So you've decided to put yourself out there on the market. You've found some openings that appeal to you. You've dusted off your resume and emailed it around. Now you receive the good news and the bad news: They want to set up an interview. The good news is you made the cut. The bad news is now you've got to get your act together.
Interviewing for a job, especially when you think there's a good chance you might really want it, ranks up there with some of the most stressful things in life - having surgery or meeting in-laws, for example. There you are, vulnerable, voluntarily presenting yourself to be inspected, dissected, probed, and judged.
But look on the bright side. There are plenty of good tips and tricks to get you through the unique hell of interviewing. Plus at the very worst (you embarrass yourself horribly and don't get the job), it's still good practice.
One way to help stack the cards in your favor is to walk in the door at Acme Inc. with confidence. You can start building your sense of self-worth by remembering that it's a bull market for job seekers in the Internet industry right now. With demand for employees at a record high, you should be able to pick and choose your next job if you're at all sharp.
That said, be choosy. Only agree to interview with companies that actually appeal to you in some way. Maybe it's their products, maybe it's the people, maybe you've heard they pay wads, or maybe it's pure fantasy (you've always wanted to work there). Or maybe you're looking to find out what you are worth on the market so you can renegotiate your current job. But one way or another, it's a good idea to limit your interviews to only those places that have something to offer. Otherwise, why bother? If you aren't psyched, everyone will know it.
Another good way to cut down on the stress of interviewing is to remember that you are interviewing the company as much as it is interviewing you. Everyone wants a good fit. And a smart employer will be impressed with a thorough and inquisitive applicant. So before you walk in the door at Acme Inc., take a little time to prepare yourself. Already you've done some preliminary research to help you tailor that cover letter and résumé that got you the interview in the first place. But now it's time to dig a little deeper.
Know the company. Surf its Web site. Learn a little company history. How did it get started? What is it known for? Get on a first-name basis with its flagship products and target markets. Search for news bytes at sites like News.com and AdAge or just start with a Web search. Ask friends and former colleagues about it. And if you want to look really slick, don't forget to check out the competition. This info will not only make you look like you've got some brains, it will help you determine what kinds of questions to ask.
The bottom line is follow that good old-fashioned, Boy Scout maxim and be prepared. If you've done your homework and covered all the bases, there will be much less of a chance that you'll be taken off guard and left wracking your brain in the middle of an interview, trying to think of something, anything, to say that won't make you sound like a chump.
Traditionally, it's the interviewer who asks the questions. But this is the '90s, my friend. It's in your best interest to make an informed decision about where your next job will be. Take some time to think about creative and strategic questions that will get potential employers to express things that will help you decide if their companies are really a good match for you.
Here are some good things to know about a company: What are the company's top priorities? Going public? Creating a new niche in the market? Launching a new and totally revolutionary product? Are there existing goals, deadlines, launch dates, commitments, or partnerships that will have major effects on the company's direction or a big impact on your potential position? What are the short-term and long-term growth plans? What are the corporate communication systems like? Are there regular staff meetings? Newsletters? Frenzied last-minute email flurries? What are the management's team-building strategies?
Then there's the more personal stuff. Important details about work-style and personality come out when you ask questions like: What is the best/most fulfilling/exciting thing about working at Acme Inc.? What is the most challenging thing? What gets you personally pumpedabout working on the Web? What inspires you? What makes you crazy? Questions like these help you get a sense of the personalities you're dealing with. And it's a good place to gauge the humor quotient and see if it fits with your own.
Thinking things through in advance and arming yourself with cold, hard facts as well as smart questions will only make life easier when you're in the chair and under fire. But to make sure you're absolutely prepared, there are a few more things you should consider before you dust off your interview duds.
Once you set the big date, there are some basic no-brainers that are always good to revisit before I-Day:
Be prepared. I can't say it enough. Know enough about the company to be able to talk about it with confidence. If you've done all your homework, this will be a piece of cake.
Practice. There are plenty of standard interview questions for you to choose from. For example: Why should we hire you? What makes you different from everyone else, and how can that difference be seen as an asset to our company? What excites you about Acme Inc.? Then there are the situational inquiries: Describe a situation where you had to collaborate with a group of people on a project. And there are personal questions: What is the most difficult thing you've done in your life? What is the highest compliment you've ever received? And don't forget about the sneaky queries: How would you go about figuring out how many gas stations there are in the United States? (This question is designed to show your approach to problem solving.) Why are manhole covers round?
Practice answering questions like these with a friend, in front of the mirror, with your dog. You don't have to memorize your answers (because really, who knows what they'll ask you), but if you take a minute or two to practice coming up with answers to such thorny questions, you can bolster your confidence and get yourself thinking like an interviewee.
On the big day, don't schedule yourself too tightly. Give yourself time to decompress between meetings. In fact, give yourself extra time to get where you're going. Arrive 15 minutes early so you have a chance to collect your thoughts and catch your breath beforehand.
Don't go for a new look, haircut, or style to impress a potential employer. Just be yourself and feel comfortable.
Dress for the job. What do people wear around the office at Acme Inc.? Find out beforehand and come to your interview dressed one level nicer than you'd dress everyday on the job.
Don't drink coffee right before an interview. Jitters are distracting, and having to pee during an interview doesn't exactly improve your concentration.
Bring extra copies of your résumé just in case. You may have emailed your ASCII résumé with URLs included, but there's still no substitute for a tidy, old-school paper résumé. Not only does it demonstrate that you're someone who's on top of things, but the interviewer might appreciate having something concrete in hand as she conducts the interview. Similarly, have references ready on demand.
Get psyched. Enthusiasm is important and will make the interview easier on everyone.
Be professional. Sure this is the wacky Web industry, not investment banking, but there's no room in an interview for being flaky. Don't slouch or chomp gum, don't wear ripped jeans or dirty Tevas. Make Mom and Pop proud.
Be positive. Potential employers like to ask that dreaded question: What are your strengths and weaknesses? Be honest (hey, nobody's perfect), but please don't dwell on your shortcomings. Remember, this isn't therapy. Nothing turns an interviewer off quite like asking a job candidate what her weaknesses are and then getting a monologue about the candidate's authority issues or control issues or issues with issues. Don't spill your guts. Rather, focus on your strengths and how you've effectively managed challenges and be balanced. Remember: An interview is definitely an occasion to strut your stuff (but don't go too overboard).
Don't criticize former employers, colleagues, or co-workers. It only makes you look bad. Really bad. And it will make a potential employer start to wonder what you'll say about Acme Inc. once you're gone.
Send an email the same day as the interview saying thanks for the meeting. Then give the potential employer a week of slack time before following up with ano ther email or a phone call to check your status.
And finally, there's one more thing you should always keep in mind: No job is perfect. There's a downside to everything. Don't fixate on one gig as the answer to all your hopes and dreams. If this one doesn't work out, there will be others. Don't get discouraged. At the very worst, you'll get some practice presenting and promoting yourself. On the other hand, at the very best, you just might end up with a job you like and a nice little package of those zany Internet stocks everyone is talking about.
© 1999 Wired Digital Inc.