Friday, January 2, 2015

5 Tips - Don't Screw Up the On-Site Interview

Who is the only one that can screw up an on-site interview? You are. 

If you have successfully navigated past the phone screens and find yourself about to go on the on-site interview, chances are you are at least somewhat qualified for the job. Tech companies want to hire you. All you need to do is not screw it up by giving them a reason to not hire you. Pretty easy, eh?

Your interviewers are trying to determine whether you can do the job and whether you can succeed given their environment. Your goal is to convince them that you can by leaving them with a positive impression of you. Enlighten them by following the below tips.

Note: This post is written as you are the interviewee. If you are in the interviewer seat, the below tips can be thought of as 'What to look for in a candidate'. 

Be Passionate

Love what you do. I do. You should too. If you aren't doing something you love, stop what your doing and do something else. People want to work with passionate people. No one wants a downer. No one wants someone just collecting a pay check. Passion is what drives action, improvement and ownership. It pushes people to do what others might think as unattainable. Be passionate. It's contagious. It will lead to amazing things (like a job offer at a great tech company).

When I was interviewing for an engineer role many years ago, the interviewer asked me what I was passionate about. Being young and foolish, I answered, "Solving problems and girls". They asked me to elaborate. I told him how I've used technology's infinite source of problems to feed my problem solving addiction. In doing so, I laid out a few of my accomplishments and how the motivation behind them came from my passion within. I also described that I liked girls, like most boys. At the time, I was somewhat shy around women. I realized that in order to get a girlfriend I needed to change that about myself. I described how I thought of it has just another problem that needed to be solved. I then described my approach at overcoming this shyness by forcing myself to talk with girls. The passion I had drove desirable outcomes in both cases and I made it clear to the interviewer. I ended up getting the job, which I ended up loving. More importantly, my passion resulting in me meeting and marrying my wonderful wife.

Be passionate, or go collect a pay check somewhere else.

Be yourself 

Seriously. Be yourself. Proudly be yourself and show your potential new team that you are a human being. No one wants to hire a rock with good coding skills. Note: if you know of, or if you are, a rock with good coding skills, please contact me as we are hiring. Embrace what makes you unique, your strengths and your weaknesses.

Own the message by connecting 'who you are' with 'how you will succeed in this role'. Some examples: you're desire to work alone allows you to go deep into complex problems, your interpersonal skills helps have helped those around you by creating a strong sense of teamwork, etc.

If you are a jerk, or there is something about yourself that you know to be truly bad in some way, my advise is to solve that problem and improve yourself. Your life will be better off for it. And, it will help you nail the on-site interview.

Be yourself so that they know you aren't a rock (with coding skills). Own the message of who you are so that you. Don't screw it up by pretending.

Have Confidence

If you doubt yourself, others will too, leading to no job for you. The hiring team needs to decide, with a limited amount of data, whether or not to offer you the job. Believing in yourself will help them believe in you. Don't give them a reason to doubt you by doubting yourself.

Again, the key is to own the message. Don't let them paint the picture for you. If you have successes in your past, use them to show that your past success will help you succeed in this role. Don't let them assume it, connect the dots for them. Believe in yourself. Others will too.

If you are lacking in some area for the role, be confident that you can succeed then prove to them why you will succeed. This will earn their trust and make them believe that you can really do it. Be up front with where you are weak but provide thoughts on how you will overcome this issue. If you haven't thought about this and you don't have a method to overcome your weakness, you are screwing up. This shows them that you can't solve your own problems. A candidate once said to me, "Currently, I don't know how to do this job. But, I believe I can overcome this by ... " We ended up hiring him because he owned the message, demonstrated his ability to learn new things, was passionate and addressed our concerns head on. He went on to become a super star and one of our best hires.

Believe in yourself and others will too.

Be honest 

Being caught in a lie will raise a red flag quicker than road runner can say, "Beep Beep!" You want to be genuine and come off as trustworthy. This sounds simple, but be honest throughout the interview. If you don't know an answer, simply say "I don't know". Even better, admit you don't know but follow it up with your thoughts on what the answer or solution could be and why. Doing that will show your integrity while also showing off your ability to think through problems.

A very direct and common interview question that tests honesty and trust are questions about your past mistakes or your current areas of improvement. This is them lobbing up a softball pitch for you to nail out of the park. Be honest! Admit to bringing down the site. Admit that you aren't the best speller. This will prove to them that you can openly discuss when things go wrong and that you aren't full of yourself. Going deeper, if you can demonstrate that you have learned from your previous mistakes and that you took action to improve things, you will show them the passion and drive you have to improve yourself and those around you.

Note: I'd like to point out that some things are better left unsaid. Discretion and situational awareness are key everywhere, but especially key during interviews. I sometimes have problems with this myself and I over share information (like how I answered one of my passions was girls). Make your own decisions up on what to say or not say. However, error on the side of honestly an openness. 

Be able to get stuff done

Be able to get stuff done. To do that, you need to have the required skill-sets, both technical and non-technical. Either you are an expert at something or you are on your way to becoming one. There is no other option in which you will get an offer. If you are an expert, awesome. The only way you can screw it up is if you are in a passionless death spiral to the land of irrelevance.If you aren't an expert (few of us are), or if you are a newbie, you should in learning mode. Most people have the opportunity to learn regardless of where they are in life. Seek out new assignments at work, use your free time, take a class or read a book. Don't solely focus on your primary skill-set (like coding). Soft skills are equaling important to be good at and to improve. Always be learning. Be able to articulate what you have learned recently.

Note, ability isn't having knowledge. Rather, its having the hard and soft skill-sets required to accomplish something. This is what makes or breaks a lot of interviews. Make sure you can, and have demonstrated in the past, the ability to accomplish things that are relevant to your new role. This is super important. I've seen countless college graduates come out of school without the ability to achieve something. Or, I've seen people with years of work experience require someone to hold their hand the entire way. But be like these people. Know how to get stuff done.

Let me share with you a story about a candidate who knew nothing, but could do anything. I once had a network engineer candidate bring a ridiculously large notebook to his on-site interview. This thing contained every bit of reference data a network engineer could ever possibly need. During the interview, for almost ever question, he referenced the notebook in order to answer the questions that could be solved directly with knowledge. We didn't know if he did this out of habit or necessity. Given this fact, the surprising thing to us was that he was great at applying the technical information he had in order to solve problems and delight customers. We discussed these traits, which at the surface seem contradictory, at great length in the debrief. The outcome was that we gave him a very strong offer, but he unfortunately turned it down to go work for Google. Goes to show, if you can get stuff done, that's all that matters.

Be able to demonstrate that you can 'get things done' given the knowledge that is available to you.

Have Common Sense

Don't be a jerk. Some people have common sense, others don't. I myself sometimes lack in this department from time to time.

Before, during and after an interview, be on your best behavior. Do the little things well. Be polite, on time, respectful and show gratitude. Research the company, the people, the product and the market. Show a sense of ownership for yourself and everything around you. Don't be a know-it-all, too aggressive or smelly. The sum of all these little, common sense things, can tip the decision one way or another.

I once saw someone show up 15 minutes late to both of his two on-site interviews. He didn't get the job. Another time, I saw how a candidate's simple followup email (which showed gratitude and passion) resulted in pushing A hiring manager's vote from no-hire to hire.

Do the little things well.

In summary

Don't screw it up.

Good luck,

PS, my company is hiring for lots of roles. Go check out our current openings at

PPS, yes, there were 6 tips. Cliche, I know.

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