A few days ago someone posted a question about job interviews on a list I’m subscribed to. I ended up writing a fairly long response, which could be benificial to other people, so here it is.
Here’s the original post with the question:
I’ve always been puzzled by one particular interview question, and it seems important, because the lead-up always go something like this: the interviewer wraps up his/her speech, relaxes backwards in the chair, and says, ‘now, what questions do you have for me?’
Once you know the technology you’re going to be using, and what you’re going to be using it for, what is there to really ask? I fail miserably at this, and usually say something like, grumble grumble, I think I have a good overview of what’s going on, so at this point, no, I don’t – but I’m sure I’ll think of some on the way home. But I never really do know what to ask.
First of all, if you’re currently looking for a job – you need to get these books:
Back in 2001 I was laid off and I must have read five or six different job search related books. Then I found the 5oclock club books.
Nothing I have read comes even close to these books in terms of actually getting you the job you want. I can directly credit one of jobs I landed to a single technique that I had read about only in these books (and it’s even related to your question). I’ll give you the details in a minute.
The “problem” most interviewees have is that they’ve never been on the other side of the fence and are only seeing things from their side.
These books really opened my mind to the other side and enabled me to present myself in a way that was most attractive to potential employers.
For an employer, there are basically three criteria when looking for an employee:
1 – Do you have the experience and technical skills required to do the job (or will you be be able to learn them quickly).
For a programmer / developer – this is pretty straight forward.
2 – Will you fit from a non technical perspective (work place culture fit).
Are you responsible? Proactive? Honest? Will you stay late if needed without being asked? How do you handle pressure? Do you work well in a team ? Alone ? Do you have an eye for details? Are you able to express yourself well both orally and in writing? Do you take “orders” well? Do you take criticism well? Do you give orders well?
You get the point.
3 – Will you stay with the company for a long time (is the company / position what you are really looking for).
Hiring a new employee requires a lot of time and money. The last thing they want is to hire someone who won’t be happy here. As an interviewer – I’ve turned down people who were exactly what we were looking for from a technical perspective, but it was obvious to me that our company really wasn’t what they were looking for. They were just looking for a way to pay the bills till they could land the job they really wanted.
Here’s my “secret” that will put you head and shoulders above all of the other interviewees. This is a multi part technique.
First of all, you should try to convey to the employer that getting a job with them would be a dream come true. There is nothing you’d rather do than you’d work for them. You’d work for them if it was for free. If this sounds counter-intuitive to you, then you’re not putting yourself in the employers shoes.
Next during the interview, try to get a very good idea of exactly what’s currently going on there. What projects are they currently working on. What will you be working on directly. What other projects will be effected by your work and what projects will have an effect on your work. Try to also get an idea of what has happened historically.
Now … you need to know what challenges and/or problems they are currently dealing with. If you did the previous step correctly, the question should come naturally. In any case – you can ask them outright what are the biggest challenges (technically) they are currently facing.
Make sure to get the email address of the person who is interviewing you. If you forget (or they need to run out) call the receptionist the next day and ask for it.
The next (or same day) do some serious research about the challenge they are facing. Ask the smartest people you know what they’d do in the same situation.
The next day, or within 48 hours at the latest, send the interviewer a follow up email – “Thanks Joe for taking the time to meet me, etc” and then say something like “I was thinking about how to solve the problem you mentioned during the interview” and then go on to elaborate on some possible solutions with the pros and cons of each one.
This usually evokes a “wow” for the employer. You haven’t even been offered the job and you’re already trying to solve problem.