IT Employment

You can never be fully prepared for an interview

All of the reference books and blogs in the world can't fully prepare you for an interview. The reason is that every interviewer and every interviewing situation is going to be different.

All of the reference books and blogs in the world can't fully prepare you for an interview. The reason is that every interviewer and every interviewing situation is going to be different.

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The hardest thing about writing a blog about career issues is there are so many variables. For example, I refuse to tell people how to dress on interviews since wearing a dark suit, starched shirt, and power tie could downright freak some IT managers out. Every situation is different. Every person is different. To be successful in every interview, you'd have to be able to size up situations instantly and telepathically, and then adapt your behavior accordingly.

Of course, there are guidelines, but you have to be careful even offering those since some folks take them as gospel.

The fact is every interviewer is a unique person with his or her own biases and past experience. While some interviewing practices can be universally recommended, like being clean and friendly, you really can't predict with a shadow of a doubt how the prospective employer is going to take you. You could behave the exact same in two separate interviews, and one manager might read you as confident while another may read you as cocky. Don't underestimate the interviewer's preconceived notions. He or she is not a blank slate.

So I thought we'd have a little fun here and give you a peek into my personal interviewing prejudices. I'm not saying they're wrong or they're right, but they're mine. I'll list the pervasive logic first, then give me your take.

I read a book that says one should have a firm handshake and maintain good eye contact.

If you greet me with a handshake so firm that it vaporizes several of my metacarpals and then complement that with eye contact so intense I feel like I need to take out an emergency protective order, it doesn't tell me you have a strong character. It tells me you've read a book that recommends a firm handshake and strong eye contact. I would really like to have a glimpse into the real you so I can tell if you're going to fit in with the rest of my team.

Now, I will say state this hypocritical fact. Unless there's a medical condition behind it, a limp fish handshake does give me the impression of a meek person. If the position I'm hiring for requires someone who won't back down from pressure, then you may not be the person I consider.

I'm told I should practice and practice and practice my interviewing technique so I don't appear nervous.

What's wrong with appearing nervous? It's a normal reaction. I'd much rather you be yourself than some rehearsed version of yourself. Some people might not be able to tell the difference but I can. I'm much more interested in how you think on the fly than I am in listening to a prepared sales speech. Also, think about this aspect: There are a lot of IT managers who are nervous themselves as they conduct interviews. Your ultra-calm exterior could have the opposite effect and actually make the interviewer feel more nervous. So, later, when he's considering the candidates, his gut reaction may be that you were the one who made him nervous.

I should make myself memorable by mentioning some of my interests.

That's fine as long as anything you mention is not political or religious in nature, something that may inadvertently insult some belief of mine that you have no idea about, or indirectly reveal something like your age, marital status, sexual orientation, or anything else that I am prohibited by law from asking about. In all honesty, except for the legal part, I don't let extraneous details about someone influence my decision to hire them. I don't care if you telecommute from Mars, as long as you can do the job well. But don't assume every interviewer will feel that way. I once worked with a manager who threw a candidate out of consideration because she mentioned she hated cats. Bizarre, but it happens.

So let's hear from other managers. Do any of you have any interviewing quirks that no self-help career course could prepare someone for?

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

19 comments
IT Generalist
IT Generalist

Along with technical questioning, I would guage candidates soft skills such as communication, orginizational and analytical skills, ability to work under pressure and approach to solving problems. If a candidate lacks in some of the technical areas but shows the ability to learn quick, I would not write him off.

sreeku147
sreeku147

I too believe that you can never be fully prepared for an interview. The last time I had an interview was 3 years back.And it was my first interview where I had to face more than 3 interviewers at the same time. The very idea scared me because I thought it is easy to impress one person. Those who attended it gave me some funny looks as if trying to say get in and you will be shot. I just thought of the sentence "this is not gonna be my last interview".It gave me strength and I dashed in and got some weird looks from the group. One fellow didn't asked me anything, he was just watching me from the beginning till the end.I was technically strong so that gave me good confidence. They fired with all their weapons and I was ready for them and one thing I was very particular about was that if I didn't know the answer I will just say I dont know.Be frank and dont try to impress them saying you know when you have a little knowledge about it. One thing I will say "If you are strong in your subject then personality follows.Dont worry how you look or perform do remember 'This is not your last Interview'".

