% fortune -ae paul murphy

Aceing the job interview

Don't play games when you interview with the people actually doing the hiring - be as honest, forthcoming, and clear as you can; confess to limits and failures (everybody has them) and work on building rapport. Above all: don't pretend to be somebody you're not.

Remember three things:

  1. most of them have been in your seat and they know how hard it is to start a new job as the new man on the team. Most importantly, they'll want you to bring something to the team: typically expertise, interests, and enthusiasm - but they'll reject any attempt to impose your views on them. Remember you're asking to join their team, not being sent in by top management to reform it.

    So the humble cowboy shuffle is usually the right way to go: "I don't know how that fits with the way you guys do things - all IT shops are different in the details right? and you don't have the guy in accounting we had to deal with - but at So and So we ran into a problem a bit like that, and here's what we did..." rather than "Duh? do dat dis way .."

  2. it's generally okay to say you don't know but can find out - nobody knows everything, and anyone with real world experience can confirm that half of what you think you know is at best arguable. Remember, however, to say how you're going to find out, and make it clear that you're ready to share both whatever wisdom you have now and anything you find out later - because they want you to extend their team, not spirit away part of their role.

  3. tell them what you can do, show them if they'll let you - but bear in mind that they know as well as you do that the resume is the only run-time environment in which there are no failures. Be real, show them what you've learned from past mistakes: don't make a big deal of out it, but recognise they're subject to the same kinds of pressures you've faced and show how your experience can help them.

Bottom line: when dealing with the decision makers, focus on how you'll fit into their work place; check out their players, and if you think the job they have is something you want to do, then sell them on your enthusiasm for doing that.

Do play games, however, when interviewing with the recruiters whose only decision is whether or not to pass your resume to the people making the actual decision. And, by play games, what I mean is: understand their agenda and cater to it, regardless of what you may think of them, or their understanding of the job.

A recruiter's agenda is simple: they want to send the candidate the decision maker will hire, and they want that candidate to stay in the job. The less you're heard from after being hired, the better they look - it's a recipe for hiring non boat rocking suits, so that's what you need to look like to the recruiter.

Remember that the recruiter is an expert at his job: picking candidates who get hired and then stay, but not an expert at your job. The cues he's looking for are going to be slanted toward what he thinks the decision maker, or makers, want emotionally - not on what's needed for the job or on helping you succeed in meeting your goals.

In other words, if he's been instructed to go find someone to support a custom interface between an Oracle based BI application running on Red Hat Enterprise Server and an Adabas/Natural application on zOS, your resume, and conversation, will sound like this to him:

blah blah Adabas blah blah blah blah blah Red Hat blah blah blah blah blah Oracle blah blah blah blah blah Adabas blah blah blah blah blah natural blah blah blah blah blah business intelligence blah blah blah blah blah interface blah blah blah blah blah enterprise server blah blah blah blah blah support blah blah blah

Meanwhile he'll be judging you on what you're wearing, how you speak, and dozens of other behavioural cues that he thinks tell him whether you'll fit with what he knows of the real decision maker's team. What you need to do, therefore, is find out what those expectations are and then act the part.

And if you have no information - assume the traditional stuff: formal clothing, tightly limited and well defined job descriptions, strong heirarchial controls - and then adapt on the fly as you gain information because that's what this stage is about: meeting expectations, however uninformed.

Paul Murphy wrote and published The Unix Guide to Defenestration. Murphy is a 25-year veteran of the I.T. consulting industry, specializing in Unix and Unix-related management issues.