Job Interviews



  • Ok, here's my problem. I have been in a new city for a year now, and am already on my second job. The first one lasted 3 months (mutual parting of ways), I've been at this one 1 1/2 and I can already feel my sanity and reason slipping away a little more each day. I know I'm absolutely crap at interviews, and I don't get out of them what I should (ie, is this a dysfunctional workplace or not?). I get nervous, tongue-tied and forget what I want to say. I've tried writing everything down, but haven't yet found a way to do make sure I have what I need in front of me when I need it. I've tried 'rehearsing', but as soon as I walk into the room everything goes out of my head. I never ask enough or the right questions. I don't care too much about the financials of a company (assuming they'll be able to pay me, of course!), what I care about is the working environment, colleagues, and most of all the quality of code and management/leadership. So I know what I want to ask about, just not how to ask it. I feel like saying "what's the x like here?" is just too general, and probably won't be completely answered.

    Added to all this, is the fact that I don't yet speak the language (not too much of a problem, most places use English as the working language, and I'm learning the other), and the fact that I'm female in a male-dominated industry, in a country that still equates 'feminist' to butch lesbian (not that I am either) and 'female' to "what are you doing out of the kitchen?!" (I've had people flat-out not believe I'm a developer based entirely on me being a girl, and have also been told at work, by my 'manager' I shouldn't be carrying heavy things because "it's dangerous for future pregnancies"). I believe my gender has already meant being offered about $US500 per month less than expected (already low expectation). I'm also getting to the age where it's almost assumed that I'll have kids and take the standard 2-4 years off work (I look younger than I am, but having dob on the CV is expected).

    On the plus side, I am a good developer (I know it, people I've worked with know it, I just can't seem to get that across) and have an impressive CV.

    People have suggested things like "picture the interviewer in their underwear", "treat it like it's for someone else", "treat it like you're an actor". Nothing so far has worked to relax me. Does anyone have any advice to help me avoid being the next "Tales of the Interview" wtf? Ways to phrase questions, things to look out for in a possibly dysfunctional company, methods to relax, anything really will help. :)

    Thanks



  • Don't drink or eat anything that will make you jittery before the interview. Also if you're forgetting what you memorized then you're probably nervous, the best cure for being nervous is to not care. So don't psyche yourself up for the interview (as that will just make you more nervous), try and find out why you don't want that job, and focus on that instead. That's all I have.



  •  Just get interview training or something.  Secondly you say you write down what you want to know but haven't found a way to have it in front of you. I would advice to use your hands to put it on the table in front of you. Nobody will care that you have a cheat sheet with questions, if anything it just shows your prudent.

    About the being a woman, well i can't really say anything about that, since i'm not one.



  • Once you have a certain amount of experience, you probably will get offers from people you already know. Former coworkers, customers, etc. It will be much easier to talk to them than to strangers. Maybe you can mostly bypass the whole interview process at all.



  •  Use your leverage.  Pretend it is a blind date and the guy comes highly recommended!  Maybe even show a little cleavage.

     

    Okay, maybe that isn't the best strategy :).  I don't have any tips or tricks to offer you except that you HAVE to be confident.  If you do not believe in yourself and believe that you are indeed a good programmer it will show.  I just graduated in December and had little practical experience but I beat out a guy for my job that had 5 years experience because I was confident in the interview.  I answered every question without stumbling and professionally.  If you act like a doddering fool studdering and stumbling over every question then that is how they are going to perceive you, even if you are a great programmer.  You don't need to know everything in an interview, you just need to act like you do.

     

    By the way, where do you live, and what is that other language?  



  • @Mel said:

    (I've had people flat-out not believe I'm a developer based entirely on me being a girl, and have also been told at work, by my 'manager' I shouldn't be carrying heavy things because "it's dangerous for future pregnancies").

    I'll let the guys address the interviewing question while I (seemingly the lone regular female on this board) address this.  Girlfriend, get the **ll out of that country if they make assumptions like that.  Go to a place that knows women are people too.  The IT industry in the U.S. is male-dominated, but in my 20-year career here I've *NEVER* been faced with anything like this.  Please, for your own sanity and self-respect, find some place better.



