Oddly, very few people are prepared for job interviews.
In 37 year of running Micrel, and in the process becoming the longest serving CEO in Silicon Valley, I have interviewed thousands of people. Knowing that hiring someone is like entering in marriage – agreeing to a long-term commitment – I look for signs that the arrangement won’t work. When a candidate came unprepared for the interview, their odds of being hired fell to zero.
There are things to know about interviewing for employment. We’ll start about what is in it for you, then how to assure you your new employer sees what they want.
Knowing when to walk, or run, away
Since you are looking for a commitment, there is nothing wrong with looking for the right employer. Many people spend less time carefully considering their employer than they do reviewing profiles on dating web sites. Since both may lead to long-term entanglements, watch for those things that indicate a rocky relationship.
During the interview, note who is doing the talking. Interviewers who drone on and on about their company, their team, and their projects are not letting you talk. How will they ever know if you are a good fit or not if their lips continue moving? They won’t, and this is a good sign of a bad fit. They are more interested in themselves than you or the team they want you to be a part of. Alternately, if the interviewer occasionally asks questions that show they are listening well, then you may have found a great boss.
While chatting, see how often they smile. Ever have a conversation with a dower person? Odds are you heard a lot of negative comments. An interviewer who smiles is generally content, happy with their job and likely a people person. Sometimes an otherwise happy soul might quit smiling simply because their job and their work environment isn’t great. Regardless of the cause, lack of friendly faces could indicate an unfriendly work life ahead.
A cluttered, noisy, disorganized office setting is often a sign of a cluttered, noisy, disorganized company. Sure, startups are almost by definition cluttered, noisy, and disorganized, and we give startups windage. But any firm past Series B funding that remains cluttered, noisy and disorganized should give you concern because it means your work life will not be productive.
Be aware if the interviewer asks questions that make you feel uncomfortable or if they are trying to trick you in any way. Some sloppy interviewers want to test candidates, put them under pressure to see how they handle it. But this is dishonest, a sign of someone you would not want to work for. Alternately, the interviewer may have poor people skills or be a byproduct of an inhuman corporate culture. Regardless of the cause, these are people for whom you would not want to labor.
But do listen, especially to your potential boss. We once hired an engineer that worked for only a day and a half. When we went through the exit process, it became clear that he didn’t like his supervisor, discovering this after working under him for just a few hours. This employee interviewed with his boss, but didn’t listen. He was so focused on making a good impression that he engaged only superficially, and did not absorb his new boss’s modes and methods. This led to friction later, and a quick exit.
Lastly, don’t ignore your gut feelings. Intuition counts for a lot. If you do not feel comfortable after leaving the interview, consider not going back – it is probably a company that you do not want to join.
Don’t do that!
There are a thousand mistakes one can make during a job interview. Don’t make them! Especially these, which raise red flags for almost every interviewer.
Odds are an interviewer will ask you how you liked your last job and your last supervisor. Never respond with anything negative. The reason is that either you had a lousy boss, or you were the problem. Interviewers, unable to determine which is the case, can and do assume that someone who could not get along with their boss is the problem, and won’t get along with the new company either. You don’t have to lie, but avoid negative responses.
Stay calm and carry on. People who display stress – nervousness, furtive glances, uncomfortable in their chair – appear to be untrustworthy or perhaps just odd. Neither condition is an endorsement. Just remind yourself that this is like dating – you are exploring the possibility, not making a decision. And like dating, if you appear overly wrought, you likely won’t be asked out for a second date.
Most of all, if you do not know the answer to one of their questions, don’t fake it. Candidates do not realize how obvious this is. Being so obvious, contrived answers are a sign that you are willing to be dishonest, and nobody wants to hire dishonest people. Instead, be willing to admit that you do not know the answer, but that you would be happy to research it and get back to them.
Perhaps the most important thing to do before reporting for your interview is to be prepared.
Like a date you met online, you should know something about the potential match. I have had candidates who didn’t know anything about my company, our markets or how we were different than our competitors. This looked to my eyes like a general lack of interest in us, the relationship, or even working very hard (if you can’t be bothered to do some homework, why would I believe you would do real work). At a minimum your research should include understanding of the company, the products and the industry of the firm for which you are interviewing. If you know something about the specific markets and competitors, then you are guaranteed to impress.
Just as important as knowing the company is knowing the job. Read and re-read the job description until you either understand the role thoroughly or whatever questions remain in your mind are due to poorly worded passages in the job advertisement. Not knowing what is expected of you, and where you match the job’s criteria is a sign of incomplete involvement.
You should dress in accordance with the standards of that company and the role. Do not too dress to casual, or too much. Interviewing for a bare-metal engineering role has a different dress code than for a senior executive. Dressing one level above the job is good advice.
Do talk about compensation, but make it the last and the least mentioned topic. Compensation is part of the exchange, and nobody should be shy about discussing it. But to mention compensation or vacation early is an indicator that what you get from the deal is more important that what you contribute, and turns off every employer.
Do you take this company to be your …
Employees spend more time at the office than they do with their spouses (ignoring sleeping hours). Your work is one of the most intense and important relationships you have. Getting it right – both in making your choice as well as presenting yourself – will define how you spend 40 hours of each week. The interview is where this relationship is either cemented or abandoned. Do it as well as you would the first date with a potential mate.