Surviving an interview with me

I’ve been meaning to post this for a while, but it’s only now that I’ve finally decided to do it. So you’ve applied for a job and you see that I’m on the list of people interviewing you. You’re already a little nervous because, let’s face it, interviews are uncomfortable no matter what. I’m not a tough interviewer, but there are some things you really need to do when in a room with me to make sure I don’t write you off.

  • Answer the question. When I ask you a question, make sure you answer it. I’ve sat in too many interviews where I ask questions and the candidate talks around the topic but never actually answers the question. I know you’re nervous, and some blabbering is expected, but seriously, come back to the point. It’s not an opportunity for you to share a cute anecdote about your cat, I actually do want the answer. If you’re not sure what I’m asking for, ask me to clarify, I have no problem repeating questions or trying to ask them in a different way.
  • Tell me what you don’t know. If I ask you something that’s out of your realm of knowledge, say so. I don’t expect you to be an encyclopedia. Once I know that you don’t know how to answer, I can more fairly evaluate you. You won’t get to avoid the question, but I’ll give you hints to see if your problem-solving skills can take you the rest of the way.
  • Don’t give up. When in an interview with me, never give up. If you’re following my rules so far, you got a question you didn’t know how to answer and you told me so. But now, don’t give up! I’m giving you hints to get the correct answer; don’t stop me every step and say, “I really don’t know.” In our profession, you’ll be met with challenges that you don’t have an immediate solution for, will you give up then? I need to know you’re able to work through a problem and don’t get so frustrated that you just throw in the towel.
  • Don’t assume trick questions. Certain companies have created a culture of fear around interviews where they ask you off-the-wall riddles and trick questions. I don’t subscribe to that way of interviewing. All of my questions have answers, most of them have many different correct answers, and I promise that I will never ask you a trick question. It demeans you and it’s useless to me. Assume each question I ask has at least one correct answer.
  • Back up your statements. If you say something hinting at a solution or some knowledge you have, be prepared to discuss it. If I ask you a question and you say something like, “well, since IE doesn’t support CSS3…”, then you better be prepared to tell me what you’d do if IE did support CSS3.
  • Don’t say you’re an expert. This probably goes for most interviews, but especially with me. I never ask you to rank your skills on a scale of 1 to 10, so don’t offer that information to me. As soon as you put yourself into the “expert” category, I’m going to start you off with tougher questions. I’ve yet to meet someone who introduced themselves as an expert who actually was. Experts don’t need to tell you that they’re experts, they show you.
  • Don’t try to impress me. If I want to know something, I’ll ask. I know the information I need to get while in the interview, and any time I hear someone say, “want to see a neat trick?” or something of the same flavor, I start to tune out. Just answer what I ask as best you can.
  • Be enthusiastic. If you’re applying for a job working with me, make sure I want to work with you. The best way to do that is to be enthusiastic; show a willingness and eagerness to learn. Be able to talk about the product, the company, why this is the job you want. And pay close attention on that last one, I don’t want to hear about all the reasons your current job sucks. It’s certainly okay to explain the opportunities that you haven’t received in your current or past position, but present it as how you’re looking forward to growing and why this is the best place for you to do that.

Really, I do hope that anyone interviewing with me in the future will read this. I want you to do well when I interview you, I really, really do. Just avoid these common pitfalls and be yourself. Who knows, maybe we’ll end up working together sometime soon.

P.S. The My Yahoo! team is hiring. If you’re a talented software engineer with a passion for innovation and for Yahoo! in general, contact me and let’s talk.

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