One of the challenges of software consulting is that while the recruiting firm or client may tell you that their project would last for 6 months, in reality their project may last for 1 month or 1 year. After more than 10 years in information services, I have come to the conclusion that in the U. S. job market, the only leverage that consultants, contractors and employees have is to remain marketable. This means that if you are in the market for work, you must consistently engage the kind of skills that are in demand with clients and employers, maintain a network of recruiters and educate potential new clients on how you can help create value and meaning for them.
Since the last of these â€œeducating potential new clientsâ€ is also done through interviews, I have increased in my level of experience and comfort with the interviewing process. So, I was very surprised when a few weeks ago, I ran into a lady who has a college degree in Computer Science, loves computing but scared stiff of taking interviews even for jobs that she believes she is qualified for.
I realized after my discussions with her that her fears like many other peopleâ€™s fears werenâ€™t rational. She was educationally qualified to interview for software jobs. She loved software and computing. She wasnâ€™t a shy person by any reasonable measure. She didnâ€™t even have a history of failing or being rejected at interviews.
As part of my effort to help her overcome her interview jitters I put together this interview guide to help her and others who find themselves in similar situations, because one can overcome the fear of interviews by gaining adequate knowledge about the interviewing process.
Here is a summary of some of my experience interviewing with hiring managers at Fortune 500 companies and small businesses.
- Be confident. Employers want you to be confident. Look them in the eye and tell them you can do the job. It is as simple as that. If you are not confident of the value and meaning that you can create for a potential employer or client, you will find it difficult to convince them to hire you. This is because if you are not convinced that you can do the job, your potential employer or client will see the lack of confidence as an indication that you may be unqualified to do the job. The employer may start questioning the accuracy of your resume, your skills, your experience, your compensation and your competence.
Not only this, employers conduct critical reviews of their new consultants and employees during the first 3 months of their relationship. If you exhibit a lack of self confidence, the folks you report to or work with will notice your lack of confidence and will relate that back to your hiring manager which will count against you during those first 3 months that opinions and impressions are being formed about your performance. So, a lack of confidence will create obstacles for you at the interview and also when you are hired.
- Gain experience. Gain real life experience or entry level experience one way or the other. It may be harder to convince a prospective employer that you are qualified to do a job if you canâ€™t show you are doing it already on your resume. This is one of the situations when action speaks louder than words. So, donâ€™t just tell a prospective employer that you can do the job, show the employer that you have done the job before.
Experience, no matter how insignificant it may appear proves more than anything else a candidateâ€™s ability and qualification for a job. Employers really do believe in the maxim that past behavior or job performance is a good predictor of future behavior and performance. Gaining experience may be easier than you think. Here is how you can do it. Break down the job you want to interview for into smaller roles and responsibilities. Then volunteer or create opportunities for you that to fill those roles. For example, if you want to interview for a sales job, you may participate in activities that involve raising money for non-profits by calling on organizations on the phone and in person to convince them to donate money to the charity.
- Show proof. Demonstrate that you are the right candidate for the job. There are many ways to prove your aptitude for the job. Use some or all of the following words to offer proof. You studied â€¦ in college. You participated in an event about … Your hobby is â€¦ You volunteered for â€¦ You worked on â€¦ You achieved â€¦ You organized â€¦ You are certified in â€¦ You have acquired skills in â€¦ You are trained in â€¦ You achieved â€¦ for â€¦
- Dress tastefully. Dress well for your interviews. Dress in a way that portrays you as a confident successful person. Once, I interviewed for a job in Tulsa, Oklahoma over the phone. The owner of the consulting firm wasnâ€™t too impressed according to his narrative until I walked in to meet him in person. However when he saw me, he presented me with an offer within the first 30 minutes. According to him, he felt compelled to make the offer because of my carriage, dressing and presence.
Dressing well for interviews goes beyond wearing a shirt, tie or jacket. It includes the quality of your clothing, your shoes and other accessories. It is more about how well your clothing fits on you and less about how much money you spend on your wardrobe. It is also more about cultivating a dressing style that enhances your physical presence, carriage and personality. Have a friend with good dress sense critique the dressing for your interview.
I got my own dress sense mostly from my college best friend Jude. Jude grew up in an upper middle class family and learnt how to dress simply and fashionably as a kid. He would critique my wardrobe and assist me in shopping for new shirts, ties and jackets. Today, I feel glad I listened to him, whenever people complement me about my dressing.
