[A Guest blog post by Volkan Özçelik - Mobile Front-End Engineer at Jive Software]
The subject line is a bit controversial, and “I mean it”.
In this article, I’ll play the Devil’s advocate and try to shed some light on the subtle details of the interviewing process.
Please note that I’m just sharing my honest observations and notes that I’ve taken during my interviews. This is my personal experience. It is what worked for me. It may not be the only way around. And your mileage may vary, of course.
For the interested, there are a gazillion behavioral interview questions and their answers available on the Internet. My humble advice, though, is to approach these techniques with a grain of salt. Personal experience has shown me that some of those techniques are just misdirections and ill advices given by those who have never been to an interview at all.
Who am I?
Or, in other words, who am I to have all these bold claims:
I’ll be candid with you: In the last two years, due to reasons that are totally out of my control, I’ve been laid off twice (ouch!), at the most unexpected times (Murphy!).
I believe whatever doesn’t kill you, simply makes you … stranger – Joker
To be honest, I totally sucked in the initial interviews. And as time went by, I saw the light:
Rather than focusing the needles on individual pine trees, I’ve learned to see the forest. I’ve realized relatively few topic areas the interview questions converge. And I’ve learned that giving an excellent answer is meaningless, unless you possess some persuasive ability to back up the fact that you know what you are talking about; so that you don’t look like you’re parrotting a bunch of words that you’ve memorized the night before the interview.
I’ve learned the hard way how the ins and outs of recruiting in the Valley in general; and behavioral interviews in particular work.
As a side-effect of all this interviewing roller-coaster, I’ve grown a large professional network of decision-makers and recruiters. And by the help of this network, I’ve learned from the best that when it comes to behavioral interviews, most of the things that we take for granted are either incorrect, or misleading, or completely and utterly wrong.
Rather than giving you some HR Manager’s perspective on what interviews should look like, I’m going to hand over you the red pill and tell what behavioral interviews “really are”, and what you have to know to get the job you want.”
Enough of me, let’s jump into the subject matter and see what (almost) everybody knows wrong about interviews. Shall we?
First things first: there’s no such thing as a behavioral interview: You will always be gauged by your manners all the time. Having said that, you have to sharpen your behavioral skills before you need them; Or it will be too late and you’ll need to learn it the hard way.
No matter how prepared you are, you have to pay special attention to certain things in an interview. Here, I’ll try to cover a list of common interview misconceptions. Some of these may seem obvious. Yet, knowing that something is wrong does not necessarily mean that you don’t do these in the interviews.
While you read, think of your former interviews and visualize whether you’ve fallen into the traps listed here:
Reading Books and Articles will Get you a Job: Wrong!
The only way to experiment with the behavioral part of the puzzle is to actually go for as many interviews as possible.
I cannot stress the importance of this more: Go for as many interviews as you can. Psychologists state that behavior can be learned. And when it comes to behavior, learning by doing is the only sure-fire way of achievement.
Giving Correct Answers to the Questions will Get you a Job: Wrong!
In any interview there are things that you must do, behaviors that you should avoid, and certain aspects of the overall process that you should pay special attention to. The interviewer will be looking for certain characteristics and traits of yours and checking whether they match against the culture of the company.
Since the interviewer cannot see inside of your head, the only way to express these to her is through…
- What you say and how you say it;
- The tone and pitch of your voice;
- How you stress certain words;
- Your facial expressions;
- And your body language.
So simply answering questions will not take you anywhere; you also need to be persuasively truthful (and not the other way around; don’t tell lies and try to be “truthfully persuasive”).
Slightly Bending the Facts is a Form of Marketing to Help me Get a Job: Wrong!
Be persuasively truthful.
If you forget everything you read, remember this:
Candor and honesty always wins against cunningness in any situation.
- Do not bend the facts;
- Do not try to trick the interviewer;
- Do not pretend to be something you aren’t; and do not lie.
Truth is not your enemy, but a “made up” answer is.
