Interviews and Interviewing

Jim Fawcett © copyright 2011

Clipped on 19-September-2011, 1 : 38 PM from

Here we discuss the process of preparing for, and getting, interview invitations, and conducting yourself during interviews.

  1. Preparing for Interviews:
    • Study your strengths: focus on what you already do well and tune up all those skills. If that isn’t enough you probably won’t get an offer. There isn’t much point in cramming some technical area you don’t know trying to quickly learn something you think is important. The first question will make all of what you crammed vanish. Even if that doesn’t happen a competent interviewer will quickly find out that you don’t really know much.
      Make sure that you can speak clearly and passionately about any of the projects you’ve listed in your resume for 1 minute and also for 5 minutes. So you can quickly and clearly summarize what you built and it’s importance, and you can also go into some detail about its design and implementation, what you think is interesting about the design and any additions that might make sense.
    • Practice writting code: Write code for an hour a day for two weeks before the interview. Do little examples, e.g., create a linked list, manipulate strings, use exception handling, … You may be asked to stand up at a white board and write some code. You want to be able to do the without much hesitation.
      It’s a good idea to reflect back to the interviewer what she’s asked you to do: “O.K., you’ve asked me to create a linked list. I’m going to do that in C++, creating nodes on the heap and ….”. If you aren’t sure about something the interviewer asked for, ask for clarification as you get to that part.
    • Look over your notes on Algorithms and Data Structures: Know why search in a linked list is linear, why sorting an array leads to log n performance with binary search, why you get order 1 performance doing a lookup in a hashtable. Be able to sketch out diagrams for hashtables and maps based on binary trees. Have the basic idea of how a binary tree is balanced and why you should be interested in that.
    • Summarize technologies important to the interviewing company: it is very useful to quickly survey an area important to the interviewing company that you don’t know much about. Your goal is not to learn the technicalities, but to be able to show that you know a little about it and that gives you the opportunity to express interest in learning more. That helps stop you from saying something obviously naive about things important to the interviewer. Again, you are not trying to learn the details – just get an idea of what the area is all about and why it is important.
    • Prepare a list of 10 questions to ask: how long are typical projects, will I get to see the whole project life cycle, will I work with a team or under the guidance of a mentor? What is it like to live here? Are there interesting things to see and do? Never pull the list out of your pocket and read it. It doesn’t matter if you ask all the questions your thought of. What matters is that you are interested enough to ask questions and the questions make sense.
    • Don’t worry about puzzle questions! Most interviewers won’t ask puzzles, and those that do will simply want to see some logical thinking on your part – can you break down a problem into digestible parts and do something useful with them. Think how you would respond to the question “How many gallons of gasoline were consumed in the United States yesterday?”
    • Be prepared for a couple of Behavioral Interview Questions: Questions like “Think about a time when you had to work with a very difficult person and describe how you turned that situation into a productive working relationship. It is a fad in the HR community to ask these questions. The trick is not to be surprised. If you’ve made up 3 or 4 for these types of questions and figured out how you would respond – in simple terms, then you will be as well prepared for that as you can be. Don’t go looking at the Behavior Interview websites and try to memoryize their answers. It is very unlikely you will be asked any of those. Just don’t be surprised if you get these questions and don’t get flustered.
  1. Conducting yourself during an interview:
    • Listen carefully: don’t sit there thinking about how you are going to respond. Just listen carefully. If you do, your answers will take care of themselves.
    • Be pleased to be there and show it! Be friendly, be interested, and do not be terrified. If you smile, listen, and ask questions it’s easy for the interviewer to think “Yeah, I’d like to work with this person”. If you’re quaking in your boots it’s awfully easy for the interviewer to think “No, I don’t think I want to work with this person”.
    • Wear nice cloths: It’s much better to be over-dressed than under-dressed. A jacket, tie, and chinos are fine if you interview anywhere outside of New York City. Wear a suit in NYC. Don’t wear jeans and sneakers, even if you’re interviewing at Microsoft. You can always take off your tie between interview sessions if everyone is casual.
