Interview Tips

James, I think your cover's blown!photo © 2008 Ludovic Bertron | more info (via: Wylio)
Lately I’ve been interviewing a lot of people at my new company, and knowing that in this economy a lot of people are looking for a job, I really want to share my experience as an interviewer. Three years ago, I had written about my interesting interview stories, and some more weird interview stories. But here I just want to give some practical advice to all you job seekers and interviewees.

1. Make a strong first impression
Nothing irks me more than an interviewee who is not being courteous and not able to address people appropriately. At the very least, when you go up to the front door of the company, say something like “Good morning” or “Good afternoon” before saying “My name is XYZ, I’m here to see Mr. ABC. ” And whenever you meet someone new, greet the person with a confident smile and attentive eye contact, and address that person by his/her name at least a couple of times. Believe me, although all this seem to have nothing to do with your skills on the job, the first impression is still super important.

2. Proactively impress your interviewer
Usually there are several candidates are vying for one job opening these days. Therefore, you need to stand out from the crowd. Many times, as an interviewer, while I talked to an interviewee, I kept thinking, “Hey, tell me something that impresses me about your skills and abilities and about how unique you are!” Recently I talked to someone who’s very experienced, and I was asking some leading questions to try to get him to talk about how good he is, but he kept just answering my questions with short answers. Although his answers were correct, I couldn’t find anything particularly impressive about him. That interview was just a one-way question-and-answer session. However, if you are a skilled interviewee, you would try to steer the interview into a two-way conversation, seizing golden opportunities to talk about your strengths and about stories that illustrate how good you are, without having ot wait for the interviewer to ask you such questions.

3. Ask meaningful questions
This is the part that most interviewees fail at. You have to do your homework, and one of the things you need to do is to prepare a list of questions to ask the interviewers. Many times I end my interviews by saying, “Do you have any questions for me?” If the interviewee paused for a minute, and then blurted out, “Er, how many employees do you have?” Then I know the interviewee hasn’t done his/her homework. Here are the things you need to know about asking good questions:

  • The questions you ask tell the interviewer what you care about. For example: a question like “Do your products usually deliver on time and with quality? How do you make sure that’s the case?” tells the interviewer that you care about being on time and doing things with high quality, and you want to work at a place where these values are upheld.
  • The questions you ask tell the interviewer that you understand what the company is about. For example: a question like “I really think your company have a good chance of being successful, but how do you address the needs of consumers who might want to do XYZ using your product?” tells the interviewer you’ve done your research, and you also understand the context that the company operates under, so you’re probably a good fit for the company.
  • Good questions should be addressed to the right person. If you’re interviewed by a software developer, ask questions about his/her software development issues. If you’re talking to a department director, ask him/her about personnel and management issues. When I was an interviewee, I would do my homework and write out different questions and categorize the questions according the type of organizational role that the question is best suited for.
  • Sometimes it’s ok to ask questions before the end of the interview time, if you can frame it as a “burning question.” One time, I interviewed a graphic designer, and he asked me right when I went into the room, “Tell me, how important do you think it is for the product to look good?” After I answered his question, he explained, “I’m glad your company has a culture that values making products look good.” Well-timed “burning questions” can be effective at communicating your passion toward your craft.

4. Do the post-interview followup
Whenever anyone gives you any contact information such as a business card or an email address, use it. After the interview session is over, write an email to each person who gave you his/her email, and say something like, “I really appreciate you taking your time out of your busy day to talk to me. It was interesting learning about your work on XYZ. I hope my experience and skills and passion convince you that I’m a fit for the job. I hope to have the chance to work with you some day.”

There you go. I hope these tips would come in handy for you all!

BTW, be sure to check out the job postings at my company. Perhaps I would interview you some day.

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