Skip to main content

The Art of Interviewing

Interviewing needs to be developed as a technical skill just as important as your other skills. Because of this, it is important to view interviewing as not just a part of job hunting, but as a part of one’s career. From the employer side, interviewing should be seen as an important skill for assembling the best team possible.

The art of interviewing involves recognizing that the interview starts before you ever show up. It lasts long after the position is accepted. Being prepared, focused, and proactive in the interview process can lead to many opportunities, both for the candidate and the employer. 

Before talking about the actual interview, there are a few prerequisites that should be discussed.  First is the résumé.  Most résumés only get a few seconds before they are set aside so they have to convey the right keywords to be noticed.  But in an interview, they are likely to get scanned pretty closely.  This is where a job applicant needs to pay attention.  Everything on the résumé - skills, experience, keywords, dates - needs to add up and be accountable.  And the applicant needs to be able to speak to it in an interview and explain it clearly, preferably with anecdotes or examples. Employers conducting an interview should take the time to thoroughly review a résumé and go over this info in the initial phone screen.

Next is appearance. Dress for success. It never hurts to assume a more formal posture when interviewing for a position. The assumption should be that you dress up for an interview even if the regular work environment is routinely more casual.  The reason for this is that it shows you know the business formalities and can abide by them.

When you arrive, have at least two copies of your résumé and be early in case you have to deal with traffic, NDAs or other paperwork. This is also a part of the formalities.  Finally, something I am seeing more and more lately is having something to show at an interview such as a chunk of code or a script, a site, or something which you can point at and say, “I did that.”

The actual interview needs to have a several things to be effective.  The interview needs to be conducted someplace with minimal disruption.  Both sides need to silence phones for the duration.  And the right people need to be involved in the interview process.  All employees should know what the position is, what the requirements are, and have some interaction with that role so that they can ask relevant questions about the candidate's ability to interaction with them in that capacity.  I find that interviews are best handled one-on-one. Multiple interviewers often switch from one person to another causing incomplete answers and rapid topic shifting leaving the interviewers feeling like they didn’t get a good feel for the candidate. Or one person ends up wasting their time in the interview process as the other takes up the majority of the time.

For technical interviews, the question and answer process should focus on relevant experience or skills, and how that would apply in the current position. Hypothetical questions are not likely to get useful results.  Neither are questions about generic how-tos.  Those types of questions are based on simple memorization, and are not indicative of the candidate’s actual thinking capabilities. I call those 'Google questions' because I can look up the answer in a minute on any search engine, so I don't bother to memorize such information. I am more likely to automate something like that and never think about it again than put it on my résumé. As a technical manager I am far more interested in how someone arrived at a real world technical solution than a pat answer to a flashcard question.   

If I don’t get feedback from the employer in the interview on what they want I will take charge. I will be very clear about what I see as relevant to the position I am applying for and what is irrelevant. This helps to keeps the process focused and moving along.  I will also direct them to soft skills and experiences that are relevant but not technical, use anecdotes, talk about projects and their value to the company. On the other side, when I am interviewing a candidate I do the same thing, but I try to elicit that type of information from the candidate.  My goal is always to determine if there is a fit for the position.

At the end of an interview, I always try to determine what the next step is and get a general timeframe for moving to the next step if that is warranted. I try not to talk about money or benefits until the interview process has moved along far enough that there is enough investment to make that subject worthwhile. When an offer is extended, I consider the overall package, and I have walked away from several offers and negotiated changes in several others.  But I don’t try to do that in the interview. I always take a day to go over the offer, make sure it all meets my requirements, read the paperwork, and potentially check in with other potential employers. But don’t talk about any of that in the interview.  Just set a timeframe to get back to the candidate or employer and stick to that.

The art of interviewing for employer and candidate are two sides of the same coin. Each wants to make sure they are making the right choice. Each needs to be prepared and each should view the process as part of a larger strategic goal.  The amount of time put into preparing will more than pay for itself in the long run.