Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Interviewing 101

Advice: Interview as many times as possible.

I had to sit through an interview for a temp replacement for my position. Let's call her "Person A." I should write a character study based on the forty-five some minutes I spent with her. She was a go-getter part-time lawschool student, quite aggressive, but slightly snippy. I asked her what her experience was with working with building databases. I was attempting to find out what her skill level was.
"Have you had experience working with multiple tables in a database?"
"Oh, all databases have multiple tables." She replied quickly. At this moment I could see her in her first year ethics course correcting the professor. I've seen a number of poorly designed databases built on one table (called a spreadsheet).
"Have you worked with manipulating the relationships between these tables?"

Though I will give her points for admitting that she did not have any experience in working with relationships. Still, if you want to argue that you're good at designing a database you'll want to be able to prove that you have a good working understanding of how to relate or connect the data in the tables through these relationships.

Of course these are only my opinions and observations. I guess there's a place for her somewhere. I just hope that it's nowhere near me.

Though honestly, when I sit through these interviews I suddenly understand what I was doing wrong when I interviewed for jobs in the past. Sometimes overconfidence can prove a pittance (not that you should give your best Woody Allen impression during an interview). Many times the interview helps the people interviewing you decide whether or not you will get along with them. Trying too hard to get a job (unless of course it's only a temporary situation) and marketing yourself as someone you are NOT will serve to hurt you in the long run. Honestly, why would you want to fit in with a group or culture that doesn't get you? Besides most savvy interviewers see right through any efforts to re-invent yourself.

If you're looking for a job, and you're not the kind of person who fits readily in a corporate or business environment the best thing to do is to interview AS MANY TIMES AS POSSIBLE WITH AS MANY GROUPS AS YOU CAN. Go into each of the groups and observe how the people react to you and each other during the interviews. Take mental notes over the following questions:
-Did they appear open and courteous?
-Did they listen well?
-Did they interrupt you when you were talking?
-Could they describe what they did or their group's mission effectively?
-Did they even have a mission or anything closely resembling one?
-Did they look like they were hiding anything?

And one more thing, DONT BE AFRAID TO ASK QUESTIONS after they are finished interviewing you. I've met a few people who have told me that they are embarrassed to ask the interviewers questions, or they felt that it wasn't their place to do so even when prompted because they didn't work there yet. How do you know you want to work there if you don't know anything about the position, the workplace or the people?

Some good questions to ask... out loud:
(Make sure to listen carefully during the interview and before you ask the question think back and determine whether or not they may have answered the question already.)
-What will my role be like in this group?
-Who will I be working with?
-What are some of the key projects this group is working on and can you describe them?
-How would you describe the working team environment in your group? (And this may or may not be appropriate considering what sort of relationship you've established with the interviewers, i.e. if they appear friendly and open) What do you do for fun around here?

If you ever want to learn how to interview well, conduct a few of them on your own, and again do as many of them as possible. If anything you'll lessen the 'stagefright' and anxiety that you feel beforehand. If you've noticed from some of my earlier posts I still get nervous and can leave feeling like a complete and total dork, uh, but, hey, at least I was being myself.

My last piece of advice would be to simply be open, friendly, courteous, and just yourself. Good luck.


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