the company's
property until the time you leave.
Your first contact
may be as cold as "Fill out this paperwork, have a seat over there,
or the personnel director may interactively get "vital statistics"
from you while providing a brief orientation.
After personnel, you
can expect to talk to 3 or 4 people. You may talk to a technical
supervisor, a program manager, and a technical expert somewhere
in your travels. Generally I try to set up my interviews to have
the people talk to me (the hiring manager), a co-manager from
another department, and a couple of my senior "people." This gives
my staff a chance to participate in the decision making process
and gives me a broader view of the candidate.
Not all companies
follow this script. For one job, I was interviewed first by my
boss, and then by other members of the company (including those
who wound up working for me -- I liked that idea). I met with
nearly a dozen people on several different dates over the course
of a month. For a previous job, I talked to only three people,
and was hired at the interview. On another job, we met for lunch,
and I had an offer before dessert! (There was a lot of informal
interaction before the interview took place.)
A good interviewer
should give you a "heads up" as to what was impressive about your
resume and what he or she would like to talk about. Take your
direction from that.
The pressure of interviewing
can be intense. Don't go into an interview believing that your
life depends upon your every word. Do whatever it is you can do
to make yourself feel confident and good about yourself. Take
a hot bath, jog, read an inspirational book, yodel … do whatever
puts you at your best.
If you feel that you
have done badly in a particular portion of the interview, or have
done badly with a particular interviewer, forget about it temporarily.
It may impair your performance later when your concentration should
Most companies rely
on several interviewers for this very reason. It's easy for one
person to "read" another the wrong way. Your perspective may be
different from the interviewer's. It is just as likely that what
may seem to you as a glaring blunder on your part might not have
even been noticed by the interviewer. A considerate interviewer
should realize that you are under pressure, and that mistakes
will happen. Relive any problem areas after the interview is over,
and mark it up to experience.
Be aware of the power
of silence. This is not Jeopardy. A buzzer is not going to sound
if you don't ring in on time. I am from New York; I talk fast.
People get tired just listening to me. I once delivered a speech
at an agonizing (to me) half-the-speed-I-can-talk pace. Looking
at the video of the speech, it was delivered at the perfect pace.
So, what feels like a thunderous 20 minutes of silence on your
part is probably only 20 seconds. An inexperienced interviewer
may want to jump into this silent period and ask another question.
There's not much you can do about this except say, "Wait, I'd
like to go back to the previous question. I need time to give
you an answer."
If you feel that you
need to take notes, ask! I can't imagine anyone turning down the
request. Don't be distracted if the interviewer refers to paperwork
or takes notes. Human memory is very fallible, and this practice
is necessary. Even I have a "script" of sorts when I interview
- I prepare, and I don't do it off-the-cuff.
Some companies give
competence quizzes. The best ones are simple. They shouldn't have
"trick questions", and the only right answer should be one that
works. A good quiz should be so straightforward that the solution
is obvious to anyone that knows the technology. Although technical
competence is important, I've never made a hiring decision based
on it alone.
Tell it like it is.
Be enthusiastic, but don't be too eager to please. Don't tell
the interviewers what you think they want to hear, if you don't
mean to say it. Let the interviewer know what your preferences
are. Somehow you have to balance this with the ability to come
across as a "team player". Rate the interviewers, the job, and
the company as you go along. Remember, you are going to have to
work with / for these people, and live with the job and corporate
policies. It's far better for the both of you to decide that you
really don't want / aren't suited for the job at the interview
rather than after the job is accepted.
If the subject of
salary, benefits, etc. comes up, fine. Otherwise, forget it. There's
plenty of time to talk later if there's mutual interest. The most
important thing to do as an interviewee is to find out about the
job and the work environment.
Leaving the interview
can be just as important as arriving. Last impressions can make
a difference. Try to resolve any unknown questions you have concerning
the job. If you were not told, then ask when you can expect to
hear from the potential employer. A good interviewer should let
you know when you should hear from them one way or the other.
Show some patience.
Important out-of-town meetings happen, managers don't always hold
sway over the Human Resources Department, other candidates are
not always available, and "red tape" can keep a speedy response
from happening. The amount of waiting time depends upon a number
of factors. It's doesn't necessarily mean that the company can't
make up its mind. Average waiting time seems to be approximately
two weeks although the standard deviation on that figure is very
Follow through. Send
a letter to the interview staff thanking them for their consideration.
Restate your understanding of the job, and re-iterate your intention
to accept employment (assuming this is still the case).
If you don't hear
from a company by a "reasonable" time, call them. Ask for a decision
date, and let it go until that date. (In other words, remind them
of their schedule, but don't bug them). If your status changes
(like getting another job offer), let them know.
Finally, learn to
live with rejection. Jobs are like marriages; everyone is looking
for the perfect "match". You can be rejected for any number of
reasons, and still be a very talented and desirable individual
who will work out fine elsewhere. Don't let a rejection diminish
your self-esteem, or affect your confidence for the next interview.
On the other hand, you may decide to reject the offer!
If you liked the company,
and still have an interest in working there, tell them! Write
a "consolation letter" thanking them for taking the time to talk
with you, and to keep you in mind for future openings. Send this
letter directly to the hiring manager. I've been called back by
companies that once rejected me. Second chances do happen.
Interviewers are people
too. I've seen situations where the people conducting the interviews
had less experience than the people attending them. The reason
you may have a bad interview is because the interviewer is not
up to speed on interviewing. We all have to learn sometime.
Having said all of
this, there are many variations in the interviewing process. The
company to which you apply might not do it this way. However,
all companies will use at least some of the elements presented
'em Dead (2000), Martin Yate, ISBN 1580621716. Among other good
tips on job seeking, this book contains over 200 of the more challenging
questions you might be asked at an interview with tips on how
to answer them.
on us: http://MapsOnUsLogin.switchboard.com - This site will
let you locate most addresess in the United States, and tell you
how to get there. It's probably not as good a source as the directions
you'll get from the person setting up the interview on how to
get to the interview, but it will give you a decent "lay of the
land" for a city to which you may consider relocating.
- You are making $57K a year in Greensboro, NC. You are considering
a position in San Jose, CA. What do you need to make to maintain
your buying power? (Hint: if it isn't at least six-figures, you
may want to reconsider).
Relocation: http://www.virtualrelocation.com -- This site
will give you some good statistics on quality of life in various
locations. It also contains a salary calculator.