Quit whining and send a thank you note after an interview

February 6, 2011 Interviews, Job hunting 5 comments ,

Over on reddit, the old chestnut of a question “Do I really have to send a thank you note after an interview?” has come up again.  It’s always sad to see the excuses that people try to come up with to forgive themselves for skipping this basic step in the job hunting process.

The cost of that thank you note is ten minutes of your time and a 44-cent stamp.  The payoff could well be landing the job.  It cannot hurt you in your job search, and can only be a positive in the mind of the interviewer.  You also take the opportunity to reiterate your good points and show the interviewer that you were paying attention during the interview, and you show that you actually are interested in the job, which is sometimes hard to tell.

It’s ten minutes and 44 cents to give you an edge over other candidates, to help you land the job you want, so that you can be gainfully employed and get out of the job hunt.  The cost/benefit ratio is huge.

Quit whining and do it.

The job interview is not about collecting factual information.

October 10, 2010 Interviews, Job hunting 2 comments

There’s a common misconception in the techie community that you should make sure you don’t fall prey to. Here’s what it sounds like.

So I went on the interview, and the interviewer was totally unprepared. First thing he asks me, he says “So, Dave, tell me about yourself.” He’s got my resume right there on the desk in front of him. It’s like he didn’t even read it! What could I say? I said “Well, what do you want to know?”

Poor Dave is laboring under the impression that his interviewer was trying to find out facts about him. Dave’s attitude is basically “RTFM, dude.” Dave’s written down everything on the resume, so why should he have to bother explaining it to the hiring manager?

For the sake of his job search, Dave would do well to learn that Job interviews are not about obtaining factual information about you. They are about assessing the candidate as a person, as potential team member.

If the hiring process was as simple as gathering printed requirements from resumes, there would be no need for interviews. Hiring managers could sit back and shuffle through stacks of paper until the right combination of skills showed up. It’s not that simple. When the hiring manager hires someone, he’s hiring a human being, not a bunch of programming languages and network skill sets off a checklist. Hiring is fundamentally a human process, no matter how computer-oriented we may be.

The question “Tell me about yourself” serves at least three purposes.

  • It gives the candidate a chance to give her elevator speech, to tell about herself and what value she’ll bring to the organization, and set the interview off in a given direction.
  • It lets the manager see how well prepared the candidate is for the interview.
  • It lets the candidate show how well-spoken she is.
  • It lets the manager get an idea of the candidate’s attitude and personality. In Dave’s case, his attitude is terrible and that will come out. Dave won’t get the job.
  • It lets the manager compare what you tell him with what’s on the resume, to see if there are any discrepancies.

The worst response to “Tell me about yourself” is to ask “Well, what do you want to know?” What the hiring manager wants to know is what you’ll do to help him make money for the company, or do things faster, because business speaks in terms of money and time. To be able to answer that, you’ll have to be prepared, and probably do some research about the company and the position itself. It should not be a canned answer you use at every company.

None of this is to say that there aren’t incompetent, unprepared interviewers who fall back on “Tell me about yourself”. Chances are, however, that when you’re asked this in an interview, you’re being given a chance to make a good impression and to start the interview right. Don’t blow it by misunderstanding its purpose.

How to explain past problems in a job interview

October 5, 2010 Interviews, Job hunting 1 comment ,

In her recent US News article, the always spot-on Allison Green of Ask A Manager answers the question “How do I explain in an interview that I was fired?” An example from the article is:

“Actually, I was let go. The workload was very high, and I didn’t speak up about that soon enough. I just tried to keep my head down and get it all done. This wasn’t a realistic strategy, and I ended up making some mistakes because of the volume. It taught me a really valuable lesson about the need to communicate better when the workload is a problem and to figure out ways to make sure we’re on the same page about priorities if we’re in a triage mode. Since then, I’ve put a real premium on keeping lines of communication open so that that never happens again.”

Note how this example is much like answering the classic interview question “Tell me about a project that didn’t go so well, and what you learned from it.” You describe a problem clearly, without rancor, and how you dealt with it. After that, you describe what you’ve learned to improve things going forward.

Another key point that she brings up is that you must not be angry about having been fired. In the article, Allison says:

Practice your answer over and over out loud until you can say it calmly. What the interviewer is going to be paying a lot of attention to–almost more than the substance of your answer–is how you talk about it: Do you seem bitter and angry about it? Have you learned from the experience? How has it changed the way you conduct business? You want to really pay attention to how you deliver it.

This is fantastic advice for your entire interview, too. Are you one of those people who is easily angered? Do you find yourself irritated when talking about people you work with that you may not pull their weight, or perform as well as you? If so, chances are that irritation is coming out when you interview as well, and it doesn’t help you at all.

Every interview you go on is going to have at least one form of the “tell me about a problem from the past, how you dealt with it, and what you learned” question. Come up with an answer for it beforehand, and know what you’re going to say. Practice it. Make sure you are entirely without rancor or fingerpointing in your delivery. Role-play with a friend and see what they say. You might think you’re sounding calm, but a fresh set of ears may tell you otherwise.

Check out Allison’s article, and visit her main blog Ask a Manager. Allison is a must-add for your feed reader.