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Jonathan Irvin
Jonathan Irvin

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What I've Learned By Interviewing

My career started in retail. No, I wasn't any fancy executive. I'm talking about the, now, Office Max that's down the street. Over the course of my career, I've gone on several interviews. Some good, some bad. Some were a downright waste of time. Here is what I've learned.

Stop.

Before you continue reading, the absolute MOST IMPORTANT THING TO REMEMBER is that it's just a conversation. You could be interviewing with just one person or several (also known as a panel interview). DON'T PANIC. You're just going to the Company and TALKING about YOU and how AWESOME YOU ARE.

Be Prepared

Duh, right? You've probably heard that one a million times. Let me break it down.

Clothes

Depends on the job. I hate to say that, but it's true. A good rule of thumb here is to dress a little nicer than the interviewer, but not so much that you'd make them uncomfortable.

Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.

Research the position and company.

Read over the job posting again. It's a good idea to take a close look at the tasks that you would be performing for the job. Google the company and take a look at their website. Read their mission statement. Are they a publicly traded company? How did they do last quarter?

Skies the limit. Yes, you can be overprepared, but having those talking points in mind really set you apart from other candidates.

Research the interviewer

Sometimes you don't always get to know who you are interviewing with, but good recruiters will provide this information. Look up the person on LinkedIn and make the connection. Check out their career path. It really tells a lot about a person.

Pull up the office location on Google Maps

Where is the office located at? How long will it take to get there?

How long will it take to get there with traffic?

Have you been here before? It's a good idea to be at an interview 10-15 minutes early. No, that doesn't mean in the parking lot sprinting to make it to the elevators. That means in the waiting room or the front of the building at your resting heart rate (remember deep breaths).

So, how do we get here? Say you pull up the location and it says 30 minutes by car. That's assuming you're in your car and you immediately start driving. So, to get to that point, you have to be fully-dressed (I hope), have eaten food, and ready to drive. Traffic can fluctuate anywhere from adding 15 minutes to a half-hour to your drive. Remember, we want to arrive early, so if it takes 45 minutes (at most) to arrive, you need to leave an hour early.

Give yourself time to get ready, get in your car, drive, park, walk to where the interview happens (you will probably have to find it), and check in.

If the traffic wanes by that time, that's just bonus time for you to read over your resume. That brings me to my next point.

We're in a digital age, but still bring copies of your resume

You may have uploaded a copy of your resume during your application process. I still like to get my resume printed on nice paper (I define that as textured and fabric paper) and bring it in during an interview. The interviewer may have copies already on the table, but if not, it's a total power move to bring copies you can hand out like playing cards. What does this accomplish? For one, it shows you're prepared. Two, it shows you're serious about this job and you're not going to waste the interviewer's time.

Know your resume

You may have updated it recently, but you should be prepared to speak to everything on your resume. Lucky you, you have a copy of it right in front of you that you can glance at if needed.


The Interview

Here's the basics. The TL;DR.

  1. Shake hands firmly.
  2. Eye contact.
  3. Smile.
  4. Speak audibly and clearly.
  5. Sit up straight.

Those are the absolute basics. Here's my elaboration.

Opening statement

This one takes a little practice. I call it that because I compare it to an opening statement in a courtroom. This is your opportunity to set the tone for the interview, put the interviewer at ease, and set a bomb first impression.

Usually, I reserve this for one of the most asked and earliest questions in an interview: "So, tell me about yourself?"

Well, I'm an Air Force veteran. Shortly afterward, I had to adjust from military to civilian life and to help fill that void from all of the structure absent from my life and I used programming as a means to fill that. I attended college a little later than most, but I started as a self-taught programmer and later honed that skill in college when I learned application development with Java. I then began my career as a full-time programmer at a large company and applied enterprise-level best practices to help my teams deliver daily. Now, I'm here looking to expand my scope of knowledge and help you accomplish your mission by utilizing my skillsets in the best possible way.

That's just an example, but it's important to make it about you. Talk about your years of experience, the things you've learned along the way, the wins, the challenges and how you overcame them. This is your first shot to really put your interviewer back in their seat. Make it count.

STAR answers

Maybe you've heard of this and maybe not. It's fairly straightforward. Star stands for:

  • Situation
  • Task
  • Action
  • Result

This is a framework for your answers to interview questions. Actually, we're mostly programmers. Let's call it an algorithm.

So, we're going to use an example question here: "Are you familiar with the source code management software called Git?"

Sure, you could just say yes, but here's the STAR response explained.

Situation

Set the scene. This is the situation in which your answer occurs.

I have a Security+ certificate and we were audited by the security team that there were passwords exposed in plaintext and committed into our repo.

You could continute elaborate on how this is a bad idea.

Task

This is the task at hand. This is what needed to be done.

In order to sanitize the repo, I needed to retroactively remove the passwords from the repo, organize a plan with the team that the old version would be decommissioned, write documentation on how this would all be implemented, communicate with my manager my plan, and then also use this as an opportunity to migrate our team away from BitBucket and towards GitHub.

Sounds impossible, right?

Action

This is what you did. The execution.

It felt like surgery, but I found a tool that handled this quickly and efficiently. I removed the passwords from our repository and wrote a class to encrypt them going forward. I used this time to do a little house cleaning and brush up the team on some best practices and workflow.

Result

ALWAYS a happy ending. End with a bang!

As a result, our repo was much more secure than it was, we were able to utilize a better workflow that gave our team more structure, and we were able to deliver much faster.


Final Thought

Interviews are a marathon, not a sprint. You want to be respectful of the interviewers time, so make sure you can practice your answers and make sure they are clear and rehearsed. The more um's and uh's you have the more your credibility starts to fade. Go in with confidence. You got this. You're going to get that job. Nail that interview. You are a unicorn.

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