March 15, 2013

Preparing for a job interview these days

Lets face it. The times are getting better for IT job seekers out there. Anyone who keeps visiting Dice or Indeed will notice the pleathora of jobs on offer. As the market starts looking up, preparing for these interviews can be a pain for anyone who is already working. These are things you cannot discuss openly in your current workplace, even if you are underemployed right now. For students who work part-time, scheduling interviews can be a nightmare. Between classes and their work, the time to prepare for an interview (let alone attend one) can be extremely hard to find.

I am one the lucky ones to be getting a bunch of calls for jobs. I believe the best way to prepare is to actually spend time preparing for it. Consider it like an exam. Your chances of failure increase if you decide to wing it. Unless you are among the 1% of this world's geniuses, you will need to prepare. I've tried winging it before. It sucks. I've come out of a phone interview looking like an idiot. I've finished personal interviews which went from bad to lousy. Not all of them were my fault, but I could have spent time researching more about what I was getting into.
If you are interested in some tips, read on. If you know it all, I wish you the best.
  1. READ THE JOB DESCRIPTION!:  There's a reason companies spend time and money writing up these documents and posting them in all the corners of the internet. If you do mass applications for jobs, you will join the other 70% of generic candidates with flashy resumes and awesome cover letters. However, the same thing would be visible for all the jobs you have applied for in the company. For different postions. Take a deep breath and look at yourself. Did you just apply using the same resume and cover letter for different jobs? It is like trying the same thing looking for different result.
  2. RESEARCH THE POSTION: Google, Bing your way to endless hours of meaningful information about the jobs postion. What does it involve? Across different companies, what kind of skills are they looking for? Indeed is a good place to start. Consider them as a Google for job postings. Linkedin provides some amazing data on the company and the jobs they are offering right now. Also, create your profile on LinkedIn and start networking among your peers or old contacts. There must be someone from your past or present who knows someone who knows somebody who is hiring. Get the word out.
  3. PREPARE FOR QUESTIONS: Some of the websites I found useful were Glassdoor and Career Cup. Now, before you cringe about preparing from brain dumps, these websites aren't necessarily brain dumps. I think brain dumps basically drain you of your ability to think analytically. These websites have tons of personal experiences of people who have taken interviews. They surely contain most of the positions you might be applying for. Spend a solid 2-3 hours researching on the most common questions. If you cannot answer them on the fly, think about your past experiences and formulate a plan to tackle the same question.
  4. KEEP QUIET ABOUT SALARY UNTIL AFTER THE OFFER: The first person to bring up the salary requirements loses. Before even an interview happens, if you end up blurting an expected salary, you've lost the job. Every employer looks for a way to filter out candidates. Don't give them a reason based on your hesitant decisons. You do no know how much you are really needed in the job you are applying for. The company could be planning an interview for the best candiate (most suitable atleast). Or, you could have somebody testing the waters to see the kind of talent out there. There could also be someone who is desperate to hire. As desperate as you are for a good pay, do not bring this up until they bring it up. The best answer in my personal view is 'a competetive offer based on current industry trends' or something along that lines. If you put an amount, say $X, how do you really know the company was not going to offer you $1.5X? Don't try to sell yourself short. Prove your worth in the interview, and I'm sure most companies will be willing to negotiate. Look at Glassdoor or for help.
  5. RESUMES: This topic is one of the most researched and beaten dead horses out there. There are around 1 million ways to write your resumes. I'll tell you how I do it. I created 5 different ones depending on the job profiles I'm most interested in working in the future. Something that drives me, a passion in terms of technology or management skills I possess. Then, I created 1 page, 2 page and 3 page (upto 2 pages will do in most cases) versions of a couple of postions which I believe I have the best shot of getting. Some of my resume versions are like 'Wishlist' items. It would be great to get that job, but the research on those profiles right now shows I don't have the work experience to get a real shot at it.
  6. WORK EXPERIENCE: This is crucial to most companies who hire for full-time jobs. If you are not able to explain what you put on your resume, you can see your chances dissappear. Your past experiences, the way you handled pressure, your technical know-how and anything to do with your past which you can apply to the job you are interviewing for will be asked in the interview. If not in-depth, there will be atleast some gauging of your knowledge. Do not bloat your resume, at the same time make sure you do not leave out important projects or places you have worked before.
  7. REFERENCES: If you know someone at a company, it is possibly the best way to get hired. However, before you drop names make sure you get their permission. Also, make sure they have a good reputation. You do not want to be referred by a slacker and make that work against you. Like my previous post says, being judgemental can be very easy. If you have a fair idea of a person's apporachability, you can roll the dice on this one. Another way of definining 'references' in this context is people who can vouch for you. Make sure you indicate you can provide references on request.
  8. GROOMING: Get some good sleep the night before. Groom yourself. Suit up! Interviews are career changing events. Your seriousness can be displayed in very simple terms. You take care of yourself and present yourself well, you must be trustworthy to ensure you take your job seriously. There is also the emerging Google fueled university culture where it doesn't really matter if you suit up or not. I'll leave that to you. You could take chances going in jeans and tees, or you could go looking good in a suit. I personally take a lot of pleasure in dressing up well for occasions. Interviews are great occasions to dust that suit, and take off all the lint from your formal clothes. If you don't have formal wear, get some! If you believe you will go only in jeans and tees, atleast consider wearing a shirt. You may get to wear whatever you want once you get the job, but respect the occasion and wear something formal.
  9. BEING CONFIDENT: Always keep your head up. There will be situations where you will be pressed hard to see when you crack. It is always better to sound confident, not cocky. Also, never openly admit your negatives or situations where you admit defeat. Convert them into learning experiences. You can always say, although the project or situation did not go as intended, the learning from it was life changing. Read up some behavioural questions on how employers try to ask you the tough questions.
  10. PUNCTUALITY: If you are having a face-to-face interview, go 15 mins ahead. You can wait until your interviewer is ready. If you are doing phone interviews, keep a bottle of water next to you. Not all phone interviews go as per schedule in terms of the length of the interview. From my experiences, phone interviews allow you to use your laptop to search for some questions. Be careful not be heard typing stuff as they speak. It could make or break an interview. Answer to the point and do not bore the interviewer with bullshit. These people interview hundreds of people a year. They can disect your b.s from your real answers.
I hope that provides a primer for all job seekers who are trying to field interview calls. One last thought before I finish up. Never give up your pursuit for a job. Keep applying to as many as you can, as best as you can and something down the road will click. Luck is a very abstract thought. Being at the right place at the right time is luck. However, not making an attempt will only make you wail in self-pity of how bad the economy is, or how bad the jobs are out there. Distinguish yourself from the rest of the crowd, and you will see the sea of options in front of you.
As for me, I continue to be upbeat about my ability to land a job. If not in the US, I plan to shift back to India and try my hand there. In this global economy, it does not matter where you work. All you need is the skills, the temperament and the opportunity to do some wonderful things to the organization you work for.
All the best! Make it happen!

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