A Little Interview Advice

People have been asking me this question recently:

I can answer all the technical questions in an interview, but how do I market myself?

If you too have this question, then first of all, I’d like to commend you for realizing that marketing yourself is an important part of the interview. Secondly, I am clearly no expert on the topic, but I would like to share some of my the techniques that got me through my job hunting times

One thing you should realize is that interviews are not simply tests. They are not just about giving correct answers to the questions asked. What they are about is making an impression. This is because the truth of the matter is that, at the end of the day, we’re all humans. So simply put, interviewers hire candidates they like. Yes one way to make them like you is to give correct answers to their technical questions, but that is not the only way. Neither is that a guarantee that they will like you. Sometimes it takes more than that, depending on the competition. What you need to do is show them how you are different from other candidates. What do you have that the others don’t?

The process of making an impression starts long before the actual interview. It begins with introspection. Before you can show someone else how special you are, you need to figure out what makes you special? This can be anything at all, ranging from your prowess at a certain technology, your experience dealing with clients, your knowledge of a certain domain (technological or otherwise), to even something as simple as being a good team player. You need to realize your specialty.

The next step, after identifying your Unique Selling Proposition is to project it. Once you realize what message it is that you want to convey to your potential employers, it’s time to figure out how will you get the message across. The first thing you can do in this regard is to craft your CV around this message. This doesn’t mean to spam your CV with the words “I am a team player”. What it does mean is to state your message (or subtly hint to it) and then every other item you add to it, should reinforce that message. For example, if you say you like working on complex problems, then you reinforce that by mentioning what complex problems you have worked on before. If you say you like working with clients, you show how you have done so in the past, and what was achieved as a result of that interaction.

Before the interview itself, you need to make a list of things you want the
interviewer to know about you
. These will be your Silver Bullets. Then during the interview, you should be on the look out for opportunities to shoot these. As I said before, interviews aren’t tests, they are more like Ballroom Dancing. So you don’t necessarily have to resign to your partner’s control, you take charge and lead the dance in any direction you like. One of the best times to do this (and to shoot your bullets) is when they start off with the question, “Tell us about yourself”. This is the time to take out that gun and shoot as many bullets as you can. Then one of two things would happen. Either they will think “Impressive! Let’s see how good he is technically…” and switch to technical questions; or they will show interest in what you have to say and probe you for information, thus following your lead and letting you swing the interview in any direction you want. This, again, is a perfect opportunity. This is the time to tell them in detail exactly how you took the leadership of a group and made a difference; or what sort of challenges you faced with a client and how you dealt with them; or what fascinatingly complex projects you have worked on. Keep the discussion revolving around things you want to talk about. Things you want them to think about you, to know about you. Things you are very comfortable in talking about.

Most probably, your interviewer will still skid towards that list of technical questions he’s been asking all the other candidates. But, the difference here is that now he already has a good impression of you in his mind, and it will most definitely affect his perception of your answers in the technical round. If an interviewer doesn’t like you, he will probe questions that he knows you have trouble with, trying to assert that his earlier impression was right and that you really are unfit for the job. If he does like you, he will naturally try to assert that you are good for the job and would assume you know the answer even when you demonstrate very fundamental knowledge of it. He usually wouldn’t even mind when you say that you don’t have much experience with a certain domain, and would thus skip that section and ask other questions that you do claim knowledge of.

So in conclusion, your interview should be about making an impression, and for this you need to first realize what exactly is the impression that you want to make? Once you realize that, it’s all about reinforcing that impression in as many ways as you can. I hope this advice works out for you, as well as it worked out for me.

Thank you for your time.

 
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