Monday, 27 October 2014

On doing research before your job interview

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On doing research before your job interview

Today's theme: doing research before your job interview.

My advice, as an industry insider, would be: you should, like, do it.

Let me put it another way. You know how it's bad to turn up at an interview drunk and do that trick where you waggle your finger through your trouser zip? Turning up having done no research is sort of like that.

Most of you will agree with me, but there are a few avant garde job-seekers (naming no names) who seem to have difficulty with the idea.

As recruitment agents, we can tell you about the company, we can send you a link to their website, we can urge you to research the company prior to your interview, and we can advise you on how to go about this. We can't, however, do the research ourselves, dress up as you and then attend the interview in your place.

We'd love to! But since the laws changed in 1986 we can't.

Now, we make a point of actually begging our candidates to do research - tears, hand-wringing, the whole shebang - and most of them do, but if you're one of the minority who prefer to prepare for your interview by doing nothing whatsoever, you might profit from the following 'behind the scenes' insight:

When candidates turn up at interviews with our clients having done no research, the only thing the clients ever say to us afterwards is, 'We're not interested in taking it further. They obviously hadn't done any research.'

They never say, 'Bob turned up completely unprepared, and didn't even know we were an online marketing agency. We've hired him - he's a maverick.' Any more than they say, 'The moment Bob put his finger through his fly and waggled it around while crashing drunkenly into our cardboard cutout of Bill Gates, we knew he was the one for us.'

Let's recap. When our client asks you what you know about the company, it's usually not enough to wipe your nose on your sleeve and say, 'Something to do with the internet?'

To those of you who refuse to heed my advice (and there are plenty of you out there): Instead of going to the trouble of attending job interviews, why not consider staying home and watching television in your underpants while eating Monster Munch?

To those of you who do your research: Take heart; your competition may not be as competitive as you fear.

Friday, 13 June 2014

interviews at high technology companies: the sickening truth

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interviews at high technology companies: the sickening truth


A transducer

The sickening truth about going for an interview with a high technology company is that the people who'll be interviewing you are almost always OBSESSED.

They are the kind of cultish, moon-eyed crazies who like to talk about work - outside work.

'Seriously, Ron, we can talk about soccer or politics or Big Brother or falconry or anything. We're in the pub now. You don't have to talk shop all the time with that... look in your eyes.'

Wash your mouth out. Ron wants to talk about technology. He wants to demonstrate laser ablation techniques using his Cheese Moments to signify print-head nozzles. Ron really cares about this stuff.

If you're going for a job interview at a high-technology company, you need to realise that you'll be interviewed by someone who thinks his/her company's technology is the dog's knees. There are really only three things you should do when talking to such a person. The first two are obvious.

1. Ask loads of questions about the technology. Inquire ESPECIALLY about what makes it unique, and how this uniqueness determines what the company requires from its staff.
2. Show - giving concrete examples - how your practical experience dovetails with these specific requirements.

The third thing is the most neglected. It's neglected because most people think that the purpose of an interview is to show how your background fits the company's needs. But to the extent that the company and its products are unique, you WON'T fit completely. And that's not necessarily a bad thing.

There will be areas where your background doesn't fit - and in these areas, the company is in a position to meet your requirements in a way that your previous employers never have. What you need to do is show that you're the person who'll make the most of such opportunities.
With that in mind:

3. Show that you're able, and super-enthusiastic, to exploit the unique career opportunities that this role would offer YOU.

So - if there's a part of your background / skill-set that doesn't match the job spec, worry not. This is your opportunity to tell the interviewer: 'That's an area I'm dying to move into, but my current role doesn't offer me the scope to do so.'

Don't have all the technical skills for a role? As long as they're not essentials ("I don't actually have any brain surgery training as such") you don't have to blag - just show that one of the attractions of this role is that it will require you to learn the required skills. In other words, if you don't meet the requirements of the role, show how the role meets your requirements.

Been working on different technologies, but still feel you have transferrable skills? Say - 'I want to work with a technology I'm really excited about, Ron.'

Of course, you have to actually mean what you say. If you don't, you probably shouldn't be going for that particular job. 

Otherwise, remember the three steps: give Ron generous scope to vent his enthusiasm, show how your experience enables you to fit his company's needs, and show how the uniqueness of his company meets yours. And in all things, friends, be enthusiastic. Because Ron is enthusiastic.

