Confidence and Poise in Job Interviews

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Sheikh al-Majaneen
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Confidence and Poise in Job Interviews

Postby Sheikh al-Majaneen » Sat Feb 07, 2015 10:56 pm UTC

Backstory/motivation for this thread:

So, I had a job interview yesterday. The company flew me up to their headquarters, paid for my hotel room, the car rental, everything (except dinner the night before, but that might have been me misunderstanding). You'd think (as my friends and family all think) that, from the > $1000 they spent to get me there, that I'd have been confident going in that I was going to have a job soon, and that I would be confident now that I got it, perhaps even in spite of the awkwardness and nervousness I am sure I projected. Unfortunately, in spite of my planning (which could have been better, but a couple days' work is much better than none at all), I was very much feeling unprepared--to the point where all my forethought and preparation was rendered almost entirely inaccessible--all the research into the company, forgotten in those moments; to all the introspection from considering expected and typical behavioural questions, the same fate.

Additionally, this was my first real job interview.

I'll know within the next two weeks if I got the job, but for the time being I am working under the assumption that I gave them the impression I was not a good fit. It could still work out, of course.

So, I have a question in regards to behavioural interviews, especially for CS jobs, especially from those of you who have managed to overcome the whole awkwardness thing--how did you do it? How did you prepare for your interviews? How did you suppress it in the interview and hold yourself together?

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Re: Confidence and Poise in Job Interviews

Postby PAstrychef » Sun Feb 08, 2015 4:25 am UTC

This can hit even when your interview is just a subway ride away, and the company won't comp your fare. Experience, both on the job and at interviews is what helps the most. You can ask some friends, or people in your filed in your area, if you can do practice interviews.
In your current situation, you could send an email showing your research and ideas, thanking the people who interviewed you for their time and interest. Do they know this would be your first serious job? Most employers will take nerves into account with folks just getting started.
Good luck!
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Re: Confidence and Poise in Job Interviews

Postby Fractal_Tangent » Sun Feb 08, 2015 12:43 pm UTC

Send a thank you email. This has been drilled into my head. Try and add something extra like 'thank you for having me for the interview, I really appreciate it. I look forward to working with your company because X [where X is a specific reason for the company related a little to the research you did that didn't get out]' Even if you don't get the job, you still come out of this looking alright, you leave a bit of a better impression.
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Sheikh al-Majaneen
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Re: Confidence and Poise in Job Interviews

Postby Sheikh al-Majaneen » Sun Feb 08, 2015 6:14 pm UTC

Thank you for your responses.

Writing thank you emails will be difficult, as they only ever gave us their first names, as far as I can recall. I'll look for them on LinkedIn though, hopefully something will come out of that.

I told one or two of my interviewers that it was my first professional interview, so, assuming that they have/will compare notes, they will hopefully take this into account. All of us being interviewed were recent college graduates (the company likes hiring people straight out of college), though, so this wouldn't come as a surprise to them.

Practice interviews are good ideas, too. We covered that in one of my interviews...don't ask. That one was surreal, for both of us.

I've decided to write a lot more (serious text, as opposed to one-liner type comments), both publicly (like, posting on this forum) and privately (keeping a journal), starting a blog, and to publish my code on GitHub rather than leaving it hiding in my Documents folders (and write more code, too). Historically I've been a lurker far more than a...'content producer', and this probably has a serious effect on my confidence, both as cause and effect.

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Re: Confidence and Poise in Job Interviews

Postby Azrael » Sun Feb 08, 2015 10:15 pm UTC

I'm in mechanical engineering for large capital equipment -- while we have lots of software engineers, we're not a "software company". So apply this advice as you can, because the cultural differences between companies doing full product development and strictly software firms can be significant. That being said, I've interviewed at different firms around a dozen times (many for practice, more on that later) and I interview people a lot. Between phone screens, first and second rounds, I've probably interviewed 50 people in the last three years, and a majority of those were for +/- entry level engineers and interns [/bona fides]. First things first, I've found a simple observation to be really useful:

Job interviews have only two purposes:
1) Can you do the job?
2) Can we stand working with you while you do the job?