You may think that the interview went well, and you’ve successfully tricked the interviewer. And when you start interviewing with another company, you will wonder why “that excellent job opportunity, which you were a perfect match” never responded back to you. Because someone has tagged you as an “unreliable” and “unprofessional” jackass, and has shared this with her professional network, resulting in an eternal kiss of death for you. Please keep in mind that news spreads very fast, especially in the Valley.
And while we are on the topic of mind tricks…
Deflecting a Question With Asking a Question Back will Trick the Interviewer: Wrong!
To put it simply: interviewers ain’t no dumb.
Just assume for a second that you are the hiring manager in charge of the interview. Would you be tricked by a half-arsed answer? So how on earth do you think the interviewer will?
And, honestly, what’s the difference between you and the interviewer anyway?
Well I know one: The interviewer has talked to hundreds of individuals like you before, and it’s your first interview with the company. So it’s wise to assume that the interviewer is more experienced than you are.
Don’t trust in your Jedi mind tricks. They don’t work against interviewers.
In any interview, the interviewer has the complete and ultimate control over the process. Trying to misdirect the interviewer by showing a strength of yours as a weakness, or trying to deflect a question by asking a question in return will simply make you appear dumb; and being dumb is not the most efficient way to getting a job.
You don’t outrank the interviewer and you don’t control the interview process.
- Do not try to deflect their question by asking another question;
- Do not try to outsmart the interviewer;
- Do not try to run, or hide.
Learning Everything About the Company will Get you a Job: Wrong!
One of the ill advises wandering on the Internet is that you should do whatever it takes to learn about the company’s culture. This is also wrong, and it’s merely a waste of time.
Believe it or not, the interviewer cannot care less about your extensive knowledge about the company. She simply does not give a damn about it.
The subject of the interview is not the Company; it is you.
Believe me, there are better things to occupy your time: Focus on your knowledge, skills and abilities and how those “relate” to the job you are going to do. If you can ask a few friends that work there, that’s okay. More than that, is an inefficient use of your time.
Research the job description instead of the Company. Try to find what people in similar jobs do. Ask your network if there are any people in similar positions that you are applying for. Read the job description thoroughly and try to correlate it with your professional know-how.
Appearing Cool and Hiding Your Emotions Will Get you a Job: Wrong!
I don’t know who started this coolness craze; and it’s totally wrong.
Never, ever hide your excitement and feelings towards the company.
There’s no shame in expressing your excitement. There’s no harm in telling the company that it’s your dream job and you can do anything to get it (if that’s true). Appearing cool and hiding your excitement is simply not effective.
As a sidenote, demonstrating a lack of energy and passion is a complete “no no”. Even if the job you are talking about is not your greatest choice, it’s something that you want to do. Otherwise, you would not be interviewing in the first place. So be an adult, and show your interest.
You are obliged to show your best in an interview. Having a bad night with your significant other will not change that obligation.
Don’t try to be cool. Be effective.
You Have to be a “Perfect Match” to Get that Job: Wrong!
Unlike what most of us think, there is no such thing as a “perfect match”. You will be learning some of the skills that your job requires along the way; mostly in the first couple of months of your employment.
If you honestly think that you can do 80% of the things that are listed on the job post, then go for it and apply for that job.
Face it: You won’t be building rocket engines. If you are a software engineer for instance, to put it very simply: you will be reading some stuff from a data store, and displaying it on a medium (the screen). It’s more or less the same in every job. Yes, there are details of “how” you do that task. And if you are a fast learner, and moreover the interviewer is persuaded that you are; then you are good to go.
In addition, for the interviewer, your characteristic traits and your manners are just as important as your technical knowledge. I, myself, have been in decision-making positions too and I’ve preferred people with medium skills and good manners to highly talented people with little or no people skills “all the time”.
No matter how technically involved it is, in your job you will be dealing with people. And people skills are a more important contributing factor than you think.
