I am struck by the inane advice contained in most articles about job interviewing and the even more inane questions asked by interviewers (especially from HR departments). “What are your strengths and weaknesses? Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” I guess if I have no idea how to assess your abilities, that might make sense, but I want to hire someone who:
- can think “out of the box.”
- will be intellectually engaged in the problem, not just looking for a “job.”
- will be obsessed about doing things correctly and well.
So, here are my two-cents about how to impress a senior technical manager on your first few job interviews out of college. This also applies to anyone with less than 5 years of experience.
- Don’t assume that you have anything of value to offer me on day one. You are here to learn. I am going to pay you to learn as if you were in college. Maybe in a year or so, you will contribute something of value. Until then, your job is to act like you are in graduate school and focus on learning. After you have five years of experience, I will assume that you know something. Until then, you are raw talent.
- Prepare for the interview. Read everything about the company on its website. If there are white papers, read them. Google the people you will be speaking to and learn all about them. If they have done presentations or papers, read them. If they wrote books, buy them and read them. When someone shows up for an interview and does not know who I am, I am already thinking about dismissing them.
- If you don’t know the answer to a question, say so. If you lie, dissemble, fake it, oversell yourself, or in any way are not completely honest, you will fail the interview.
Come with questions prepared:
- What do you want to know about the job?
- Who will I be reporting to? Can I see their resume?
- What specific area/tasks do you need staff to help with now?
- Can I talk someone who was recently hired?
- Do you do formal evaluations? If so what are the criteria?
- What is the work culture? Is this a 40-hour a week kind of place or a 100-hour a week organization?
- What are the expectations?
Here is one I will ask: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” There are not a lot of good answers, but here are a few:
- I want to be a DBA… I like deep technical stuff. I want to learn all I can and manage large systems.
- I like coding. I want to be a heads-down coder and solve hard problems. I did XXX in college/my last job and I really like to build systems.
- I want to do business analysis. I like talking to people and gathering requirements. I would rather be customer facing than sitting in front of a monitor all day. Ultimately, I want to do project management.
- “I have no idea” is a perfectly good and honest answer. “I like code, testing sounds interesting, being a DBA sounds fun but I don’t really know enough to judge. I think I can give you a better answer in 6 months or a year.”
Write a good resume. If you are not a good writer, make the resume shorter. I don’t need to see that your objective is: “A challenging and rewarding job in the XXX industry leading to a management position within 5 years.” Maybe I can paraphrase your mother… “If you can’t say anything smart, don’t say anything at all.” Some odd and very useful things I have seen in a resume books or articles that influenced the candidate’s life. Knowing what makes you interested will tell me a LOT about you.
Keep in mind that it is just as hard for me to find a good employee to hire as it is for you to find a good job. We are working together to see if this is a good fit.