If someone is flying you around the country, I'd say the company was pretty sure about #1. Take that to heart -- you're probably really good, skills wise. The second one is harder, especially since you may not fit at a particular company, ever. That's ok, and don't take it personally. Other than embracing the purposes of the interview, my advice is pretty simple:

Interviewing is a skill: A distinct skill, separate from the one you will practice at the job. That's sorta unfortunate, but it's going to be true the vast majority of the time. In essence, it's the skill to prove that the answer to #1 & #2 above is "YES!" in as short a period of time as possible. So really, it's not that far different. The only way I know to build a skill is to prepare, and practice. I can't help you with practice*, but I can with preparation:

a) Come with topics: The best way to prepare is to know what you want to talk about. What you want to tell them. Lots of career counseling will tell you to know the employer, and be able to ask questions in order to sound like you know what you're talking about, but I think that's overdone. People are going to ask what you've done -- there's no magic, few tricks and no reason to get worked up about what they might hypothetically ask. They're going to ask what you've done and you're going to need good answers. This is the ultimate 'know thy self', but waaaay easier because of course you know your projects, right? Nope. Probably not. Figure out the larger context and take the time to be retrospective about them.The thing you want to prepare is what your projects were, what skills they built, what you learned and what you'd do differently next time. The ultimate? Know the "so what, who cares?" about what you've done -- be able to explain the relevance. Explain why it was an accomplishment, rather than just filler on your resume.

And if you're getting completely steam rolled, take advantage of the inevitable "do you have any questions" prompt -- skip the "I googled your company" style question and ask them how [insert topic, skill or project you want to talk about] could apply to the job.

b) Be comfortable: I know, easier said that done. But I'm talking strictly physical comfort here.

Tangent for those who might feel inclined or obligated to wear a suit & tie:
Spoiler:
So many people come to an interview in a suit they've never worn, that doesn't fit and who clearly took six tries to tie their tie before they gave up. That will fuck you over mentally from the get go. Fixing this one takes work, and social work. Uncomfortable work. But it's worth it: Wear your suit somewhere, frequently. Practice with your tie until you can do it with your eyes closed. Playing dress up might be a useful skill at some point in your life, so toss a few points at it. Otherwise, skip the suit entirely.
Try to learn the corporate culture and come dressed one step above your coworkers, or on par with the hiring managers. Ask the HR contact what the dress code is and really try to get them to tell you the specifics. If everyone you talk to is going to be in jeans, don't show up dressed for business formal unless you're already really comfortable in those clothes. You can break this weird ritual of coming dressed to the nines, it'll be alright. Just don't take this to mean shitty t-shirt, jeans and flip flops. Learn your audience.

There are little things here too. Shave (or don't) like you normally would. Wear your hair the way you normally do. Unless you're really a pro at putting on the ritz, just don't do it. It'll distract you all day long.

Oh, and don't be shy with HR: Ask for a list of who you'll be speaking with prior to arrival. Failing that, after you leave. You can also ask the people you speak with for business cards. If they don't have one on them, they'll probably just give you their email address. It's a common enough practice.

a) Know the basics: Someone may give you a technical interview. This is my job in the process, for what it's worth. Unlike everyone else, I don't care about your projects. I only want to know if you can apply the very basics, and do it creatively, on cue. 'Cause that's what development is. I spend anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour with people standing up at a white board solving simple, Day 1 sort of qualitative problems. Which means I'm asking for a basic understanding of the principles they were taught sophomore year. You'd be surprised how much people forget, even though a practicing engineer is going to be building on those basics skills day in and day out.

(*) Regarding practice: Take interviews for related jobs that you don't want, if you can get them. Recruiters are good for this -- they just throw people at positions with little care whether they're a good match. This will help you master the phone screen, and bad matches make for better practice anyhow. Plus, no one can really fault you for casting a wide net for your fist job. You might stumble on something awesome, too. After you get your first job, wait a couple years and practice some more, even if you have no intention of leaving right then. Just don't get carried away -- your integrity still matters. Don't let someone fly you around if you're not really interested, decline second interviews if you were just out for a quick brush up and be careful not to waste a bunch of people's time. I had what I thought would be practice lap turn into a request for a presentation and white paper to be seen by a dozen people with an in depth critique -- and I bailed immediately. It's better to cut the losses (and in that case, take a hit to my pride because I probably looked cowardly) before everyone's time has been invested.

