None of this would have applied to me this time last year. I hadn’t had a traditional day job in ten years and I wasn’t in the market for one. Imagine my surprise when I found myself interviewing just a few months later.
Moral: Don’t be discouraged or disinterested, because your dream job may suddenly pop up out of nowhere, too.
I was not a person who intuitively understood how to behave at job interviews. At my first interview for my first office job, age 18, the hiring manager asked me if I was open to feedback. I said yes, of course, and she told me it would be better for me to wear tops with sleeves, that bare shoulders were not standard interview attire.
Oh! Thanks for telling me. Next time I won’t wear a tank top to my interview.
(I got the job, though).
A year or so later, I interviewed for a different job. The hiring manager asked me what my biggest flaw was, and I told her, “Probably punctuality.”
I did not get that job.
You’d think they’d go for transparency and insight? But no.
Now I’m in a position where interviews are something of a cattle call. Because we’re all mandatory WFH, most of us are generally available to tune in. Candidates do a presentation - sort of an audition for scientists - and everyone has the opportunity to ask questions. I’ve seen a lot of these lately, and I have some things to share.
First of all: We are constantly hiring, and so are all the other engineering firms in our industry. Don’t assume that There Are No Jobs because there definitely are - and you only need one of them. Keep applying!
Everything after that has to do with applying and interviewing. I wouldn’t have known any of this even a few months ago, so pay close attention. You can stand out if you do better in even one of these areas.
Don’t worry. Nobody is comfortable in an interview, and nobody is really familiar with video conferencing yet. We expect there to be issues with your audio, connectivity, etc. It’s totally okay.
That being said, there are a lot of unexpected things that can be really distracting. If you can avoid them, it will help you to look more polished.
Chipmunk eating an apple. That’s what I was visualizing. I checked everyone else’s profiles, and there were no open mics. It had to be the candidate. But what was causing that noise? The only thing I could come up with was that his microphone was on his headphone cord, and it was rubbing on his shirt. I think he had it tucked inside his shirt for aesthetics? Unfortunately, over the course of an hour this squeaking, crunching noise kept continuously interfering with his voice. It sounded like someone crumpling up paper balls every few seconds. I am 100% positive he had no idea and couldn’t hear it on his end.
The simple answer for this is to ask literally any person to do a test call with you and tell you what they hear.
Lighting. We had a candidate who was sitting next to a sliding glass door with vertical blinds. They were angled in such a way that they would shift slightly. Whenever that happened, a bright beam of light would hit the camera. It did really strange things with the lighting on the viewers’ end. Again, that has nothing to do with whether the candidate will be good at the job; it’s just distracting.
There are a few fixes for this. One would be to angle the blinds the opposite way. Another would be to set up a workstation somewhere else, maybe in a different room.
I sit next to a sliding glass door - the only place in our dinky apartment that really works - and as a result I am in dark silhouette at all hours of the day. I bought a ring light to put on my laptop, and that helped a lot, but it wasn’t really bright enough. Next I bought a flat panel natural daylight lamp that looks like an iPad, with a picture frame-type bracket on the back so it stands up by itself. It was about $35. Problem solved! Now instead of looking like I’m in a witness protection program, I have the best lighting on our team.
Clothes and haircuts. In our industry, as far as I can tell the aesthetics have zero effect. I saw a professional presentation by a young guy whose haircut made him look like he escaped from Azkaban. Everyone loved it. (The presentation, that is; I doubt they even registered his coiffure).
Slide decks. The slide deck is not make-or-break; most firms have a template and they’ll just give you that to use. If your slides are boring it’s probably okay, as long as your work is sound. If your slides are great, however, it will be noticed and discussed.
In technical fields, if you even got the interview, it means they liked your resume and they’re probably willing to make an offer. What we’re looking for are a couple of obvious tells. 1. Is this person BSing? You’d be surprised how many people try to fake their way into technical positions, a profoundly unwise decision that never ends well. 2. Is this person hoping to leverage this offer in order to get a higher offer from a competitor? If you live in a different geographical area, nobody believes you are really willing to relocate unless you emphasize that you really, really want to. Enthusiasm sets you apart.
The last thing I will say is that few people in technology fields are truly terrific presenters. They don’t like it, so they avoid it. I know what that’s like because I had an intense phobia about public speaking. After four years battling it, I became a Distinguished Toastmaster. It has been a huge help, probably got me my current job, and continues to be mentioned. If you have a video interview coming up, find your local Toastmasters and ask to drop in on a meeting.
Best of luck to you! Except you won’t need it, because you took notes and did those few little extra steps that are going to set you apart.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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