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The "Planet Bruce" blog is dedicated to a four-fold mission:

* Improve the technical and non-technical skills of software developers.

* Address the communication gaps between management (both technical and non-technical) and software developers.

* Help software developers to increase their income and happiness by maximizing their utility and productivity to their clients and employers.

* Contribute to the understanding of best practices in software development and technical management.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Top Ten Things You Should Learn from your Job Search and Interviews


Turning a Losing Situation in a Win-Win


Think of interviewing for a job as asking someone out on a date. You find someone you are interested in, you ask if they want to meet, they say 'yes' sometimes, then you meet and talk to see if you hit it off. Then, someone may make you an offer, and you live happily ever after. But that is about where the similarities end, so get your mind out of the gutter. Now let's talk about how job interviewing differs from dating.

Job searches are like an open-book test that you can re-take as many times as you like, each time earning a better grade. If you make a point of learning something from each interview and making adjustments before the next interview, your chance of success goes up each time.

 

Here is a list of the things you should find out before, during, or after the interview. The first three are things you should research in advance, the next three are things to ask during the interview, and the last four are post-interview tasks.

 

1. Research the Industry Expectations and Standards


Don't be surprised going in. Do your homework, so you know what the industry pays, what hours to expect, what skills you need, etc. Know whether you need so-called "domain-specific knowledge" (i.e. how important is industry expertise).

For example, I once was told that I was a shoo-in for a job in a financial company. I had been through four or five interviews that all went well, and I was just supposed to get the final stamp of approval from one of the VPs. I had researched his background on LinkedIn and could tell he was not a programmer so he was unlikely to ask me any technical questions.

I thought it might be a very easy interview. Instead, he asked very specific questions about financial terms. He threw out acronyms and the names of standards that I really didn't know. Try as I might to relate my prior experience and background to the current position, he just wasn't willing to take a risk on someone without financial experience on his resume.

Early in the the interview, ask, “What sort of industry-specific experience do you think will be most relevant to candidates such as myself?”  If you didn't get the job this time, you'll know to check the job posting requirements more carefully next time!

2. Research the Company and its Products


It is best to do some research on the company ahead of time. Start at the company's web site and read beyond the job openings. Read about their products, their press releases, and their staff. Does everyone look young and fresh, or old and experienced? Does the company sell itself on its innovation, or on its history and track record. What key words and phrases appear on their site? What are their core competencies? Do they match yours? If you work with a recruiter, ask what s/he can tell you about the company.
Be prepared to act like a product manager. If the interviewer asks, "What one innovation or improvement would you suggest for our products?" you should have an answer ready. This demonstrates you have done your research, have thought about how you may contribute, and can articulate your interest in and understanding of the company's core mission.

3. Research the Interviewer


Always find out about the person you will be interviewing with. This is easy, because you always know the company they work for, and you will usually have at least their name, and often their job title. Use Google and LinkedIn to find out more about them: where they went to school, what degree they have, how old they are, etc.  Check the company web site, especially if you have only the interviewer's first name.

If the interview goes south,  you should at least figure out if it was something related to the person's background. So the best hint you have is knowing the context of the person you interviewed with. Stay away from the obvious landmines, such as personal issues, politics, religion. Stick with the stuff in your roundhouse, such as sports, travel, or a shared alma mater.

The number one reason you will get the job is because of a shared personal rapport with one or more decision makers. Never underestimate the personal touch!

Often, you'll interview with multiple people on the same day or over the course of several days/weeks. Always ask the current interviewer about the “next” interviewer. For example, “Well, thanks very much. I understand I'm supposed to interview next with Bill Smith. What do you think will be the most important qualifications that Bill will be focused on?”

4. Always Ask what the Company is Looking For


The hiring party is always happy to tell you what they are looking for, so ask! But don't focus on the candidate (you); focus on the company's needs.

For example, you might ask, “What would you say are the two most important skills or qualities you are looking for in the ideal candidate?” That's okay, but can also sound amateurish.  Put the focus on the company's needs.

A much better question to ask might be, “What are the two greatest needs for your team based on the skillsets of the existing team members versus where you need to take this project?”

Or try, “What are the two greatest obstacles between this project, as it currently stands, and where you want to be in the next six months?”


5. Know the HR and Hiring Committee Process


Understand how hiring decisions are made at the company. Some companies allow hiring managers to select candidates on their own. But very often, it is a group decision among colleagues.

For example, you might interview with two programmers, one director, and one VP.  As long as no one has any objections, a strong recommendation from one interviewer (such as a technical interview/test) may carry the day.

