Friday, November 4, 2011

Oh no! I have an interview today and did absolutely nothing to prepare!

My company hires a fair bit and involves its engineers in the process. When you interview with us, you’re likely to speak to 5-7 different people for 20-30 minutes each. It’s grueling.

With the experience of interviewing about 60 people under my belt, these are the tips I share with friends and family foolish enough to call me as they drive to their interviews.

If you have time to prepare, by all means, do a little searching and you’ll find a limitless supply of articles full of really great interview tips. This is meant to be a crash course.

1. Relax. If you know your stuff, then killing this interview will be easy. Conversation will flow naturally and you will be a very impressive candidate. The field is full of people who do not know their stuff so simply knowing a bit about whatever it is that got you the interview in the first place is a big +1 to you.

2. Do not be afraid to think during the interview. When asked a difficult question, take a few seconds to think of an answer. You can even share a related anecdote to get you started if it applies.

Think about it this way: if you answer a tough immediately what can I conclude? All I can really tell is that you prepared for the interview, or have recently answered that question. Preparation is definitely a plus, sure. If, however, you pause to consider the question (just as you would in any normal conversation) and come up with a decent answer, I’m impressed, too.

The risk of answering too quickly is that you might give a terrible answer and then feel like an idiot as you back pedal away from it. Take your time.

3. Think of a question or two for each person you talk to. When I finish with my questions, I’ll ask the candidates if they have any of their own. It helps if you do. Just be careful to actually focus on what the interviewer is asking you--don’t let this distract you too much.

If you’ve done preparation in advance, you should already have a few great questions that are targeted specifically to the company--these are excellent and really set you apart because almost no one does this.
If you’ve done no preparation (for shame!) generic questions are absolutely fine. One of my favorites is, “what’s a typical work day for someone in my position like?” This question helps you in several ways:

  • It gives you a break
  • If lets the interviewer hear him/herself talk (which we like)
  • You get good information (maybe you actually don’t want this job!)

4. Take notes, but only on two things: the names/emails of the people you talk to, and anything you need to do after the interview (i.e. specific questions you couldn’t answer on the spot like your exact start date, salary info, favorite color, etc). Luckily these two go well together because when you write a personalized thank-you note to each of the people you talked to (including reception, HR, etc.), you can include your answers.

If you miss a person’s name, just ask. If you forget to ask before the interviewer leaves, ask the next person you talk to who that last person was. I get this a lot and I’m happy to help you with this information.


Remember, this is just last minute advice. Do yourself a favor and do some actual preparation. Learn about the company. Practice selling yourself. Figure out what you want and go get it!