What you need to know when interviewing for a job in IT

I am glad you have joined me!

This is the first blog post in my series called Interviewing for an IT Job. If you have not read the series announcement, please do so.

 

Index of Related Posts:
1. Interviewing for an IT Job
2. What You Need to Know When Interviewing For a Job in IT
3. What to Expect When Going Through the Technical Interview
4. What You Should Know about Headhunters and Recruiters
5. Tips for Networking Success
6. 5 Tips for Successful Webcam Interviews
7. The Basics of Troubleshooting – Part 1 – Ping
8. The Basics of Troubleshooting – Part 2 – Traceroute
9. The Basics of Troubleshooting – Part 3 – Firewalls
10. The Basics of Troubleshooting – Part 4 – NAT
11. The Basics of Troubleshooting – Part 5 – PAT
12. The Basics of Troubleshooting – Part 6 – 1:1 NAT
13. The Basics of Troubleshooting – Part 7 – Port Forwarding

My goal is to provide you with lots of practical information, checklists and templates that will help you to prepare adequately for a job interview.  I am writing these posts with the main focus on IT, however, most of the ideas and tips below apply to anyone interviewing for any type of job. It does not matter if you have just graduated, are in school or have been working in the field for a long time.  I guarantee that you will get something out of this.

I am not a recruiter. But I am the guy who sits on the other side of the table and interviews you. I have interviewed many candidates throughout the years and I have been interviewed many times for different jobs in IT. I do not claim to know it all – not even close – but after so many years of working in the field I have a good understanding of what does or does not work when you are going through the job searching and interviewing process. I am open to suggestions and corrections and if you want to share any experiences, tips or just want give me some feedback, please do so. Contact me via email or post a comment.

This first blog post focuses on the following subjects:

  • What You Should do Before You Start Looking for a Job
  • Resume Preparation and Tips for an Effective Resume
  • Where to Look for Jobs
  • Submitting Your Resume to a Company, Recruiter or Website
  • Got an Interview? Awesome! What Now?
  • Prepare Yourself for The Interview
  • Interview Day Checklist
  • The Interview Process – What to Expect
  • Tips for a Successful Interview
  • After the Interview
  • The Moment of Truth

Let’s Get Started!

What You Should Do Before You Start Looking For A Job

First of all, if you are a Facebook user, make sure that your profile is squeaky clean. That picture you posted on Facebook, of you and your buddies wasted at a bar last Monday, may cost you a job interview. If there is anything on your Facebook page that your grandma would not be proud of, you may want to consider removing it. This is not a joke!

As per a survey conducted by Harris Interactive, 37 percent of companies use social networks to check on candidates for red flags.  For that matter, hiring managers will Google your name and will check Twitter and other social media sites.

If you participate in any forums, discussion groups, LinkedIn, Twitter, MySpace, YouTube, Google+, etc., you need to check your profile and what you have posted.

Remember, you need to present a professional image to the hiring manager.

The cleanup process needs to happen as soon as possible, way before the job interview. If you are not even out of school yet, you better get started. It will take a while for the search engines to re-index those sites and make the results go away. Well…sort of. The problem is that there are search engines that let you look at a web page at a certain date in the past. Try it out using one of the many websites available which display cached pages. These sites are not fool proof, but some hiring managers are pretty smart and know how to take advantage of these tools.

To get started, go to Google and type your name. If you have a middle name, try variations of your name. Use double quotes to get more precise results. Also try searching for Images on Google – you will be surprised to find pictures you didn’t know were public.

Here are some examples of what to write in the search box on Google:  “Joe Doe”, “Joe L Doe”, “Joe Lucas Doe”, etc.

Resume Preparation and Tips for an Effective Resume

Writing a great resume is probably one of the most important steps throughout the job seeking process. Stop, focus and write a great resume. If you try to cut corners when you write your resume, you may miss great interviewing opportunities. Here is why:

Most of the large and sometimes medium size companies use an automated system that scans all resumes received by their recruiters and website. These systems scan for keywords (e.g. SQL server administration, PHP, .Net, etc.), tag the resumes and send them to a database. From there, based on the relevancy of the keywords and the position they are hiring for, your resume may or may not come up when a hiring manager is searching the resume database for candidates.