larrysmith66
larrysmith66

I can appreciate this article. Over the years I've concluded that some rehearsing for interviews is necessary because interviews are formal conversations that we engage in only occasionally. Rehearsing is needed to practice the *content* of your responses, not to mask your nervousness. Without practice many of us might reply with extraneous, ill-worded, or unfocused answers especially if we are asked an unexpected or uncomfortable question. Rehearsing can work wonders in this regard. If I feel the interviewer is nervous or unsure i assume a softer and more tentative tone, and the reverse with someone who is upbeat and dynamic, although always avoiding any extremes. I can relate to the point regarding the handshake guidlelines. Sometimes I take hard handshakes as pretentious (and annoying) and i don't think staring into someones eyes indicates sincerity and honesty. Its the content of the interviewees words and gestures overall that tell the story.

pcbradshaw
pcbradshaw

As time progresses as does one's career status you'd think interviews would become easier, however the rules are constantly changing. Sadly the funniest part it's not the rules/interview protocols seen in article after article on job site and others. Those very same regurgitated doctrines continue be repeated like ???I Love Lucy??? reruns. Thanks to the rules ever-changing rules of political correctness and selective tolerance such subtle protocols are not disclosed to the general public. Employment laws are so poorly written that persons in the same proverbial boat as I are constantly being told we???re just too old in their view. Naturally the litigiously sensitive corporations and hiring departments cover those prejudices with the well-worn stamp of disapproval stating, ???OVERQUALIFIED???. I???m sorry, but if I thought down deep inside I couldn???t deal with less or a shortened scope of duties I would not be wasting my breath and valuable time. Boomers, like myself also spark the wildfires of terror and insecurity in younger department managers. Suddenly after interviewing a iPod toting dude in comes a clean, well-honed professional that actually knows what he OR she is doing. Rather than listening to the reply to why he OR she is sitting for the position which may be a step or two down from previous employment, the interviewer gives the sickeningly courteous nod of "yeah right". After the older candidate leaves and the paranoid interview catches his breath the stamp of denial strike the paper stating, "We feel you'd be bored with this position" or "You're overqualified." They just don???t get that maybe, I???ve had enough of the ???workends??? and overtime without overtime pay. I've played supervisor/manager. For me, I want to continue in the field of employment I enjoy but desire to throttle back, get my hands dirty and stand in the entrails of the field where the real action is. Stacks of paper with monotonous reports aren???t what computer technology is about and the reason many such as myself jumped into the Information Technology field. I guess it is foreign today that I???m actually willing (and can) work for $20K to $40K less. Then there???s the concept of being productive and interested in the work while earning the ???boring??? paycheck is lost to them. Once again today???s hiring managers don???t try to understand the culture of the Boomers. They will bend over backwards to other subcultures present in this land, but won???t understand or can???t seem to comprehend our straight forward work ethic. You know the one, work hard, do the best you can and do it right the first time. That ethic is also laced with being satisfied with the INTANGIBLES like seeing the results of a job well done and pride in one???s own work. Well, I???ve probably bent a few noses out there and broke some subparagraph of the rule of PC. It???s too bad the just plain telling truth and being able to see that the emperor is naked is so wrong today. Oh well???if it hurts, maybe it???s time for this version of society to look in the mirror for a change.

IT Generalist
IT Generalist

This one time, I was interviewed by a person who stepped in the room wearing t-shirt and shorts which kind of ticked me off. I have no respect for those who interview candidates so casaually that they think it is their living room. I don't care how casaul the business environment is, you just don't conduct interviews in your skateboarding outfit. I think it just dissrespectful and shows your lack of interpersonal skills which are equally as important as your technical skills.

bfpower
bfpower

I once conducted interviews on behalf of my manager when I was working at a pizza restaurant. We were hiring a delivery driver. One of the candidates took time explaining to me how he would be so much better than younger candidates (i.e. more dependable, etc). He came across as if he would not work well with our age-diverse staff. What made it humorous is that I myself was not yet 20 years old, and felt a little uncomfortable hearing it, not to mention I can't discriminate based on age, either positive or negative. Why he thought it would impress me that he didn't seem like he could work well with young people, I don't know. All his potential supervisors (including the GM, I think) were younger than he was. =) All that to say that though I do not conduct interviews at present, I am leery of people who tell me why they are better than the competition, rather than stating what they can offer the company.

