In the last couple of years I have conducted a lot of interviews for application and database developers for my company, and I can tell you that the little things can mean a lot. Here are a few quick tips to help you make a good first impression.
A year ago I gave you my #1 interview tip: Do some basic research! And a year later, I am still stunned by how few technical people do the most basic of research. I can only guess that it is because it is so engrained in our psyche that technical competence is everything (see How to Manage Technical Employees for more on this idea) that we forget or ignore the importance of soft skills and the art of the interview. Or maybe it is because we have heard the stories of the uber-geek who has zero personal skills but still makes a fortune working for Microsoft. Well, here’s another quick tip: You’re probably not as good as he is; and a large number of companies actually run small to medium sized teams and can’t really afford to have the social outcast in the group. In a small team, everyone has to get along well, and that’s an important part of what I’m evaluating during the interview process.
My #2 tip is to act alive! I typically conduct screening interviews by phone before I bring someone in for an in-person. I don’t care how laid-back you are or if you have a “quiet personality”, when we are talking, ACT like you are happy I called and you are interested in getting the job. If you sound like you are bored-to-death and that you would be perfectly happy to never work again, I am perfectly happy to help you attain that goal, and I’ll move on to the next candidate.
And closely related to #2, perhaps we’ll call it #2.1 is this tip: When I call you on the phone for the interview, don’t answer your phone by just saying, “Hello”. You know that the odds are about 999-to-1 that it is me calling for the interview because we have specifically arranged this time slot for the call. And you can see on the caller ID that it is not one of your buddies calling, so identify yourself. Don’t make me question whether I dialed the right number. Answer your phone with a, “Hello, this is ___<your full name preferred, but at least your first name>___.”. And when I say, “Hi, <your name>, this is Mark from <my company>” it would be really nice to hear you say, “Hi, Mark, I have been expecting your call.” This sets the perfect tone for our conversation. I know I have the right person; you are professional enough and interested enough in the job or contract to remember your appointments; and now we can move on to a little intro segment and get on with the reason for our call.
As crazy as it sounds, I’ve actually had phone interviews that went like this:
Me: “Hi, this is Mark from _______”
Me: “Is this <your name>?”
Me: “I had this time in my calendar for us to talk…were you expecting my call?”
You: “Oh, yeah, sure…”
I used to be nice and would try to go ahead with the interview even after this bad start, thinking I was giving the candidate the benefit of the doubt…a second chance…but more often than not it was a struggle and 10 minutes into what was supposed to be a 45-minute call, I’m looking for a way to hang up without being rude myself. It never worked out. I never brought that person in for an in-person interview, much less offered them the job or contract. Who knows, maybe they were some sort of wunderkind that we missed out on. What I know is that they would never fit in with the rest of the team, and around here that is absolutely critical.
So, in conclusion… Act alive! Identify yourself! And do at least the very basic of research.