Once, I asked a contact of mine (whom almost anyone reading this article knows the name of) about the importance of character and traits. And I directly quote his response:
“The first thing I ask in an interview is to disagree with me on a subject that the candidate chooses. If she can conflict with me, without being an ass, then she deserves getting a job regardless of her skillset.”
I’ve been keeping that in my mind since then, and I do believe that quote truly emphasizes the importance of people skills.
Being Humble Will Get you a Job: Wrong!
Interviews are the only place where being humble and egoless works against you.
Like it or not, interview is a selling opportunity. It’s where you sell your knowledge, skills, and abilities the best way you can.
Focus on your accomplishments first. Talk about the results you’ve achieved, how you led some parts of the project, how you tackled with problems.
If you talk about your peers all the time you may be seen as either the least productive member of the team, or you may be seen as a person who’s unable to express herself. Either is equally bad.
Getting Prepared for the Questions will Make you Sound “Rehearsed”: Wrong!
First of all, there’s nothing wrong in being rehearsed. The interviewer will appreciate the time and effort you’ve taken, because by conveying a well-prepared answer you’re also showing respect to the interviewer’s time.
And don’t worry, you won’t seem “rehearsed” at all: Under the level of stress you are at, you will eventually be forgetting things, adding bits and pieces that come to your mind at that instant: It will sound well-prepared and natural.
Remember; the worst answers are those given of with little or no preparation.
You know, it’s your background; you are responsible to deliver any piece of it effortlessly, any time.
And while we talking about “time” and place…
An Interview is a Formal Conversation that Takes Place in the Recruiter’s Office: Wrong!
An interview can happen at “any time”, it does not need to be a formerly scheduled meeting at the headquarters of a company.
Even if you don’t think it is an interview, it does not change the fact that it is an interview.
Don’t be surprised when that causal lunch with a colleague of yours turns out to be an interview:
Are you ready to answer that question after two margaritas? What if the answer to that question would turn out to be a contributing factor in the company calling you to a “formal” interview?
Always be prepared!
If they Say no, it’s Because you are not Good Enough: Wrong!
If they say no, it’s not because you can’t do the job. It will be because you’ve not told them enough, and they are not convinced that you can do it.
You have to prepare, they don’t know everything. They only know what you’ve told them. Worse, they believe what they think you’ve told them.
You have to share a lot about yourself, and you don’t have time to tell your whole life story; so you should do your homework well, and have to know what’s important about your background that most relates to the company and your job.
Deliver the key things that you believe identifies you, separates you from the crowd, and differentiates you.
And while we’re on telling “a whole life story“…
If I Tell Everything, the Interviewer Will Cherry-Pick What she Needs: Wrong!
Don’t throw the kitchen sink at the interviewer:
Know what your answer is. Think about how you will convey your answer first. Answer what’s being asked, and elaborate on the subject if necessary. And then be quiet.
A prepared candidate thinks, delivers and then shuts up.
The unprepared tries to talk themselves out of their mistakes.
If the Interviewer does not Seem Interested, You won’t Get the Job: Wrong!
Don’t take it personal, if the interviewer does not seem interested in you. Interviewing requires a special skill set too. And some of the people you interview, despite being great rockstars in their fields, may not be so good at interviewing.
The interviewer will probably take notes throughout the interview, so don’t be put off by the lack of eye contact.
Do not be emotional. You are there to show the best of yourself, and tell them about the facts. That’s it.
Career Sites are the Best Places to Find a Job: Wrong!
Once you are above a certain level of expertise, you don’t use career sites at all. The best source of future jobs is your “professional network”. And in this era, where nobody but you are responsible for your personal career development, you are tossed if you haven’t built up a professional network yet.
Hint: Why don’t you start building up a professional network by connecting to like-minded individuals at geeklist?
Having a professional network is not just something that’s nice to have. It’s a vital requirement for extending your hands to great opportunities.
It’s Impolite to Ask for Help from my Network: Wrong!