But the decision may be made by people who have never met you. At a hiring meeting, the Hiring Committee might review your resume, plus receive reports from each person who conducted an interview.

At such meetings, the hiring manager has to “go to bat” for you. S/he may be unwilling to do so it, for example, you haven't completed a college degree in a relevant field or if your work experience is a bit thin.

The likelihood of getting hired is inversely proportional to the political capital that has to be expended to get approval to hire you.

If you think you are going to be presented to the hiring committee, ask the interviewer, "Are there any questions regarding my work history or credentials that you'd like me to clarify, or do you have everything you need?"

6. Ask About Other Open Positions


Find out what other jobs are open at the company (many are never advertised).

Especially if the interview doesn't seem to be going well, always ask if there is another position in the company for which you might be better suited.

During the interview, ask something like, “Based on the job skills I have, what roles do you think I might fill in this company?” Or, if the interview is going south rapidly,  ask, “Who else might I speak with about other roles in this company for which I might be a better fit?”

7. If You Didn't Get the Job, Figure Out Why


The easiest way to find out why you didn't get the job is to ask. Sometimes, the hiring party will be forthright. It may be as simple as, “We are looking for someone with more Java experience,” or, “We were looking for someone more senior,” (your experience is too skimpy) or ,“We're looking for someone more junior” (you're too expensive, too old, or too arrogant).

There are lots of reasons why the interviewer might not tell you. When working with a recruiter, they might be more likely to give you the reason. If someone won't tell you the reason, then try to figure out what you thought was your weakest point. Did you talk too much and ask too few questions? Did you answer their questions accurately and succinctly?

If you don't feel comfortable asking why you didn't get the job, make it less direct and easier to answer, such as, "If I'm looking for similar jobs in the future, what is the one thing you think I can improve on most?"

Don't worry if you don't get a given job. That's okay! But be sure to learn why not, so you can begin to make course corrections. If no one will tell you, ask your best friend if you have b.o.

8. Learn the Answers to Questions you Failed


Look up the answer to any interview question you couldn't answer. Research any topic/skill they said was a requirement for the job. This one is a no-brainer, yet most people fail to take heed!

Suppose you are interviewing for a Project Management job and the interviewer asks how familiar you are with MS-Project. If the answer isn't “fluent,” then you probably have to go out and learn it.

Or suppose they ask you to describe the software development life cycle, or compare waterfall and agile methodologies. Guess what? You need to look those things up and practice discussing them intelligently.

9. Hot or Cold?


Remember that kids' game where you'd walk towards some unknown item and the person running the game would say "getting hotter" or "getting colder"? Well, your job search is the same. You will be getting constant feedback about whether you are getting warmer or colder.

Are you getting more or fewer responses? First interviews? Second interviews? Job offers?

Make an honest assessment of which direction things are going. If things are improving, be patient. If the trail is cold or getting worse, you need to do a serious personal and professional reassessment.

10. Major Reassessment


If you are on the wrong track, it may be time for a significant change in your approach. Do you need to learn a new skill, switch fields, accept lower pay, or move to a different city? Do you need an advanced degree?
Ask for honest feedback from potential employers, recruiters, colleagues, and friends. Then listen, and be honest with yourself. Correct the most glaring flaw, whether it be your resume, your dress, your interview skills, or your unrealistic salary expectations. 
There are a finite number of variations as to how companies operate or why you aren't getting hired.

For example, if you run into four interviews where you lose the job because you don't have a college degree, you either have to get a college degree or apply for a different type of job.
If you keep eliminating the most glaring problem, eventually, there will be no fatal flaw that prevents you from getting offers, and you can start choosing among jobs.
Find the industry that fits you, and find a mentor to help guide you to the career at which you know you can excel.

Conclusion


You might say, “What is the point of finding out this information after the fact? If I didn't get the job, I need to put it out of my mind and move onto the next one.”

You are confusing a single job role with a job search. That one job may not have worked out, but it is probably highly correlated with future jobs you still want.

Think of each interview has a practice swing. The beauty is that you can never strike out, and you'll eventually learn to hit the curveballs if you just keep improving.

So, think of each interview as a chance to get free feedback on what mistakes you have been making.

There are an infinite number of companies out there with which you can get a fresh start based on the lessons you learned at the company that just didn't work out.

Sometimes it is just a numbers game! If you get 100 swings at the ball, eventually you will get a hit.

So get back in the batter's box and take another swing.

Happy job hunting!

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