    • You are interviewing the whole day, even when you are being welcomed by HR, when they take you to lunch or dinner, and when they are walking you to the next interview. Be friendly, interested, and listen all day. Ask questions whenever there is a lull in the conversation.
    • If HR or an interviewer offers his hand smile and shake it with medium firmness – no limp dishrag and no bone crusher. Practice with your friends before you go.
    • Send a very brief “Thank You” to the HR person or hiring manager who extended the invitation to interview. E-mail is ok if you have that, a two sentence hand-written note in a nice plain (non-business) envelope also works.
  1. Getting Interviews:
    • Make a list of companies You need a list of possibilities. Take notes at Career Fairs, look on Orange Link. Look at the Graduates Page on this website. There are almost one hundred student bio paragraphs there and almost all of them mention the companies they work for. Go to those company websites and see if they have job openings. Search papers like NY Times, Washington Post, San Franciso Chronicle, San Jose Sun-Mercury, etc.
    • Go to their websites Look for job postings and always respond with an email or cover letter that cites the job number. For the most important ones you can add a cover letter that has two paragraphs. The first paragraph shows that you know what big things they are working on, and the second states clearly that you are interested in those projects and why you think you are a good candidate to work on them. You can find out information like that by searching on the company name at newspaper and news magazine websites. Note that a good cover letter is as much about the company as it is about you.
      A cover letter should never repeat what is in your resume (which is attached) but may refer to that information: “You will see from my resume that I have experience (or have relevant graduate education) in …”.
    • Have a well constructed resume’ Make sure your resume is neat, very well organized and readable, has relevant information, and is absolutely honest – do not exaggerate!
      Have an objective that is a simple statement of what you want, e.g., “Seeking employment as a software developer doing design, implementation, and test in a current technology.” Forget the balony – “Seeking opportunity to deploy my highly developed technical and amazing interpersonal skills …”
      Provide a consise summary of your education, including GPA if it is higher than 3.2. Describe briefly any prior working experience if you have that, and provide brief descriptions of several of your projects.
      Make sure your address, phone number, and email are next to your name at the top of the page. Contrary to what you may have been told your resume may be longer than one page, but not more than two. If it is more than one it should be at least one and a half pages long.
      Here is a good example: Dhaval Trivedi
    • Send Dave DiMaggio an email with your resume attached if you are looking for work/study. Explain briefly your areas of interest and how far along you are in your program. There are far more students who want work/study than there are opportunities. However, there are enough that it is worth you time to contact, and perhaps make an appointment with Dave.
      Please do not pester him with weekly emails. That is very counter productive. Making an appointment with him once a semester makes sense especially if you make a communal appointment for you and four or five friends so Dave doesn’t get overwhelmed with appointments.
    • Put your resume’ on Monster, Dice, … These have relatively low probability of success, but if you do lots of low probability things the overall probability of success goes up.
    • Go to the On-Campus Career Fair There will be a career fair this October – look on Orange Link for dates. Microsoft always comes and there are always many other companies. So plan to have a good resume prepared by then.
    • Be careful of your course load! Doing well with your courses should be your first priority. If you start interviewing too much too soon, you can damage your program by spending too much time preparing for and taking interviews and not enough time on your course work.
      It’s a really good strategy to spend a very modest amount of time seeking internship opportunities – go to our Career Fair, some of the information meetings, and take two or three inteviews if they are offered.
      Save most of the effort to find full-time employment for your last semester when you are only taking one or two courses. Try to arrange your schedule so you are only taking one. Begin the intense part of your search over the break before that semester.
  1. Talk to Dave DiMaggio:

Dave handles work/study relationships with local companies.

  1. Talk to me:

I’ll be pleased to critique your resume and cover letters, talk to you before your interviews, and help in any other way I can.

  1. Don’t expect others to hand you opportunities:

Landing a job you are really pleased with will take effort on your part. You are responsible for your career now and later.

Posted on 2013-02-19, in Career and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 留下评论.


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