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February 02, 2013

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If you want to make it through an interview practice like your life depends on it.

Before I interviewed for my current job I bought a couple of friends dinner and had them run though practice questions with me. Then I scoured the web for those annoying "behavioral questions" printed up dozens of pages worth and spent a few days trying to line up answers to as many as possible. I practiced my presentation multiple times. I reviewed every item in my CV and made sure I could talk about it and around it. And I lined up an entire list of questions to ask my interviewers.

(Some of my colleagues made fun of me for the above actions. I got the job. They're still languishing as trainees.)

I do not believe that I am an inherently likable person. Given that I had zero experience in the industry before this job, I am certain that there were far more experienced and better candidates than me.

I just tried to put as much (or more) enthusiasm, caring, and effort into the interview process as I do to my work.

I saw on a TV show that some people put pictures of kids on their desk so people comment and say how they have kids. They're not allowed to ask about kids but if you bring it up you could shoot yourself in the foot if they don't want someone who has to cart kids to school etc.

I rarely have been given an interviewer's name in advance. When I get one, though, I search for academic publications. Then if the interviewer says "My team is working on problem ABC", I can say, "Are you using technique XYZ? I read your conference paper about that, and I had a couple of questions..."

Yeah, being observant about your surroundings can trigger ideas for excellent conversation starters. ;)

Agree to prepare as much as you can and then pay attention to what is around you, as well as behaviors you see of the interviewer.

-Mike

I completely agree about the stalking point. Finding conversational pieces by stalking profiles and status updates don't go over near as well as using a conversational piece from something in the office. I know first - hand. I asked someone about a hobby they noted on their LinkedIn profile. Granted, this was 5 years ago, but he was sort of surprised by the fact that I had found his profile online and read it. Times have changed in a few short years as people share more online and expect others to read it, but it's still kind of creepy to raise in a formal conversation. By the way, I still got the job. :)

Perhaps it has only been applicable in the type of interviews I have participated in, but I think too many potential employees think of the interview as an interrogation rather than a conversation. And they tend to make the interview too much about selling themselves rather than making sure that it is a mutual fit. I believe the interview should be used to make sure you properly communicate your skills and abilities, but also to ensure that you actually want to work for the company. It will only be a long-term relationship of employer to employee if it is mutually beneficial.

During my younger days, I definitely made the interview about trying to sell (and often over-sell) myself without really thinking about the longer term. That is, of the fact that I would be investing a great deal of time and effort in a given job for a particular company. I have tried to be more careful about where I apply and interview to make sure it's a good career move AND that it isn't a job that will drive me insane. :o)

My disclaimer: I totally understand that I have been fortunate to already be employed during my past few job searches. A lot of people often don't have that luxury, in which case a lot of what I mentioned is a moot point.

-Jon

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