For some reason, people think that asking their network for help is incredibly difficult. It’s not:
It’s basic human behaviors and politeness. Just make sure to keep in touch with your network.
Reduce the tension before you can ask for a favor.
Interview is an Investigation that They ask and I Answer: Wrong!
A behavioral interview generally consists of the following sequence of steps:
- Introduction and First Impressions;
- They Ask, You Answer;
- You Ask, They Answer;
Most of the time it’s the bold part that people think as an “interview”. Conversely, an interview extends way beyond that.
Shift your paradigms: The interview extends before and beyond the time you talk to the interviewer. Interview starts at the time you contact the company, and continues until you get an offer.
And believe it or not; you are in the interview even after you close the door go to your home, sit on the couch, have a smoothie, turn on the TV, and relax:
Once it’s over, it aint over. You have to follow-up and that’s very important.
You are expected to do certain things: One of them is thank your interviewer with a letter or an email at least; and the other is to follow up after a couple of days asking how the process is going.
Thanking the interviewer is de rigor and you are considered an unprofessional new kid on the block (to say the least) if you don’t.
Calling the Company Back will Show that I am Hopelessly in Need of a Job: Wrong!
Related to that, and contrary to popular belief, following up after a few days has passed does not show you’re weak, or you’re hopelessly in need of the job. Instead, it shows that you are an adult, not afraid of expressing her interest in the company.
Any organization should be professional enough to update the candidates once the hiring process is over. So if they don’t call you; it means that it’s not over. And it’s not abrupt to regularly ask about the process until you get an answer.
Preparing for the Interview for a Week will Get You a Job: Wrong!
Improving yourself only during your job search is the most ineffective action that you can take. Always, and continuously improve.
Secondly, know yourself, know the market, know which technologies are hot, and develop marketable and transferable properties.
Third, have a continuously-evolving development plan for yourself.
This is a lifelong practice. Do it, even if you are not seeking for jobs at all. You will get noticed by being better at things that make you “promotable”. And, in case of an interview, you will have a hell lot of things to talk about.
If I Tell, they will Understand: Wrong!
“Would you persuade, speak of interest, not of reason. – Benjamin Franklin”
Your success in any interview (behavioral or not) highly depends on your persuasive ability. Let me persuade you why:
You know everything you have done so far, right?
Yet, your interviewer has only briefly overviewed your projects (if you are lucky); and has gazed at your resumé for a minute (if you are lucky too).
Contrary to popular belief, your resumé won’t get you hired. The goal of your resumé is to get you an interview. And once you are in the interview, that goal is over. And you are on your own to persuade the interviewer.
How the interview goes – not your knowledge, nor skills, nor abilities – is what matters.
Yes it is not fair, and that’s life. Welcome to the real world of adult decisions and consequences.
Being honest and persuasive requires great preparation and practice. Which also means that if you want to nail that interview, you have to practice and you have to be prepared at all times. Your persuasive ability, which your success depends on, depends on how prepared you are.
I can Answer the Questions in Any Order I Want: Wrong!
To put it simply, if someone asks you a three part question, the answer should have three parts. And your answer should have exactly three parts in the same order as the question’s.
When answering a question; do not be emotional, just state the facts instead. Do not start your answer with an excuse.
Answer what the interviewer asks directly and specifically. Answer the interviewer’s questions and then tell what you think is important. Don’t do this in reverse. It’s the biggest mistake in answering interview questions.
Once You Make a Mistake, You Die: Wrong!
Know that there’s is no perfect interview. And everybody makes mistakes in interviews. It’s inevitable. But after having answered a question, if you think “oh boy! I blew that” and you spend the next few minutes distracted, not paying attention to the next questions, it logically follows that you’ll mess up with the rest of the interview.
It’s okay to make a mistake; build a bridge and get over it.
Everyone makes mistakes. And the interviewer knows that you are human and can make mistakes. When you make a mistake, just let it go.
