When you Interview PROVE That You Have the Skills to Think Outside the Box

This is for those that interview, or are being interviewed. Recently I have had a slue of candidates that inadequately interviewed, never getting a chance for a second interview. It was not because of their experience or qualifications; it was because…

It was because they did not do all they could to PROVE that they had the skills to think outside the box and answer past the obvious. Here is what I am saying. You do not get a second chance at a first interview.

I always prepare my candidates for their interviews. We spend a lot of time discussing the right approach to the first interview, (and each subsequent) whether the interview is by phone or in person. I explain that the first interview is doing all you need to do to get them to invite you back for a second round, and that means making the first interview about what you can do for their company. (Think John Kennedy… “Ask not what their company can do for you, ask what you can do for their company”). You see round one is simply to show them that you want to work there, and that you have the skills necessary to make a significant and even immediate contribution, or that you can get up to speed fairly quick. You need to show that you are a good team player or if appropriate a good team leader. You need to make the person-interviewing feel like you are someone they would like to have on their team, either working for, with, or under depending on the circumstances.

But there is something more important and equally significant that must be done in the first interview. You need to show them that you are capable of not going for the easy answer and that you always try to think outside of the box. Anyone can get from Point A to Point B, but not everyone knows a number of different ways to get there. This is where you need to excel. You see anyone can take the 101 up 4 exits, turn left and go 2 miles and it will be on your right. But sometime there is congestion or an obstacle, or simply a more scenic route to go. You need to let the interviewer know that typically you would take the 101, but then show him/her you are thinking of a different route, a different approach, and elaborate. Show him/her that you are capable of taking other routes to get to the same place, and that you rarely just settle for one. The point here is that there are usually several approaches to every problem, and companies want to hear you offer the various approaches. Anyone can state the obvious, but when pressed, if you are not prepared or ready to think outside the box, they will simply tell me that you were “ok”, but not the kind of thinking solutions person they are looking for.

It is not easy to be put on the spot and asked for solutions as complex as needed in EDA. And it is OK, to ask for a minute and say I would like to THINK about this, as I do not like giving quick not thought out answers to complex problems. Remember you are there to show your skills, and will be tested to see the scope and depth of your skills. They will be looking for the most qualified candidates, and if you do not go prepared, if you are not ready to answer IN-DEPTH, you probably will not get asked back. If you need the time to think, LET THEM KNOW. Answer wrong or inadequately and there will be no call back. DO NOT MUDDLE OR FAKE IT, this is not the used car industry and they will easily know.

And to all those of you that do the interviewing, it is my belief that sometimes too much in-depth is expected technically in the first round. Sometimes solutions can vary greatly and theirs may not be the way you would solve the problem. So give a little latitude and ask why that approach, and even offer your approach and see if they get it, if they can react on the fly and adapt. That is a also a true test of intelligence. Sometime, it will be clear that they do not, and that will confirm your initial thoughts. Remember, it can be very intimidating to be asked complex questions, that require a lot of thought, in front of several new people. Be patient, give them a little slack and maybe even a little guidance and help.

Bottom line, candidates be prepared to interview thoroughly technically: Interviewers, be a guide as well as a tester, and hopefully both sides will accomplish getting the most out of the interview. 


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  • October 09, 2008
    Reviewed by 'hmmmmmm'
    First of all the person(s) interviewing must be capable of thinking outside the box. Then and only then can they configure a meeting to filter people the find out "HOW THEY THINK"! I have been on a few interviews and have felt embarassed for the interviewing staff. My God, are people propelled to the top because of 'connections" that the peter principal has shown itself across the table?? It is almost at epidemic levels in N.America. people have done ANYTHING to get to the top except THINK for themselves!

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