John Quillen
John Quillen

I'm more interested in 1) does this person have character and 2) are they bright and analytical. People that appear to be fast learners and trustworthy are more valuable to me than someone who's been doing exactly what I need for many years. Once in every interview I drill down into a subject until the interviewee says "I don't know". If I can't get that out of someone, then I don't feel that I can trust them to come and tell me when they're stuck and I can't be certain that they haven't made up one of their answers.

reisen55
reisen55

One one first interview, within 2 hours, I walked out with a job offer and commitment in hand. Amazing. Did not expect that at all nor would any sane individual. Then again, some are the stuff of legend... In a sales interview, I visited this nothing little company in Fallsburg NY and it was just a joke. But there I was in my suit, chatting away for nothing at all when this huge bear type DOG comes in, likes me and begins to drool all over the place. Started laughing like hell. Comedy. Again, you just never EVER know. In 1998 I was let go by Xerox through EDS (the great we-don't-give-a-damn people). I saw my termination occuring on a server screen. I was fired by a computer. Sooo weird. Within 2 weeks I had eight interviews. Within 2 weeks I had an employment date. Within another 2 weeks I had my new job as a system administrator for Aon Consulting. 2 World Trade Center, 101st floor. Go figure sometimes.

gpend
gpend

one of my pet peves as an interviewee is interviewers who judge a persons manerisims in the interview as how a person normally acts in a work environment. As someone on one of these boards said 'the interview is a formal conversation that we ocasionally partake'. please note that formal is very diffrent from professional. there is a big diffrence between how I speak/act in an interview than how I am when speaking with another employer when preforming my job in desktop support.

grizzlyballs
grizzlyballs

I have always found that being honest works the best, don't try and tell them you have skills you don't have not on the resume and not during the interview. I was told once by a hiring manager that he had asked me questions that he didn't expect me to know and I answered them all with I don't know the answer but I can find them out for him if he would like. That is what "he" was looking for not some bs talk on the question.

toni.bowers_b
toni.bowers_b

You make a great point--people who can't admit they don't know something or that they made a mistake cause more problems than not. What a great way to gauge that characteristic.

bakaalund
bakaalund

I am looking for people who can stand on their own two feet. Running a small cyber security shop, we have a lot of ground to cover and not enough people to do it. Also, as with every security shop, we get tremendous pushback on our requirements from both internal and vendors. I expect my people to be able to advocate for security being a part of whatever we deliver, while being flexible to not be the chokepoint in product delivery. It requires competency and negotiation skills, while understanding that the primary objective is to deliver the product.

stan
stan

I know its a little off topic, some interviews are so strange that the story deserves to be told. One interview at a large company was held in a small auditorium (no one knows why, since I was the only applicant scheduled for that day), and there were four interviewers, sitting behind a table on the stage. There was a single chair in front of the stage for the applicant. It looked like some sort of inquisition. The four were all fairly young, and obviously inexperienced at interviewing, and each one was trying to show that they were the smartest one in the room. The spent the entire time making up really complex questions and arguing obscure technical points amoung themselves. I don't know if they noticed when I left...

ralph
ralph

I arrived at what can only be described as a building site. The IT manager was a crazy Texan who hadn't prepared anything so he had me running cables through trunking. I also assembled a couple of PCs from components that had just arrived and I had to configure a couple of ISDN netgear routers. I said I needed the manual, which I was assured was a good thing and didn't count against me. Aparently the previous candidate had mentioned "his partner" to which the Texan replied "your partner? Only queer guys say that." Of course he was, in fact, bent as a nine bob note and subsequently declined the position. I guess the fact that he was offered it shows that while the manager was totally non-PC he wasn't predjudiced (well, not in a bad way at least). For my second interview I decided that a suit was probably overkill and went in jeans. I got the job, and eight years later I'm still here.

John Quillen
John Quillen

The first thing the 2nd person I talked to said to me was "You'll have to take everything I say with a grain of salt because I hate this f***ing place". By the end of the interview he said he liked the dept I'd be going into and I should take the job - which I did. He left a month later. When I explained to the CEO I'd be reporting to that I create high performance teams that are happy and productive he said "Happy!? If my people are happy then they're not working hard enough!" He meant it and I didn't take that job.

toni.bowers_b
toni.bowers_b

The self-importance of some people! Really--They were sitting behind a table on a stage? How did you make it through the interview without laughing?

bfpower
bfpower

What a CEO. That amazes me, but somehow doesn't surprise me.