October 7, 2010

Hammering Home - Interview Deal Breakers

This week I received feedback from two employers of our graduates. They gave me an ear full of complaints about students and alumni who are currently interviewing for positions with their companies. One interviewer sited students showing up in jeans and totally unprepared for interviews. Another employer flat out stated that a YouTube video was the undoing of an interviewee.
In a really good market, employers are willing to cut people slack on appearance or little indiscretions. Not that the above items are minor indiscretions. In a tight market there is no room for error. The following tips come from CS alum Robert McAdams. He absolutely nailed the most important issues you are going to contend with as a candidate for the scarcely available positions.
- Cici

Interviewing tips:

Before your Interview:
  • Sanitize your online presence! Close/delete/password protect and/or change the name and e-mail address associated with every piece of online content you have ever put up that isn’t something you would want a potential employer to see. Strong political opinions? Keep them to yourself. Dabble with drugs? Quit, and keep it to yourself. In a messy divorce? Keep it to yourself. Employers don’t want your drama in their office, and you won’t make it to the interview if they see any of this stuff online. And yes, they really are checking.
  • Know your strengths, and be prepared to trumpet them. Know your weaknesses, and be prepared to explain them.
  • Be prepared for the interview. Know what the job entails, and what technologies they are using. Do some research on the company. All of your preparation won’t really prepare you for much, but it will show that you are serious, and trying your best to be ready for the job. That shows initiative, and a good work ethic.
  • Be prepared to show how great you are. Do not say it all in your resume. Bring a portfolio. Your accomplishments should be in the form of viewable work, whether that is paid work, or volunteer work, or projects you did just for you, for learning’s sake. Employers don’t want to read about community bake sale event you organized, in your technical job application. They skip over that as padding. Stick to the real experience you have, and talk about that other stuff in the interview itself. Employers are looking for personable people with good communication skills, leadership abilities, etc. But that is something that has to be judged in person. It cannot be fairly evaluated on paper.
During the interview:
  • This should go without saying, but apparently it needs to be said, if you are applying for a job with a real company, in the real corporate America including State or Federal government, they expect you to look and act professional. That doesn’t mean you need to show up wearing Chanel or Armani, but it does mean you need to leave the sneakers and jeans at home. No, seriously. I mean it. If you don’t take the job or the interview seriously, your resume may very well go right in the trash after the interview. It sounds cliche, but it is true, dress for success.
  • If you are a programmer, and you are applying for a programming position. Show that you love to program. Have some side projects going that are just for you, or your curiosity. Be ready willing and able to talk about them in the interview. Employers are looking for people who love what they do, not people who paint by numbers in a quest for the highest salary. (this applies to most technical fields, I would imagine)
  • Be upfront and honest about your time commitments. If you need to leave every day at 3 due to some long-term, prior engagement, which means you will need to be getting into the office hours before everyone else, let them know about this. Don’t waste your time and their time by waiting to bring this up on your first day. They may be OK with it, they may not. Find out in the interview, or soon after it.
After you get the job:
  • Be a self starter, and self motivator. Be able to work on your own (seriously, completely on your own, for a week or more at a time, and have a week or more worth of progress to show, when they ask for it). Employers do not want to babysit you. If you cannot work without guidance and/or constant monitoring, you may be moving onward from the company that brought you on.
  • Maintain the right attitude, all throughout your employment. They have brought you there to work, not play. That’s why they have to pay you to be there, remember? Nobody is so important, and has their fingers in so many pies, that they cannot be let go, and someone with a better attitude trained to take their place. Your probation period doesn’t end after the 30, 60 or 90 days they tell you it does. You are always on probation. Your superiors will always be watching you, and judging your progress. Some will give you room and time to grow, many won’t. Don’t take the chance. Check your attitude at the door, and put on your team-player hat, and keep it on. Be willing to do what needs to be done, to get the job done. If that means coming in early some days, or staying 5 minutes later than you are "officially" off the clock, then that is what you do. Employers notice clock watchers, and they generally are not pleased with their attitudes.
Final tip:
  • If you are in the job market, you have your degree, and you have the skills, but you cannot land a job, and you are following all of the good advice Cici is giving you, and the tips above, and things are still not working out, then: Network Network Network!
    • Stay busy, create projects to work on while you job search.
    • Attend every single community and networking event for your profession that you can find. Recruiters are attending these meetings, and looking for people like you. You won’t find them unless you go where they are. And stay in touch with the people you know from college, you never know when one of them may be able to kick a job, or a job tip your way.

Good hunting.
Robert D. McAdams, BS CSc.
CSUS 2009