Also, keep your hands off his bar snacks.

Friday, 21 March 2014

asking questions (dammit) part two

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asking questions (dammit) part two


You are expected
to ask questions at job interviews. It's the law. To neglect asking questions is one of the cardinal sins of job interviews - I'd place it somewhere between turning up late and sneezing into your hand then wiping it on the chair. Not asking questions can count against you, resulting in a failed interview, or even, in some cases, death by impalement*.

A good question shows you're interested in the job and the company. It also uses up time that your interviewer might otherwise spend asking you difficult questions about your lack of semiconductor knowledge or your unsuccessful attempt to join the Foreign Legion in 1998. Asking questions gives you time to sit back and listen to someone else talk while you eat your digestive biscuit. Simply, questions WORK.

The question is: what counts as a good question?
Good question.

A good question is one that a) shows you've done your research or b) shows you've been listening.
Conversely, a question is bad if it reveals that you haven't done your research, or if it shows you haven't been listening.

In other words, don't ask questions about stuff you should have googled prior to turning up at the interview. Ask questions that require the interviewer to go deeper into things you've already researched, or into things s/he has already said.
Good: 'I noticed that your product has over one million conical nozzles. What kind of machining techniques do you use to make these?'
Bad: 'So, what do you make around here, anyway? Is it... light bulbs? No - wait - cat flaps?'

Next: more about questions.

* rare, admittedly

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

ask damn questions, dammit

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 ask damn questions, dammit

Many* of my Readers enjoy sending me constructive criticism and requests - and you know what?

I listen.

I listen because it's the fans who make this all worthwhile. That's why I always take care to read every reader's email, no matter how inane, and send a personalised reply, then track them down and leap out at them. They deserve nothing less.

Now, many* of my Readers ask me, 'Nick, could you occasionally write bite-sized job-seeking and interview tips that can be consumed without my having to plough through all the usual tedious padding?'
Well, today, I thought I'd give the readers what they're begging for, so I can get this over with and resume eating a toasted sandwich.
Here's my top interview tip for the day. Some readers may have noticed that I gave this same advice in my last post.

Tip: Ask questions, damn it!

No, not about how much holiday you get. Ask about the technology that the company produces (if relevant). Ask what makes the company unique. Ask what interests them about your background. Ask what are the strongest and weakest links on their production chain. Ask about the company culture and how it differs from that of your current or last company. Ask ask ask.
Next post: some stuff about asking questions that I couldn't fit into this post because of some readers' unreasonable demands.

* Many? I meant 'none'.

Friday, 3 January 2014

a spuddy good new year

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a spuddy good new year

Walter Raleigh
Being a so-so computer hacker, I've managed to track down most of my readers and wish them happy new year in person, either by jumping out at them on their way to work or just showing up at their kitchen window dressed in a cape. But to those of you who are sans my new year's well-wishes: happy new year! Hope your January is everything you wished it would be, within the boundaries of decency.
Business seems to be picking up, which is good. Companies are hiring, which is good news for those folks whose public sector jobs are being flushed so liberally down the toilet by a government that still hasn't developed the backbone to stop the bank bosses from using our bailout money to pay themselves ridiculous amounts of money.
Anyway, no matter how horrible your shifting circumstances, there's one constant in this world: the cutting-edge content of this blog. You can look forward to another year of employment insights, career tips and just good old fashioned typing, with red hot editorials comin' atcha as often as once in four months. 
Speaking of which, I brought semi-homemade chilli to work today, and some butter in a tupperware pot, but I forgot my potato, if you can believe that. So I asked the Boss, who was going down to the market at lunch (this would be around 12.48), to pick me up a potato. She came back with four pounds of potatoes, all earthy, some of them huge. I selected a potato the size of my head, then went to the toilets to scrub it under the tap. Afterwards my hands were wet, as was the potato, so I dried them under the hand-dryer, and somebody walked into the toilets. Now, if I walked into the toilets and saw someone holding a potato under a hand-dryer, I genuinely believe I would quickly reach a cogent rationalisation, rather than, say, look at the person as though I'd caught him smelling my hair on a bus. But this guy just went white, turned around and walked off really quickly. I mean, come on.
Stay tuned, reader - 2014 is gonna be one crazy ride!