  • I don't know if this advice would apply for you, but it has become pretty effective for me. But, I would say the best way to impress people is just to relax and not put too much pressure on yourself. Right before you go in the room, just say to yourself, "Who cares if I don't get this job? What is the worst thing that can happen?"

    The best interviews I have done have been when I have been able to relax to the point that it turns into a very casual conversation with the interviewer(s). Whenever possible, try to be enthusiastic and interested.

    Not trying to be preachy but I have also discovered some good general rules for technical interviews and how to turn them to your advantage and put them on a level where you are able to relax while discussing it. In my experience, a candidate that is willing to learn and expresses enthusiasm for learning is sometimes preferrable to the code-genius who answers every question perfectly but may exhibit a "know-it-all" attitude.

    1. If asked a question about something you have never heard of, don't freese up, just say you are not familiar with it and then ask them what it is. If possible, take their answer and apply it to something you DO have experience in and relate what that experience is. You may be able to convince them that you could pick up this unknown knowledge easily. The classic example here would be a question about a particular design pattern. After finding out their answer, you can let them know what design patterns you ARE familiar with and how much you want to expand your knowledge in this area.

    2. If asked a question about something that you do not have experience in, but are familiar with, say so. Then, as with #1 above, describe a similar concept that you ARE familiar with, to the extent that they are assured that you can learn that concept quickly.

    3. If asked a question that you are VERY comfortable with, run with it. Try to turn the conversation about this topic into a theoretical discussion where you can ask them questions about how they view the concept, how you have seen it used and even ways that you think it could possibly be utilized but have not been able to. Make it apparent that you have knowledge and are willing to take it to the next level.

     

    And if all that fails... picture them in YOUR underwear. :)



  • @jetcitywoman said:

    Girlfriend, get the **ll out of that country if they make assumptions like that.  Go to a place that knows women are people too.  The IT industry in the U.S. is male-dominated, but in my 20-year career here I've NEVER been faced with anything like this.  Please, for your own sanity and self-respect, find some place better.

    Somebody's got the PMS...



  • Pre-morbuiswilters-syndrome.  haha!



  • @jetcitywoman said:

    Pre-morbuiswilters-syndrome.  haha!

    Jeez, most women don't begin sobbing for no reason until after morbiuswilters.



  • Well, it's understandable.



  • Thanks everyone for the advice.

    @amischiefr said:

    If you act like a doddering fool studdering and stumbling over every question then that is how they are going to perceive you, even if you are a great programmer. You don't need to know everything in an interview, you just need to act like you do.

    Yup, that's me - the doddering fool stumbling over questions like "so, what's your name again?"!!

    @amischiefr said:

    By the way, where do you live, and what is that other language?

    I live in Prague, Czech Republic, which makes the other language Czech. :)

    @jetcitywoman said:

    Girlfriend, get the **ll out of that country if they make assumptions like that. Go to a place that knows women are people too. The IT industry in the U.S. is male-dominated, but in my 20-year career here I've NEVER been faced with anything like this. Please, for your own sanity and self-respect, find some place better.

    I may have exaggerated the female thing a bit, but not much. The guy who made that comment is the main reason I'm now looking for something else - although it's the more generally condescending remarks I have a problem with. He's already been the reason for a couple of other people leaving so it's not just me! (But yeah, most people in the office do tend to ask me first about the house-keeping type questions - where are the rubbish bags etc).

    @stratos said:

    Secondly you say you write down what you want to know but haven't found a way to have it in front of you. I would advice to use your hands to put it on the table in front of you. Nobody will care that you have a cheat sheet with questions, if anything it just shows your prudent.

    It's more that when I have something written down it doesn't come up, but the next interview when I am asked about it I don't have it anymore - or it's buried in other papers.

    @amomoQ said:

    Once you have a certain amount of experience, you probably will get offers from people you already know.

    If I was at home, not a problem. But I haven't been here long enough - and the one offer I did get through a friend's contact was disastrous.

    @Lingerance said:

    try and find out why you don't want that job, and focus on that instead.

    @jpaull said:
    Right before you go in the room, just say to yourself, "Who cares if I don't get this job? What is the worst thing that can happen?"

    Thanks - I think this is the best advice yet. I'll try it tomorrow!

