You mean there is a right and wrong way to interviewing - think American Idol

Mark Gilbert
Mark Gilbert

The Right and Wrong Way to Interview ... Think American Idol

I know, I know…your thinking that Paula, Simon and Randi do not know anything about EDA, so this does not apply to you. Or you’re thinking that you could be the next American Idol and give up EDA.  But just in case there are a few of you out there without a sense of humor, let me make my point.  And my point might seem so basically fundamental and elementary, that only a fool would not know it.  Well you might be shocked how many intelligent “fools” have ruined their shot at a great opportunity because they neglected some of the most elementary principles of interviewing.  So let’s move on and see if I can make my American Idol metaphor tie in.  (And if you do not know what American Idol is, I suggest you pick your heads up out of your monitor a little more often).

So your recruiter (or whoever) arranged your first screen, either by phone or in person, same principles apply.  Andnow you have “x” amount of time to convince the person doing the 1st level of interview, to actually ask you back again, OR NOT!  What is so basically fundamental here is that you must never under estimate the importance of that first meeting or phone conversation. 

All to often prospective candidates “under interview” thinking their resume tells enough of the story.  Or worse yet, that their experience “should be” so “understood” that no explanation is needed.  OH HOW WRONG YOU ARE!

You see, these few minutes, will be the deciding factor on whether or not they want to meet with you again.  The impression you make here will either make the hiring manager (or whoever) decide to “let you through to Round 2, or in AMERICAN IDOL terms, (AI for you acronym loving engineers), to HollywoodSee, interviewing is like auditioning, actually not like, it is! And here is the tie in.   Think of yourself auditioning for American Idol.  You have seen how many go up and REALLY THINK THEY ARE GOING TO BE THE NEXT AMERICAN IDOL!  It is amazing to see how many really believe they are great down to their core. Then comes the audition/interview, and it is so plainly clear that they were either not as good as they thought, or they were not as prepared/ready as they should have been.  And the same applies to technical folks “auditioning” for their future.  If your audition-interview is not stellar, you have no chance.  If the judges were not impressed and thought you were the next great person for the team it will go like this, Ok Paula yes or no…no, Randy, yes or no, no, Simon, “it was abysmal, I can see no useful reason to have you occupy a space or chair in our office, or breath our oxygen, it is a no”.    

So like AI, your personality and skills need to shine from the first second of your interview.  They have to see your star potential.  Are you personable, are you showing your passion and desire for the position, will you fit in to the culture, are your skills sharp enough to make a viable contribution. You must be ready, prepared, before your talk, so you can put on that great audition.  Have an objective.  Know the company. Know the space, the competition. When they ask you, “what makes you think you will be the nextAmer..”…ummm engineer we hire, you have to have the right answer.  You must be able to convey that to the person judging/meeting you. Will you make him feel your passion, your excitement?  Will you convince him/her that you can make a valuable contribution to the company? Will you be prepared and know what they are doing, and how you could fit in.  Will you know how to convince them that what you don’ know well, you can learn quickly!

If you want the job, be ready, be prepared, and that means both mentally and emotionally.  This is your defining moment to shine, and just because it is technical, it is not less important.

Engineers in general, tend to be very focused on their attributes, and specialties.  They know that they “know” what they do, and each of you firmly  believe you do it well.  Convoluted sentence, perhaps, but the reality is more problematic than the sentence.  You see, if you cannot convey your expertise to the person interviewing you, your extensive knowledge base just stays and resides inside of you.  No matter how much you have done, accomplished, fact is, if you cannot prove it or say it convincingly, you lose.  It is almost that simple. 

So here is what I suggest, and I urge you all to follow these guidelines.

First, learn as much as you can about the company.  Read the website, white papers, and even look up close competitors and know about them. 

Second, be confident, yet humble. Most hiring managers can be intimidated easily, so make it clear that you are there to be a part of the team, to be another cog in the wheel.  Aspirations of management, and advances come when you prove your worth, or further in to the interviewing process.  Let them see, feel your energy and excitement.

Third, talk about your skill sets with confidence, explain BRIEFLY your successes and roles in previous projects.

Ask relevant questions about what part of the flow they are attacking, and let them see your vision and intelligence.

These are just a few of the basics.  But they will define whether you get to the next round of auditioning, interviewing. I urge you also, to look at last months column, which will help you construct a strong resume.  A strong resume , and a well prepared interview will give you the best fighting chance at securing your next great opportunity. 

Mark Gilbert

Technology Futures  Inc. d/b/a ...

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Review Article
  • October 09, 2008
    Reviewed by 'Mark Gilbert'
    I love the response from Larry. He is absolutely right. The part I take objection to is the lumping of recruiters into a single negative category. Any recruiter that would tell you to lie, and mis-represent yourself is not worthy of representing you. Having said that, a recruiter that preps you properly is worth his/her weight in gold. All to often people under interview, and neglect selling thier skills honestly and properly. So I say to larry, and all of you, write a strong resume, (check out "writing a good resume at, and make sure you show the true passion you feel about your skills and career goals. Be honest, be yourself, but remember, interviewing is an audition, and if you want the part, audition, interview like you do!

      One person found this review helpful.

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  • October 09, 2008
    Reviewed by 'Larry'
    During my periods of job-seeking I've gotten every imaginable sort of "advice" from recruiters... from the absurd to the just plain obnoxious. One actually gave me techniques to "lie" my way past receptionists, to try to pester people inside companies. All want to stress "passion", "excitement" and other marketing-speak. They all want you to have a "30-second elevator talk" prepared to spring on unsuspecting strangers, as if you were chasing down a job in marketing or selling used cars.
    Having been on the hiring side of the technical interviewing process many times, it's ridiculously easy to see someone who's been "prepped" for an interview with phony techniques and enthusiasm that just not part of their personality. It's fun to tear down these candidates and blow away all the phoniness, and get them to the point where they can just "be themselves" and start the interview over again.
    What are the _real_ keys to a successful interview? How about:
    Clear communication, both written and oral. A resume _should_ concisely tell the whole story. It must be complete, and clear. A strong relevant technical resume will usually get a candidate through the initial screening process, all by itself.
    Be yourself. Say "I don't know" when you don't know, and follow up with _relevant_ questions if you can. If you can't, say so. Bluffing is a waste of time for all involved.
    Be yourself. Don't add (or subtract) emotion, passion, etc. from yourself in an attempt to show the interviewer what you think he wants to see. No matter what a recruiter will tell you, you can't possibly know what will appeal to the interviewer. There are many ways to express energy and excitement and unfortunately, most recruiters will tell you _their_ way of doing this, and that's of no help to you.
    Be yourself. You'll feel better about yourself afterward (because no matter how you slice it, interviewing is a dirty, degrading process). And if you're hired as a result, everyone will be more satisfied in the long run.

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