- Know your job. What is the point in going for an interview when you have little knowledge about the subject? Note that there is a difference between knowing a little about a subject and trying to know everything possible about the subject. You should strive to be reasonably informed about the subject. Some of the ways to get more informed about your job is to acquire certifications, subscribe to and read professional and industry magazines, join professional associations, start blogging about the industry, go to college or graduate school, write a book or an e-Book, give speeches at conferences and seminars.
- Speak up. Be prepared to speak well about topics you profess to be skilled in. The interview is often a chance to see if you can sell your position, knowledge or experience about a topic. If you canâ€™t, you may be seen to be somewhat of a weak or incompetent candidate.
If you are challenged about speaking or presenting, join an easy fun public speaking club like Toastmasters International. Remember that the ability to speak well will make or break you at interviews more than any other ability. If you have any sort of accent (regional accent or country based accent), speak clearly and slowly to your interviewer. Bear in mind that in todayâ€™s world, your interviewer may not even be an American, or from the same region of the country as you are. Therefore, practice simple and universal rules of crystal clear speaking. Toastmasters International again will help you in that respect.
- Listen hard. Listen very well to the questions you are asked at the interview. Answer the question you are asked, and then shut up! There is no point in boring your hosts with an overtly long treatise or miss the point altogether because you werenâ€™t paying adequate attention to the questions you were asked in the first place. When you miss the point, it may be an indication to your client that your listening skills are not up to par.
The problem is that your listening skills equate to how well you can follow instructions and execute orders at work. Poor listening skills therefore can result in poor on the job performance. Because of this, an astute interviewer could ding you for not listening well, thereby hurting your chances of getting the job you are interviewing for.
- Be prepared. Questions like, what is your most significant achievement and why or what is your least significant achievement and why, are often more difficult than their cousin â€œExplain this feature or this techniqueâ€, because they probe your motivations, inner strengths and weaknesses.
I remember an interview with Procter & Gamble out of college. I had delayed looking for employment by six months while I sharpened my computer skills. The HR manager on learning this fact accused me of being inconsiderate of my parentsâ€™ financial commitment in sending me to several years of engineering school by delaying my entry into the job market. I was speechless for a moment, as I considered the injustice of the accusation. Frankly I wasnâ€™t impressed by this line of questioning. However, I summoned my wits and calmly stated that the reason for delaying my entry into the job market was to enhance my marketability and competitiveness as a Chemical Engineer by acquiring strong computing skills. Needless to say, I got the job as a Proctor & Gamble management trainee. Looking back, I realize that the Proctor & Gamble interviewer framed his questions to arouse some strong emotional reaction like anger or resentment from me. Now, I am convinced that if I had reacted emotionally, I would not have gotten the job.
- Service always comes first. This is captured by the famous American President John F. Kennedy during his Inaugural Address on January 20th 1961 â€“ â€œAnd so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.â€ Therefore, do not attend an interview thinking of what you can get from the company. Always ask yourself before the interview, how can I be of service to this company or why should this company hire me?
Years ago, I got a foothold with my first information services consulting employer by asking myself the following two questions. What can I offer this consulting firm, coming from a chemical engineering background? What is the need of this consulting firm that I can match? I answered the question by offering my promotional skills which were better aligned with the needs of the company than my technical or engineering skills. By putting my potential employer first, I was able to come up with a win-win solution for both the firm and myself.
- Don’t badmouth your previous employer. Never say anything negative about your present position or past employers. Even if you are working for a boss from hell, try to negotiate with a prospective employer with words like â€œI would like to work for you because I have been researching these cool concepts and I believe I would have an opportunity to use my learning to do aâ€¦z for your firmâ€. Compare that to â€œI donâ€™t like working overtime at my current job; therefore I am seeking a less demanding job with your firm???
- Small talk first! Talk politely to everyone you meet at your interviewing location even if you are not interviewing with them. Donâ€™t be obnoxious, rude, or impatient in your negotiations or conversations with anyone at your prospective firm, at the same time, do not project timidity because both extremes are bad and point to other internal personality issues.
For example, when you walk in for your interview, be courteous to the receptionist by smiling and greeting him or her. This demonstrates a healthy attitude and respect for people and donâ€™t be surprise if that gets you invited back to the company.
- Constant contact: Keep in constant communication or touch with recruiters. Maintain your relationship with recruiters or highly networked people even if you are not in the market for a new job. Recruiters and hiring managers are human beings, so think of how you can help them when you are not directly seeking their help. One way is by introducing your friends who are looking for new positions or keeping them informed of changes at your client or employerâ€™s site which may impact your employment.
I hope that this guide will help you with your interviews and with getting a job.