    And what about the other parts - spotting the dysfunctional company / manager (I met mine during the interview, and he seemed like a nice guy. I'm usually good at judging people, but boy was I wrong!), and asking the questions I need to? Everyone says it's me interviewing them as much them interviewing me, but the nerves make that hard. How do you ask what you need to know?



  • @Mel said:

    @jpaull said:
    Right before you go in the room, just say to yourself, "Who cares if I don't get this job? What is the worst thing that can happen?"

    Thanks - I think this is the best advice yet. I'll try it tomorrow!

    And what about the other parts - spotting the dysfunctional company / manager (I met mine during the interview, and he seemed like a nice guy. I'm usually good at judging people, but boy was I wrong!), and asking the questions I need to? Everyone says it's me interviewing them as much them interviewing me, but the nerves make that hard. How do you ask what you need to know?

     

    Everything depends on your mindset. Picture the interviewer as someone you are getting to know. He will ask questions to find out if you are a good fit for his company and you will need to ask the questions to see if the company is a good fit for you. Therefore there are no wrong answers or wrong questions (within reason). So find out what is important for you in an employer... those are the questions you will ask. If the interviewer doesn't like your answers or your questions (or vice versa), it just means that you probably wouldn't have liked the job anyway. You have nothing to lose.



  • I concur with jpaull on most of that; good stuff. Ok I've done many many interviews over the years, having been a contractor (mostly City of London banks). So:

    Firstly, confidence is a big factor. I have 2 suggestions here - 1) Imagine that you are taking an interview yourself, ie *you* are the boss looking for the programmer. These people are not "professional interviewers" for the most part, just some mugs who need staff, or who've been told to go and ask some questions. Just people. So go and chat to them like people; they ask you questions, you ask them questions. Be honest, be yourself, don't fake anything, unless you are very skillful. If they like you and think you can get things done, you get the job; if not, you don't- it's not a stain on your character or a public statement of your crapness, it's just a disappointment.

    2) On confidence, and a bit more concrete. Before you go into the interview, say to yourself repeatedly "You can do this xxxxx. Come on xxxxx." where xxxxx is your name, Dave, Jane whatever. Now, I know people are going to call BS on this, but try it - walk around the room tossing a pen in the air and catching it, and saying to yourself "Catch the pen Jane". Do it saying your name - easy. Now do the same thing with someone else's name. I guarantee you'll drop the pen. Saying positive things to yourself with your name in the sentence to yourself works - it actually makes you perform better. Just don't get caught talking to yourself!

    On having lists of questions - yes, just write them down and ask them. Make notes, draw doodles if it helps.And don't be afraid to ask "fluffly" questions. "Would you say this is a nice place to work?" "If so, why?" are perfectly valid. If they answer respectively "Yes of course." and "Errr", then be suspicious!

    On remuneration and stuff. I have a long and brilliant document on how to negotiate salary, too long for here. I can get it to you if you like. The gist is, Don't even talk about money until you have a foot in the door and you are confident of getting the job. And above all, make *them* say a number before you do - whoever says a number first loses. As I say, I have lots more on this.

    On the Czech thing - good luck with the language; I hear there are 50+ ways of saying "the"...!



  • Also, remember this: There should be nothing you need to memorize before an interview.   You should go in fresh and relaxed, it's not like a test that you need to cram for.  Get a good nights sleep and be confident and calm about it.  Remember, there's two possible results: You go in and know what you need to know for the job, or you don't.  And that's OK -- if you don't know enough to pass the interview, then the job isn't for you anyway!   A good interview shouldn't be about what you have memorized, it should be about what you already know from your experience and/or education.

    And never, ever pretend that you know something that you don't.  Never try to bullshit your way through a question if you have no clue.  Be upfront immediately about it, and immedidately acknowledge that you are eager to learn more about the topic.  I hate when people are afraid to say "I don't know" and just make stuff up. Salespeople are famous for this when they come in to sell you software, or those famous "highly paid enterprise level consultants" that we often make fun of around here.  I can't stress this enough -- honesty is the way to go, and they would rather here you say "to be honest, I don't know but I am willing to learn" rather than give them a bad answer.

    If you haven't already had your interview, good luck!  Let us know how it goes.   Go in with the mindset that you are interviewing them and that may make it less stressful for you. 