It is very important that you understand what a recruiter does on a daily basis:

  • Try to find candidates for one or more job openings concurrently.  Often these jobs are completely unrelated (e.g. managerial job versus website developer).
  • Receive dozens of emails and resumes on a daily basis.
  • Need to read all these emails and resumes.
  • Screen resumes received – sometimes you will deal with a technical recruiter who will scrutinize the resumes even further.
  • Check if the candidate meets most of the requirements for the position.
  • Calls candidates to pre-screen them and/or setup an interview.
  • Attend meetings with hiring managers and report the status of open positions.
  • Follow up with candidates who have interviewed.
  • More, much more.

So, what you need to understand is that your resume:

  • Will be screened only for a few seconds.  Not minutes.
  • Has to grab the attention of the person reading it.
  • Must be easy to read, well organized, concise and, most importantly, convey your skills and experiences.

Here are a few tips on what a resume should look like:

  • Create a great basic resume, and then customize it for each job you are applying. Not all positions will have exactly the same requirements, so make sure you emphasize the skills that match the requirements for the position you are applying to.
  • Use standard fonts that can be scanned and processed by automated systems.
  • Make sure the font size is 11 or 12 points. Arial or Times work great.
  • Don’t try to be cutesy by using graphics, funky characters or images.
  • Add your contact information: name, address, phone numbers (cell and home) and email.
  • List your skills right at the beginning of the resume, using bullet points. Try to match your skills with the keywords used on the job description.
  • Do not use tables, boxes or lines. A cool design may look great for human beings, but computers are dumb when it comes to understanding graphic content.
  • List the jobs and experiences that are relevant for the position you are interviewing for. You do not need to list all your past jobs. For example, what is the point of adding a summer job as a waiter if you are interviewing for a support position. If you are just starting, that is OK to add to your resume, however, once you have been working in the field for a couple of years, job descriptions like that may be a distraction.
  • Keep your resume to two pages maximum. The hiring managers I know do not have time to read a 10-page resume.
  • Do not add hobbies, facts or any irrelevant information to your resume. If you think it is going to help for a certain job position, then it’s fine. But be careful.
  • Do not disclose your age. We all know it is illegal to discriminate against candidates based on age, however, there are hiring managers who may not be open minded and may make their decision even before interviewing you.
  • List your certifications and language skills.
  • Do not add anything you cannot answer. For example, I am a Linux user and know how to install and configure Ubuntu.  I can say I know my way around this operating system, however I cannot claim to be a Linux system administrator.
  • Do not lie on your resume. Don’t take a chance, especially when dealing with technical skills.
  • Always have your resume in PDF, MS Word and plain text formats. Plain text format is usually needed for job search websites, and PDF files can be easily created by using a PDF printer emulator like CutePDF.

Where to Look for Jobs

When looking for a job, you should to use all the resources available to you: friends and family, social networks, websites, job fairs, headhunters, etc.

Friends, Family and Social Networks – When you actively start looking for a job and have your resume ready, start contacting your friends and family and let them know you are on the market. This approach can land you a great job. The power of networking can work in your favor, as a friend may know of a job or someone else who is trying to fill out a job position. Besides, hiring managers like to get referrals from people they know and trust.

Websites – There are many job search websites out there, however, there are a few that I particularly like, especially for IT jobs.   Please do not limit your search to these sites only.  Below are the five sites I like the most:

Job Fairs – Job fairs are a great way to find a job.  Always make sure you have copies of your resume when attending job fairs, and be ready to be interviewed on the spot.  Usually companies pre-screen candidates at the fair, and hiring managers may be present for a quick interview.

Headhunters – Headhunters are great resources in job searching, especially if you have experience.  Often they have access to job postings that are not advertised on the internet.

Submitting Your Resume to a Company, Recruiter or Website

Now that you have found a job that you like, it’s time to submit your resume.
Remember when I talked about having a basic resume and customizing it for each job opening?
Well, now it’s time to make sure your resume fits the job requirements as much as possible. Use the keywords that are on the list of requirements, this is important.

  • Carefully read the instructions on how to upload or send your resume, especially to the file format (PDF, DOC, TXT).
  • After submitting your resume, ensure that emails coming from the job site are not getting trapped on your spam filter.  I’ve seen that happening numerous times.
  • If possible, follow up with the recruiter you submitted the resume to within a couple days.

