How not to Prep for an Interview – Part I

0x600I’ve been trying to figure out how to name this post because I knew from the get-go that it was going to be done in two parts where the viewpoint in Part I is from that of the person being interviewed (the interviewee) and Part II is from that of the person conducting the interview (the interviewer).  Both perspectives are in regards to how one should not conduct themselves at interviews.

I’ve been involved in a least 100+ interviews, being on both side of the fence (more on the interviewer side) – can’t say 1,000+ and I am actually happy to say I have not had to do that  many in my lifetime.

When prepping for an interview (any interview, any job), the first question you should ask yourself is always…

Do I want this job at this company?

If the answers are any combination of “meh”, “not really”, “I don’t care”, “it’s not what I want” – then save yourself the time and energy and don’t apply.  All you are doing is wasting your time and the person’s time that is interviewing you.  And should you decide that later on, you’d like to work at this company, you’ve just created a bad impression with the company that when your name comes up again and you want to work there, they will look to pass you over (I would, in a heartbeat).

I’m not a fan of this “I’m going to throw my line in the water and see if I get any bites” approach to job hunting or the “I’m going to go and practice doing interviews at these other companies before I go for the real jobs” – why?  Why waste all that time, all those “fake sick” or vacation days from your company to go test all that out.  You most likely have friends in your field and the internet is a massive source of interview questions (especially on the software development side) – do all of that on your own time.

So now you want the job, the interview is scheduled, it’s time to prep.

Number One strike against any interview, showing up late.  Bad weather, not an excuse.  Sorry, bad weather happens all the time, prep for it.  If there is bad weather and the buses are running slow, pay for a cab, it costs $40 vs $5?  Ask yourself how badly you want this job and the $40 seems like a paltry expense.  By showing up late you’ve already put the seeds of doubt not only in the interviewer, but the receptionist at the desk – and you haven’t even done anything.  Same goes for being early, if you are there 10 – 15 minutes early, that is acceptable and welcome.  If you are there 45 minutes early, that’s a little problematic for the people interviewing you.  Should you get there early, go find a coffee shop, a bench, a chair, something.  Take your time, you don’t want to come off desperate.  A little early shows you are prompt and considerate of other’s schedules.

Number Two strike against any interview is the moment you sit down and you the Interviewer asks you if you know anything about their company and you say – “No!” or some gibberish answer about – “Yeah you guys build software right?”.  Companies invest lots of time, effort and money in promoting themselves on the Internet.  Information is readily available to you from your fingertips on that long bus or short cab ride.  Take the time to read it – if you don’t want to take the time to read it, cancel the interview, you really, really don’t want to work there.  Nothing burns me more than having to explain to someone what we do – before the Internet?  Sure, it was a lot tougher, you had the yellow pages, maybe financial reports that had to be requested, now it’s all open doors.  There is absolutely ZERO reason why you should not know what the companies product and services are, what they have recently been blogging about and what their latest press releases are before going to an interview.

Number Three strike is the candidate that can’t say no.  I’ve been known to throw out completely wrong questions in interviews, some completely ridiculous ones only so I can see if they will say no and not try to bluff their way through it.  It’s not to be mean, it’s not to make fun of something or have a good laugh afterwards – it’s to make sure that when they don’t know something, they will be honest and say I don’t know or you can’t do that.  Because in software and technology, no one knows everything, I don’t care what level of rockstar, ninja, samurai coder you are, you don’t know everything.  I do give exceptional bonus marks to those that say “I don’t know… but here is how I would try to figure it out”… well you just flew to the top of my list.

Show Passion.

You can see the thread going through this post, if you aren’t interested don’t apply.  I’m only looking to hire people that have a passion for what they do, if you don’t that’s cool, but I know there is someone out there that does and I’m willing to wait.  I’ll push back on recruiters for this very reason.  You might be a rockstar coder, but you might also be a jerk and think everyone else on the team is sub-standard.  For me, the guys/gals that show up early, love what they do, want to learn more, maybe don’t know all the answers – those are the people I want to hire.

Two best interviews I ever had, and people I subsequently hired immediately, were people that were not the best coders BUT they came to the interviews prepped with demo code have looked at what we were looking for, showcasing how they can learn and build new apps and apply their own sense of flare to it.  They knew the company inside and out (sometimes better than me).  They wanted it, they were hungry for it.  One guy missed a career fair, drove all the way out to our office to meet with me – that’s passion, that’s desire – he jumped to the top of the list.

You are interviewing at a company.

Lastly, and this is a sad one, Interviewees often times forget that they are not interviewing for a group but a company.  I have nothing but the utmost respect for our Office Managers, Administrators and Receptionists.  At the end of each interview I always ask them how they were when they came in, were they polite, were they rude.  Sometimes it’s a deal breaker – “they came in, demanded I hang up their coat and get a drink” – done, you’re out – no one is beneath anyone else and how do I know you won’t treat a junior developer in exactly the same way?  I don’t and I’m not willing to take the risk.

Now, what about technical skills you might say?  What about the gold that actually ships the product out the door?  All that is secondary to me, because if you have all of the above, we can teach you coding, we can show you performance and error handling what we can’t show you is any of the above.  I’ve hired people based on the above and they have turned into some of the best coders, team leads and managers I have ever worked with – the code didn’t get them there, all of the above did.

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