Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Don't do this in an interview. No, really.

(I'm recycling this post from my now-defunct work blog, slightly updated.)

I've conducted a lot of interviews at my company for both full-time and contract positions. At my previous job, I was also involved in hiring and reviewed tons and tons of resumes from a Craigslist posting (an interesting experience in itself!). I've done lots of phone screens and in-person interviews, including the infamous Microsoft multi-person all day interview extravaganzas.

Of course, there are hundreds of blogs and sites giving out career advice, and none of this is new. But people still keep doing horrible, interview-tanking things. So I figure it's worth getting the message out there. If this helps one techie person, my mission is accomplished.
1. Don't lie, but also present your best self.

Your resume is like an online dating profile. It's a snapshot of your career. It's meant to get the attention of the recruiter so they will call you. Just like you shouldn't say that you're 6 foot 3 if you're 5 foot 6, don't tell me you were the project manager of a $10 million project if you were the assistant to the PM. People will find out, and it won't be pretty. The world is a lot smaller than you think.

Don't tell me your life story on your resume. If you have less than 5 years of work experience, I don't want to see more than one page. I'm cool with two pages if you have more than that. Don't be the dude with the 7 page boring resume in a teeny tiny font. I was afraid he might be as awful as his resume so I didn't call him.
Spellcheck. Seriously. F7, dude. And then ask your most grammarlicious friend to review it, too. 'Nuff said.

Also, if you're applying for a job as a software engineer, don't list your typing speed under your "top skills". It tells me you have no idea what's important.  Oh, and if you took one class 10 years ago in college in C++, but haven't used it since, don't say that you're an expert. This will come to light when you're asked to answer a gnarly code problem on the whiteboard, and at that point, you're going to wish you were somewhere VERY far away.

2. Don't be late. Or flaky.
This one is easy, and obvious, right? Your recruiter sets up a time for an interview. Be there, and be mentally present, without distractions.
It's amazing how many people just don't think about it. If you don't have someone to watch your crying baby, or you are in the middle of painting your house, don't choose those times for an interview. Oh, and I am a serious dog lover, but put your barky dog outside before your interview. He's going to distract both you and me, and I'll b e wondering why you can't sort out details like making sure your environment is ideal for the task at hand.
Before that interview, find out EVERYTHING. Is it by phone, LiveMeeting, or in-person? If you give out your mobile number for a phone interview, will you have reliable reception? What should you wear and where should you park? Don't be the gal who showed up at the office for a phone interview. Awkward and icky for both of us.  
Don't assume you'll sort it out when you get there, because it'll make you late, and possibly frazzled.

3. Don't be soul-suckingly negative.

Again, blindingly obvious, right? Don't spend whole minutes talking about how your last job sucked, or that your last boss was a tyrant, and can I believe what they made you do?? I'm not your best friend at happy hour, so save the sad story for her.
If you get asked why you left, come up with a simple answer that doesn't sound evasive. Something about how it wasn't a good fit for your career goals, or the company was downsizing and your whole department got cut. 

Be honest and to the point if you're asked if you were fired, let go, or left voluntarily. Don't dwell on it or give me the long painful backstory. If you start doing that, I'm rolling my eyes and trying to figure out how to end this interview as quickly as possible. Because no one wants to work with *that* guy who blames everything on everyone else.


4. Don't get all Paris Hilton on me and make it all about you.

I'm all for asking smart questions during the interview. I pay attention when someone asks me well-thought-out questions about the work environment, job duties, or team culture.

But, if on our first phone screen, you're asking me how much you're going to get paid, whether you'll have to work overtime, how many vacation days you'll get, and if you'll have your own office, it makes me think you're gonna be high maintenance. And it's way better not to hire the divas in the first place, than to get rid of divas later.
If you get an offer, you can ask all of those questions later. That's when you have more power anyway - the company obviously wants you, and you can negotiate what you need to.
Tangentially related to this one: Don't go on and on about how you're the best coder or project manager there is. Really? The best ever? In the whole wide world? If you're so great, why are you applying for a job? Shouldn't the perfect one just fall into your lap?
And don't cut other people or technologies down to make yourself look good. It just makes you seem arrogant.

What else would *you* add to this list? I'm sure folks out there have some good stories/tips on interviews gone wrong.

1 comment:

  1. I haven't had to deal with the last one much, but the first three are spot on. I'm amazed sometimes at the things people say in interviews–do they think at all about how they might sound?

    It's sort of related to the first one, but it's a pet peeve of mine. Make sure you can talk comfortably about your past experiences. If I'm asking you about how you handled a particular situation in the past, I don't want a hypothetical answer. When you constantly answer with what you think you would do, it makes me start to wonder if you have the experience that we said we were looking for in the job description.


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