IT Interview Tips

April 4, 2012 at 12:41 pm | Posted in Technical Tips, Transcender news | Leave a comment
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A while back one of our team members ran across this LifeHacker post on IT job interviewing, provocatively titled Why I Won’t Hire You. The post stirred some spirited debate with the Transcender Team. Some of us thought it was refreshingly honest and contained valuable insights for a potential job candidate. One of us thought the author deserved a punch in the nose (metaphorically only — we’re not violent people, except where fantasy football/basketball is concerned).

Joking aside, we then sat around and discussed whether people need specific advice on interviewing for an IT job versus a non-IT job. Then we sat around and exchanged stories about people we’d actually interviewed for jobs who had made strange common-sense errors. Turns out we’ve seen it all kinds of quirks, from the classic typos-on-the-resume errors to showing up with their portfolio in a paper grocery sack.

Assuming you are qualified for the job you are applying for, you will have to go through a series of interviews.  First there’s typically a screening, usually over the telephone but it can be in person where the employers will evaluate your overall fitness as a candidate. If you make it beyond the screening interview, you may go on to a series of interviews with the people in the department that will hire you — and that’s just the beginning. You might be called to dozens of interviews. Conclusion? That’s a lot of face time. So we feel there can *never* be enough tips out there to help an inexperienced (or experienced) job seeker ace an interview.

Here are some tips that might help you land the job.

Show up early   

If you are on time, I consider that you’re late. Arriving late does not leave a good impression. I recommend that you show up at the interview site at least 30 minutes prior to schedule. This will give you a few moments for last-minute prep for the interview. However, make sure that you check in for your interview no earlier than 10 minutes prior to the actual appointment time, because arriving too early could backfire if that person thinks you don’t value their time. So kill those extra 20 minutes in the parking lot or the reception area. While you’re there, take a sneak peak at the office environment and get a glimpse of the office culture.

Research the company   

It’s easy to win friends by talking about other people rather than yourself. However in an interview you need to sell yourself.  Take some time before the interview and study the company that you are interviewing. Learn about the company, but don’t regurgitate the company’s website or annual report. If possible, try to learn as much about the department that will be interviewing you.  You can set yourself apart from other interviewees if you can highlight your assets in relation to their specific needs.  For example, if you know the company will be installing several SQL server instances and will need support, you should highlight your previous experience of managing, maintaining, backing up, and restoring databases on a SQL server. Remember, though, that the person conducting the screening interview may not be technical, so keep your experience to what is advertised in the job posting.

Dress for success  

The days of people wearing Brooks Brothers suits and 100% cotton starched shirts may be gone. People tend to dress business casual in the workplace, and go even more casual in the IT world.  To stand apart from the herd of candidates, you need to be neat and clean.  You don’t have to look like you are ready to pick up your prom date at your parent’s house, but in a way, an interview is like a speed date. You need to make a good impression fast. Your date is not going to appreciate an unclean, unkempt person, or the person who over-dresses. I try to know what their office dress code is and aim to go one step above it. 

In my role as a trainer I’m frequently asked about tattoos and piercings on a job candidate.  I do not have a tattoo or piercing and not going to get any, but they don’t bother me. If the person can do the job and gets along with other team members, why should I care?  But – and this is a big but – the person conducting the interview may not share your same view on tattoos and piercing. Many companies ask employees to keep tattoos covered in the workplace.  For an interview, I recommend you cover the body art and remove piercings.  An HR employee at a large company once told me, “Tattoos and piercings are not professional and we only hire professionals.” Does having a tattoo or a piercing mean that you cannot do the job?  Of course not; that’s ridiculous.  Do employers hire people based on looks?  Well, a company cannot discriminate against you based on sex, religion, race, age or reproductive status, but they can certainly choose to not hire you based on looks.  If you look like you fell into a tackle box or you have tattoos like a member of the band Motley Crue, expect the hiring company to hold that against you. It may not be fair, but it is legal.  

Expect to prove your skills   

You should expect to have some skills test, written test or combination of both in order to gain employment.  I am from the school of thought that people do not intentionally lie on a resume, but they may stretch the truth. A prospective employer has the right to call you on your skills and experience. The information that you put down on a resume should be corroborated by someone else at your current job or previous job.  Do not expect an employer to accept the fact that you can do a particular task because a person you work with and a person they have never met says that you can.

When I interviewed for a LAN administrator’s job, I was called back to perform a  series of tasks within a 30 minute time frame in a lab the company had set up.  That was the fastest 30 minutes of my life. The company wanted a highly skilled candidate that worked quickly. This was their way of weeding out candidates.

Do not lie  

As I said before, people tend to stretch the truth on a resume, but you should not out-and-out lie. If you lie about certifications, degrees, or other items that can be checked, you will get busted.  Expect to give the prospective employer a copy of your certification transcript or your certification ID number.  For example, if you are certified in a Microsoft product, you will get a Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP) number which can be used by a prospective employer to check your Microsoft transcript. CompTIA, Oracle, and Cisco also issue IDs for their certified professionals.  If it can be checked, do not lie about it.  Even little lies will get you in trouble.

Another true story – a hiring manager had to choose between two candidates. One candidate, who was only was a casual jogger, said that he ran in the 2008 Boston Marathon and placed in his age group. The hiring manager looked this information up on the Internet and found it to not be true. That candidate did not get the job. The hiring manager said if he lied about running in the Boston Marathon, he could have lied about anything else.  

Oh yeah – and pictures say a thousand words. Start vetting your social profiles — Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and so on — before you apply for jobs. Those pictures you have on Facebook may not paint a very favorable picture of yourself. Any modern employer will do a quick background check on you. Expect them to look at your Facebook page. Make sure there is nothing there that will cost you a job.

Another true story. Former Georgia Tech football coach George O’Leary was named head football coach at Notre Dame in 2001, but had to resign a few days later for resume’ padding. Although the padding was on his resume for over twenty years, he had never rechecked and updated the information. Although Coach O’ Leary has bounced back at University of Central Florida, winning conference titles, winning bowl games, and being a positive influence in the lives of young athletes, he may be remembered by some as the guy who once lost a job for resume padding — and that truly is a shame.

The demand for IT professionals is increasing. There are many challenging opportunities opening up. With a little preparation, you too can present yourself as the top notch candidate who will be hard to pass up.

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