  • Yes... some have no problems at all with interviews, others do...

     

    I have rarely had any nervous feelings during an interview unless I started to become impressed by the company after seeing some signs they were good.... Oddly enough it goes away (if even present) as soon as I begin answerering questions... Plus I have an ego... But to be completely honest, I find interviews and even discinplinary meetings very exciting... something about the fact I have to prove myself or something is very fun and interesting. And of course I usually enjoy every bit of consversation and dialog that I have during an interview... I still keep in touch with past friends from college and just talk about computer science projects with them.

     

    So, talk about what you want. You mentioned that you had problems asking them what you wanted. But then you said you understand that you should be interviewing them as welll...? Just ask what you want, and answer how you want. If it's coming from you then it should be worth talking about and enjoying as you should find your own profession interesting....



  • Vechni reminded me of something and since the OP is female maybe it's a possibility so I may as well mention it.  I don't actually know if this happens to women in other countries, but in the U.S. women are still subtly taught that modesty is next to Godhood and talking about yourself is obnoxious bragging.  Remember, I said it's very subtle, very few women even realize this consciously but it does affect the way they present themselves.   And what do you do in a job interview?  Talk about yourself, your accomplishments and try to impress the interviewer.  Ack!

    If you feel uncomfortable talking about yourself, it's probably being picked up by the interviewers as lack of confidence in your skills.  Professional women need to fight the impulse to be modest about their accomplishments and learn to be comfortable talking about them.  Are your skills really good?  That's great, you should be proud of them and be happy explaining how good they are.  In an interview situation this translates as confidence and also passion for your work.  And THAT really impresses interviewers. 



  •  Once again, thanks heaps to everyone.  I had the interview yesterday, and for once I wasn't a doddering fool.  I think I answered most of the questions well (I stumbled on 1 or 2, but recovered - a first for me!), and I even managed to ask a couple of my own.  I'm not 100% sure they'll ask me for a second interview, but I am reasonably confident, and at least if they don't I'm sure that it's not because of my doddering fool-ness. :)  (Yeah, I like that phrase now)

    So, I don't know if it was the actual advice everyone gave - I tried some of the tips, but somehow couldn't concentrate long enough on them - or getting the stress and nerves over with here instead of in the interview room, or just discussing it...  but thanks again for the advice and for 'listening'.  I think the one good interview should give me more confidence for the next.  (Now, if only the interview requests would start rolling in again... :) )

    Oh, and jetcitywoman: yeah, modesty=femininity=good is not just the US. I think I have a particularly bad case of it - I think it comes from spending years being teased about showing off as a kid.  My boyfriend (and ex-team lead) is trying to train me to be confident in myself and what I've achieved - and sometimes I think he feels it's pointless trying.  But he is helping, slowly... :)

    Sorry for the blabbering!  (I'm just still on quite a high about the interview)



  • That's great! Thanks for the update, and keep us posted on how things go.

    Did you feel the job was a good fit for you?



  • @Mel said:

    I'm not 100% sure they'll ask me for a second interview, but I am reasonably confident, and at least if they don't I'm sure that it's not because of my doddering fool-ness.
     

     I wish you luck on getting the second interview.  For what it's worth I've never been great with interviews either.  However, I have found that the interviews that went well were with people that I connected with and places that I actually wanted to work at.  So it could be that your "doddering fool-ness", as you put it, is simply your subconcious telling you "this is not the place for me."



  • Very good!

    It will soon be time for you too add your own WTFs to the world. ; )



  • Thanks dhromed, but I'm sure I've added one or two already, in 8 years of being in the world in various positions... :)



  • Yay!  :)  The second interview is on Tuesday.  I'll let you all know how it goes... :)



  • Good Luck! Stay cool...



  • @Jeff S said:

    That's great! Thanks for the update, and keep us posted on how things go.

    Did you feel the job was a good fit for you?


    After being locked in my flat (but that's a wtf on its own) and postponing the interview, I am pleased to report that I survived it. :) It was mostly a test and a chance to meet a couple of developers which was good. I think the test went well, and hopefully I'll hear from them soon!

    I think the job and company were a good fit, but after the last 2 companies I've chosen to work for, I'm seriously starting to doubt my ability to judge...


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