Interview Tips & Tricks (for the newbie to the expert)

Author: Chris Lake

One of the ways that STG likes to partner with its clients is to sit in as an observer when we have a candidate interview.  We don’t interfere with anything said, but being in the room helps us observe and see both how the candidate does and what needs our client has that perhaps we had not thought to consider in our candidate search.  It really is a great opportunity.
One of the results of sitting in so many interviews is that I get to see many different interview styles and situations.  I’ve seen some candidates just rock the interview and I’ve seen others blow it so badly that it’s almost physically painful to sit and watch them struggle.  
Although we never share specific interview questions from clients, I’ve noticed a few specific suggestions and ideas that I think every person going through a technical interview should be aware of.  PAY ATTENTION to the items below—they may just land you that dream job!  There’s no way I could cover everything in a quick blog, but here are just a couple of the big ones.

First impression

It’s often said that you never get a second chance to make a first impression.  I’ve heard that it takes typically less than 7 seconds for that first impression to be formed.  A lot can go into making those 7 seconds count:

    • Give yourself enough time so that you will be onsite and checked in 5 minutes early.  Don’t show up 15 minutes early as that throws everyone off schedule.  Still, that’s better than showing up 2 minutes late.  When you’re late, you’re stressed and not only does it make you look unreliable, but you will not be calm and collected when they first meet you (plus you may have some wicked sweat stains and that’s just gross).
    • Make sure you dress appropriately.  As a general rule, be one step dressier than the person who will be interviewing you.  If the team is in jeans and t-shirts, come in dockers and a nice golf shirt.  If they are in slacks and dress shirts, wear a tie or a sport coat.  If you don’t know the dress code, stop by the office the day before to see how people are dressing (or simply call and ask).  Dressing up for an interview shows that you take the opportunity seriously and everyone appreciates that.
    • A firm handshake while making eye contact shows confidence.  Shaking hands is something we do every day, but how good are you at it?  Have you ever practiced?  
  • Ask for a business card from the interviewer.  It will help you remember their name and you’ll need it later on anyway (ooh, a cliff hanger!)  

White boarding

Often in a technical interview, they will ask you to go up to a white board and write out a solution to a technical problem.  Even if you’ve seen this other people do this a hundred times, when it’s you standing up, it’s almost guaranteed that the pressure of the moment will cause a strange effect of having your intelligence shut off as soon as your knees lock and you lift the marker to write.  It happens to the best of them (and that includes you!)  Here’s a couple tips to keep in mind:

    • Remember that the purpose of the question is primarily to learn how you think and approach a problem.  The actual task is usually totally irrelevant.  As you work, think out loud and explain what you are doing and why you are doing it.  If you ever get stuck, step back and explain to the interviewers why you are stuck and the options you are considering.  They would much rather hear your thought process and have a half-baked solution than see a “perfect” answer up on the board with you not saying anything.
  • No one cares about your syntax.  Anyone who does in that situation is probably not someone you want to work with anyway.  You have no IDE on a white board.  Get over it.  Pseuo code is your friend and is all you need.  If you’re hung up on whether it’s a { or a [ or a ( you will probably miss the deep thinking that will actually be needed to solve the problem.

The most important question:

At the end of almost every interview, you will be asked “So, what questions do you have for us?”  Before the interview, you should make a list of questions that you’d like to ask that don’t make you sound like an idiot or someone who doesn’t care enough to ask a real question.  Here are some common good topics:

    • What is the team environment like?
    • What is the development process of the team (Agile, Scrum, 2-week sprints, etc)?
  • What is the technology stack that I will be working on and perhaps what new technologies will I be able to learn here?  

HOWEVER, the most important question you NEED TO ASK is some variation of the following:

  • Mr./Ms Interviewer I am extremely interested in working in this role/project, do you have any reservations or concerns regarding my background that I can address?

This question is of utmost importance because if the interviewers have any concerns regarding your experience and you cannot overcome their concerns, you probably will not have a chance of landing this job or being asked back for a second interview. This is a great question and has often turned a negative interview into a positive one—Sell yourself.  It’s amazing how you can clear up misperceptions that otherwise would have sunk you as a candidate.  

Follow up

Once the interview is over, make sure you thank them for their time, shake their hands like you mean it and walk away like a professional.  You will have just been through an experience together and you may feel an urge to confess some deeply personal thing to your new found buddy as you walk out together.  Please don’t.  Unless they ask about it, now is not the time to start sharing about your personal life and what crazy plans you have for the weekend.  You’ve aced the interview.  Don’t leave them with a question mark in their minds.
Make sure you follow up within 24 hours with a quick note (email is fine) thanking them for the opportunity and reiterating why you feel you are a great fit for the spot.  Since you already have their card from the beginning of the interview, it should just take a few minutes of your time.  This one thing can help set you apart from the pile of others they talk to and help you be remembered.
There is nothing here that is rocket science and nothing you’ve probably not heard before.  However, hopefully these few tips will help you turn your next interview into your next position!  

Author: Chris Lake