How do you get an interview? How do you ace the interview? Should you be pushy or passive, humble or boastful?
These questions encompass the great unknowns of the world of job hunters, and can be an extreme source of frustration for people putting so much effort into finding a position. It is my hope that through this series, we'll be able to examine these questions in depth, with contributions from managers that play direct hiring roles in IT, to ultimately reach some valuable conclusions.
In this first piece, I'd like to share some excellent insight I received from an IT consultant through the Windows IT Pro LinkedIn Group. These tips relate to the interview process itself, but I hope to cover all facets of the hiring process eventually.
Technical Skills: Know Your Strengths, Weaknesses
According to hiring managers at our friend's agency, a deadly mistake many candidates make is acting as though they are an expert in every field, technology, and specialty. While you may feel that you are qualified to tackle just about any challenge, you must be careful with your phrasing. If you act like you don't have any weaknesses, then you also sound like you don't have any strengths. After all, "a jack of all trades is a master of none."
When asked questions about your technical expertise, use those opportunities to differentiate yourself. So when the interviewer asks what your experience is with a given technology, be honest. But don't leave it at that. A good answer might be: "I have very little experience with large-scale Exchange deployments. However, I did deploy Exchange and manage the infrastructure in my previous position for five years, and I learned quite a bit about the differences in deployment and management between small and large scale businesses. Tackling a large-scale deployment would be an exciting, but challenging, endeavor."
On the same note, don't be snarky with your answers. "Oh yeah, that's no problem. I've handled much more difficult tasks" is not a good answer. Don't talk down to the interviewers, and never brush off a question, unless it's very obvious that they just want a yes or no answer. While their problems might seem primitive, they are important to them, so pay your respects to the company and address these challenges correctly, and do so in a way that speaks to the business needs of the organization, not just the technical issue.
One last note on technical merit: the hiring managers at the reader's firm often lay traps, baiting the interviewer to admit something is out of their sphere of understanding. If you aren't able to admit what you don't know, you come across as someone who believes they no longer need to learn or grow.
Personality Speaks Waves
You've probably heard some of these tips before, but they can't be forgotten. Be personable, likeable. Give a firm handshake, make eye contact, smile. Be respectful of the interviewers, and take the time to understand both their technical needs and business needs. Show interest in the business. Speak articulately in terms that your interviewer can easily understand. Ultimately, follow the interviewer's lead. If he/she wants to make small talk at first, play along. If he/she wants to get right down to business, then be respectful of his/her time and follow suit.
If you feel that your social skills might be your Achilles' heel, consider practicing interviews with friends, family, or colleagues. Even if the person doing the sample interview doesn't have much technical knowledge, you can give them the questions to ask you ahead of time. Pick someone who is well-attuned to the social needs of others (the type of person that everyone feels comfortable around), who will be able to quickly tell if your speech could be considered arrogant, shy, negative, disinterested, or any other emotion that might put you in the "no" pile. Make sure you pick someone who isn't afraid to tell you if you're doing something wrong.
Continual Growth is Key
Obviously, nobody is going to be perfect after their first interview, and it can definitely be difficult to get back in the game if you've been working in one job for a long period of time. It's important to remember that not every missed job opportunity is your fault. Some people might think this is true, but it's one of the most ridiculous notions I've ever heard. You're not the right person for every single job. No one is. And ultimately, trying to be someone you're not isn't going to help you in the long run. The true takeaway here is that you should continue to hone your interviewing skills so that when the perfect job comes around (the one that is the best fit for both you and the organization), you have all the skills you need to succeed.
Do you have additional notes or thoughts you'd like to add, or would you be interested in doing an interview with me on your thoughts about hiring? Any feedback I can get would be greatly appreciated--I'd like this series to build into a wealth of information for job seekers. Please send me an email or contact me via Twitter.