Got an Interview? Awesome! What Now?

  • It’s time for some investigation.  First, let’s Google the company.
  • Learn anything you can about the company you are interviewing for.
  • What do they do?
  • Are they public or private?
  • If public, what is their stock ticker? What is their current stock price?
  • Read recent news about the company.
  • Visit their website.
  • How many employees do they have?
  • How many offices do they have
  • Are they headquartered in the US or abroad?
  • Which languages do they speak within the company? If you speak other languages this could give you a huge advantage. (For example, in a Swiss company employees may speak English, French, German and Italian)
  • Does the job you are applying to require any travel? If so, can you travel?
  • Talk to friends and colleagues who know you and what you do, so they can be used as references.

Prepare Yourself for the Interview

The person interviewing you has only a few minutes to know you, to understand your history as a professional. So, when you go to an interview you need to be able to sell “You”, the professional. The tips below are very important, because if you do your homework, and know exactly what to say in a given situation, you will not stumble for words and you should be able to deliver the message with focus and clarity. Take the next items seriously and get ready for the interview.

  • List your strengths.
  • Understand your shortcomings and how you are working on improving yourself.
  • List three major achievements.  Think how you are going explain them if you are asked.
  • List one or two screw ups or failures.  What happened?  And, most importantly, what you have learned from your mistakes, and why they are not going to happen again.  Do not blame others for your failures. Take accountability and show humility.  We all have and still screw up once in a while.
  • Come up with a list of goals for the next two and five years. (I personally never ask this question, as I honestly think it is irrelevant, but the vast majority of hiring managers will ask you this question.)
  • Ask a friend to interview you, so you can practice for the real deal.

Interview Day Checklist

A downloadable version of this checklist will be available to those who subscribe to my posts. Trust me! You will need it to keep yourself organized and ready for the interview.

  • Print a Google map or setup your GPS with the address of the company.
  • Reach the location 10 or 15 minutes before the interview.  Sometimes you have to go through security and be escorted within the premises of the campus.  It may take a while to get to the room where you are going to be interviewed.
  • Print your resume on a laser printer.
  • Bring extra copies of your resume for the interview.
  • Dress accordingly.  I never cared about suits or ties when I interviewed someone, however, I would not go to an interview if I were not wearing a suit.  Make sure you clothes are clean and not wrinkled.
  • Use a restroom before you get to the interview.
  • Turn off your cell phone before you enter the building.

The Interview Process – What to Expect

There are many interviewing styles out there: one-on-one, several interviewers sitting at the table with you or even group dynamics where multiple candidates discuss situations and decision making processes.

Unless you are interviewing with a very small company, you will talk to multiple people during an interview.

Just keep your cool and pay attention to all the questions.
It’s very common to find someone who will try to push your buttons and, often, that is done to see if you can handle pressure.
Do not raise your voice or take it as a personal attack.

The interviewing process can be exhausting, so make sure you are rested before going to an interview. I’ve been through interviews that last more than five hours, as I had to talk to multiple managers, engineers, take written and practical technical tests, and participate in a group dynamic.

In technical interviews, you will be asked a broad array of questions that may or may not be related to the job position.
Most likely, engineers will ask everything you claim to know on that list of skills.

If you are going to work supporting IT users or operations, most likely you will be asked to troubleshoot hypothetical scenarios. Those who have been interviewed by me know it very well. The goal is not to crush your spirit! The objective is to understand your thought process when dealing with issues, your potentials and what you need to work on. I will cover the technical interview at great lengths in a future post. Don’t miss it.

If you don’t know the answer to a question, it is OK to say you don’t know it.  Don’t make up an answer or lie.

Tips for a Successful Interview

  • Never be late.
  • Be yourself.
  • Your demeanor is important. Watch your posture, do not cross your arms or legs. Lean forward while answering questions.
  • Answer all the questions looking at the interviewer in the eyes, but don’t be creepy.
  • Show that you are excited to be there and that you are the right guy for the position.
  • Do not complain about the traffic, weather or any other meaningless subject. You are there for your interview, and this may be the only chance you get with that company.
  • Listen attentively to all the questions – do not interrupt the interviewer.
  • This is not the time to crack jokes.
  • Do not complain about co-workers, managers or companies you have worked for.
  • Be humble, focused and determined.
  • When asked if you have questions about the job or company, ask only if it is a genuine question. When you did your research, you should have learned about growth, sales, etc., and this is the moment to ask about the company’s future, goals, etc.