You are in Total Control of Timing: Wrong!
Do not attempt to influence the timing of an offer in advance, ever! Do not reschedule interviews. Always be responsive. Return to calls and emails as soon as possible.
Never mute your interest, it’s dumb.
Your purpose, is to get an offer. Until you get a bit more control over the situation (that’s when you have the offer), do not attempt to slow things down, or speed things up.
A Promise of an Offer is an Offer: Wrong!
Coming from a high-context culture, I sometimes fall into this trap. We are so afraid of being judged; that the moment we have a hint of a positive, we relax.
It’s like your date saying “you dressed nice” on your first date; and you assume everything is gonna be perfect.
Have I told you that human brain is an interesting machine? Under uncertainty, we are prone to believe in anything, to reduce our stress level. You are a human and you want to reduce stress and uncertainty; si you’ll exaggerate any positive signal you see.
The purpose of an interview is to get an offer. A promise of an offer, a suggestion that you are a strong candidate, even the promising sentence “we will extend you an offer” is not an offer.
An offer is a formal entity with very specific parts (such as your compensation, and a expiration deadline). And if you don’t have an offer, you don’t have an offer.
I’ve learned this the hard way too: In a bunch of interviews where I got the very promise of an offer, and the position got frozen due to strategy changes in the company, and I was not extended the offer.
Erring on the wrong side is better than having false hopes. Assume that what you’ve been told is an obfuscation designed to get you relaxed.
You are Obliged to Take an Offer: Wrong!
There are two parts to every job search: Getting offers, and then taking offers. Don’t mix the two.
Feel no obligation to accept an offer.
And if you do accept an offer, then you’ve made a choice against the opportunity cost of accepting other offers. So be an adult, be thankful and grateful.
Hiding Your Current Salary When Asked is a Clever Move: Wrong!
Your current salary has nothing to do with how much you want to make in your next job. If you know the market conditions, and you have marketable and transferrable skills, then you are free to name your price.
Don’t beat your brains out, thinking hard about the “salary” questions. Don’t exaggerate it and turn it out to something that you worry about.
When your current salary is asked, say it freely. The salary question is just yet another question.
When I Find A Slightly Better Job than my Current, it’s Logical to Jump Ship: Wrong!
At job transitions the 40% rule applies:
If the new offer is not 40% better in terms of compensation and benefits, and if you’re satisfied at your current job, it’s not worth making the shift.
Why? Because it’s harder to get promoted when you are new to a company. It’s harder to get yourself accepted. It’s harder to learn a new environment.
And even in the valley, if you change too many jobs at a time, you will have some hard time explaining it, and you may be frowned upon.
Keep in mind that everything is rapidly changing in the Valley. One of those things that change at a mind-blowingly fast rate is how interviews are being conducted these days.
- How to prepare an effective cover letter that will get your resumé read;
- How to prepare an effective resumé that will get you an interview;
- What you should pay attention to during the interview;
- How to answer the most important two interview questions;
- What questions to ask when the time comes;
- How to receive, accept and decline offers;
- And more…
Actually the items mentioned above are a only a tiny fraction of the non-technical tips and guidance given in the book.
The book treats both technical and behavioral aspects of the process; and it’s radically different from any other “interviewing” book you can find on the market.
If you still think that memorizing riddles, puzzles, data structures and algorithms will get you anywhere; I’m sorry and you are wrong.
It’s not 2005, and people are not asking impossible to solve brain teasers anymore. Or at least the number of such companies is significantly decreasing. Even companies like Google ban brain teaser questions.
And if you meet a firm that does not audit the skill set that you will be using during your work, and rather asks “how many golf balls you can fit into a school bus?” then they are looking for walking scientific calculators instead of pragmatic, proactive, and creative individuals. I don’t know you, and I’d prefer to work in a better environment.
Have you had a recent job interview?
Were you satisfied?
I’d love to hear your comments, suggestions and experiences.