I've been interviewing people for various employers for over 12 years now, and I might as well unload what I look for in a candidate to those of you who need to get a job.
First of all, this cheat sheet is only for those of you who like what you're doing. If you went and got a degree because the grumps told you you'd make more money being a lawyer or doctor or engineer, and you followed their advice even though you hate it, for god's sake stop reading. This column is not for you. I don't want to increase your chances of getting hired at a place I work. At the very best you'll wake up one day realizing you hate your life and not show up, and I'll be out one engineer. At the worse you'll wake up one day realizing you hate your life and show up, and I'll be stuck hiding under my desk as you take out co-workers with a semi-automatic rifle.
A) Not having a life
Those of you who like what your doing... well hell, do it. If you're still in college, take my word for it in that you have more time to fart around now then you'll have at work. Take that time and apply the studying you love to some sort of project away from school. The most important thing I ask any interviewee is if the applicant ever did any independent projects. I'm not talking about a senior project; I'm talking about something no one but you cared about. I don't care if it was a game, or a newsreader, or a porn-sorter or a perl script that periodicly mailed form-letters to your relatives to make them believe you were a doting nephew.
If we're going to hire you, it's going to be your big swelling brain and your initiative we hire... not how well versed you were in reciting what the teacher wanted to hear. We want to know that you live and breath the stuff you studied, and that you dreamed of it at night, and played with it when everyone else was participating in the panty raid. And if you didn't do it, by god you need to learn how to lie and convince us that you did so when we ask.
Those of you who are already in a job and hope to hop, well, you're sort of out of luck. Might as well burn your bridges now and get the previous employer pissed at you as you spend more time at home crafting something to show off than at work doing what you're supposed to be doing.
B) Know who you are and who we are
At least take the time to find out what the company you're interviewing with really does, and what the position you're interviewing for would entail. Even if you have a wall full of patents from inventions you've mastered in your spare time, you need to know these two things. Either the company has a specific niche they want you to fill, and so you better be able to impress them that you're _the_ square peg for that square hole; or you're interviewing for a company that wants you just for your merits because they think you'll look impressive on their manifest for when they go public, which means you're just going to be eye-candy... or worse, they're still scrabbling to determine what it is they're doing.
C) Interview them
Never forget that you're interviewing them at the same time they're interviewing you. Make sure that you ask as many questions as they ask you, or at least as many questions as you can think of. If the person interviewing you is a bone-head, maybe you want to double think about hiring on to a company that employs bone-heads. If they're asking you questions about how to kill whales, when all your life you've wanted to save whales, well you damn well better make sure that you're being employed to save whales.
D) Guess, damn it
When we (and I mean those of us grilling you during the interview) bring out the bad cop and test you on what you actually know... admit it when you don't and say "I don't know... but I guess this is how it works..." Hell, we know you'd normally have a fleet of reference books at your desk, and access to the timeless void that is the internet if you get the job - we just want to see how that brain of yours works. So you don't know what the Gargoyle Design Pattern is used... ask for a sample task and describe how you'd best accomplish it.
If you can catch the interviewer in a generous mood, ask them the answers to questions that you fail. If you're completely inexperienced in an industry you can at least treat a battery of interviews as an intensive learning experience.
E) Always ask why you weren't hired
If you didn't get hired, bite the bullet and ask Human Resources why you weren't hired. I guarantee it's going to be less painful than the actual interview itself was. You could even write a column about it in the future...
[ when I finally graduated UCSC I decided to shop around to see what I was worth in the industry, even though the place I had interned with offered me a full time position with no hassles. My most infamous interview was with SUN, who was looking for a build-Meister at the time. I had done this job for over a year at my current employer and thought that I had the interview down pat. I even stuck with the rest of the day of interviews after I found out I wasn't going to be a build-Meister so much as a babysitter/cop, who's responsibilities were to yell at engineers who broke the nightly build, even though I had decided that I'd only take the job if they offered my thousands more than I was currently making. I was therefore surprised when I didn't receive the job offer... I bit down on my pride and at least remembered to ask HR why they didn't hire me; and I quote: "Your laid-back Santa Cruz attitude would not mesh well with the military style of the group." ]
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