After the Interview

  • The interview is over.  Now it is time to thank the person in front of you for the opportunity given.
  • Look the person in the eyes, and give a firm handshake.
  • Tell this person that you will follow up with the recruiter and/or hiring manager.
  • When you get home, send a nice email to the recruiter and / or hiring manager thanking them once again for the opportunity and tell them that you are very interested in the position.
  • Follow up with the recruiter a couple of days later, not a week.

The Moment of Truth

You have just finished your interview, and you are going home.  While you drive you should have plenty of time to focus on what you have been through.

Most likely, you have talked to several people – managers, engineers, and potential co-workers.

Now it’s time to stop and assess what you heard and saw:

  • What did you talk about during the interview?
  • What did you learn from those interviewing you?
  • Were they friendly?
  • What was the vibe at the office?
  • Did you see happy employees?
  • Did you see them communicating and being nice to each other?
  • Were they edgy? Stressed out?
  • Did anyone give you some “off the record” information about management?
  • Do you think that environment is what you are looking for?  Can you work with those guys?

You have to ask yourself if you are going to be happy working for that company and if you think you can grow professionally in that environment.

Be honest with yourself.

Think about it: you will be spending more time working with your co-workers than with your family.

I can understand if you are desperate to work and need the money, however, if within a few months you have to jump ship once again, you will create a red flag on your resume.

Back in the 90′s I interviewed with several companies in the Silicon Valley. I know – those were different times – but from all the companies I interviewed for, I had two finalists. The first company was huge, had a very nice campus, thousands of employees, and paid almost 60% more than the second one. However, after my interview I had the opportunity to talk to my potential co-workers, and I noticed they were all stressed out, unhappy, and not in a good mood. The second company was the complete opposite, smaller campus, they had only a few hundred employees, and all the employees I talked to were friendly, happy and were excited to show me where they worked, the types of projects they were working on and how the environment fostered personal development. I was sold! I chose the second one. That was one of the best companies I have worked for!

You need to decide, when the hiring manager or recruiter calls you offering the position, whether you will say yes or no. You need be ready to answer.

What’s Next?

In my next post, I will walk you through a troubleshooting session that will test your basic IT skills.

I will be talking about IP addresses, command line utilities, firewalls, etc.  Join me!

1 Comment

  1. First of all awesome advice and all so true! Love the conversational writing, great tips, earnest suggestions — an easy read that should result in learning for any subscriber.

    Great and telling stat that 37% of companies will check a candidate’s social networks! We have actually seen many people dropped from consideration and unnecessary conversation about their facebook content as it raises questions on their attitude, work ethic and basic common sense. Linked in profiles have the same impact.

    Additional tips related to your topics that came top of mind for us:

    If someone gives you a name introducing you to a company and it results in an interview — seems obvious, but circle back and let them know. Often times this results in even more company information, additional networking names and you will be remembered, as most people don’t do this step.

    After an interview, send thank you notes or emails to the key people you meet in the interview process. It is ok, even good to ask for their emails from the recruiter or hiring manager. Shows you are sincerely interested and listening. The note should refer to something from your conversation with that person and reinforce how you could help them.

    Lack of preparation also amazes us. Extra effort in this area can really set you apart from others. Don’t forget that your questions, not just your answers demonstrate your preparation. Have some questions ready before the interview as they directly reflect how you think!

    Also in preparation for an interview, if the company sells a product or service, get familiar with it – buy it, experience it, see it being sold, ask the people selling it about the item. Shows your enthusiasm and interest in their business.

    One stand out candidate actually started an on-line class for a specific programming requirement needed for a position to show he really wanted the job — would work hard to get up to speed and excel in their environment. He had many other specific technical skills, but was not as seasoned as the other top candidates and was missing this key requirement. This proactive effort really stood out to the hiring manager and he still talks about it.

    At the end of the day, the employer is evaluating if you can you do the work, do you fit their environment and are you passionate about the business and position

    Reply

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