So yeah. Look at all those words. Hopefully they might be useful.

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Re: Confidence and Poise in Job Interviews

Postby roband » Mon Feb 09, 2015 9:34 am UTC

That post needs to be seen by just about everyone looking for a job.

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Re: Confidence and Poise in Job Interviews

Postby Quercus » Mon Feb 09, 2015 11:21 am UTC

Great post. I've bookmarked it.

Azrael wrote:There are little things here too. Shave (or don't) like you normally would. Wear your hair the way you normally do. Unless you're really a pro at putting on the ritz, just don't do it. It'll distract you all day long.


This is probably true for lots of people, but personally I find that it actually really gives me a confidence boost to be more smartly dressed than usual, have a fresh haircut, freshly polished shoes etc. The ritual of shaving, picking out clothes, dressing up etc. gets me into the right mindset for the interview (I used to dress up a bit for exams too). I don't particularly feel like a pro at putting on the ritz, it's more like it lets me take on the role of "confident, professional me" rather than "casual everyday me".

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Re: Confidence and Poise in Job Interviews

Postby scarecrovv » Tue Feb 10, 2015 5:50 am UTC

Azrael wrote:So many people come to an interview in a suit they've never worn, that doesn't fit and who clearly took six tries to tie their tie before they gave up. That will fuck you over mentally from the get go. Fixing this one takes work, and social work. Uncomfortable work. But it's worth it: Wear your suit somewhere, frequently. Practice with your tie until you can do it with your eyes closed. Playing dress up might be a useful skill at some point in your life, so toss a few points at it. Otherwise, skip the suit entirely.


This is good advice (the rest of the post too).

I'm one of those people who wears jeans and a t-shirt every day, and is practically allergic to formal attire. At a company where this is acceptable on an everyday basis I still did want to go a little formal for the interview. I skipped the suit and wore a themed tie appropriate to the company. It was a big hit and the day went great.

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Re: Confidence and Poise in Job Interviews

Postby Tyndmyr » Tue Feb 10, 2015 5:02 pm UTC

Sheikh al-Majaneen wrote:So, I have a question in regards to behavioural interviews, especially for CS jobs, especially from those of you who have managed to overcome the whole awkwardness thing--how did you do it? How did you prepare for your interviews? How did you suppress it in the interview and hold yourself together?


Practice makes perfect.

Seriously, go interview for jobs you have no intention of pursuing, just as practice. Even if they're not CS jobs, there are a lot of similarities. And getting practice on the jobs you're not serious about prepares you for the ones you are. After you've been through a few dozen, they feel as rote as many other social interactions, and they mostly have a familiar pattern to them. Unfamiliarity is at the root of a lot of awkwardness.

Azrael's post is excellent. Do all of that. Do it, practice it, you'll be good at stuff. =)

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Re: Confidence and Poise in Job Interviews

Postby Sheikh al-Majaneen » Wed Feb 11, 2015 4:20 am UTC

Not only was Azrael's post brilliant advice, it also made me feel more confident that the job is mine, improving my estimate of being hired from 1/3 to 1/2.

And if I didn't get it...now to (somehow) find myself in more job interviews. Actually, even if I did, because practice.

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Re: Confidence and Poise in Job Interviews

Postby ConMan » Wed Feb 11, 2015 4:44 am UTC

One additional tip - when they get in touch with you, whether you get the job or not, ask for feedback. Find out what you did well, and what you need to work on. It's good information for you, and it also helps show that you have an interest in self-development. And, if you don't get the position, make sure you ask to be kept in mind should a similar position arise.
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Re: Confidence and Poise in Job Interviews

Postby Zamfir » Wed Feb 11, 2015 11:50 am UTC

Yeah, ask about feedback if you didn't get the job. Not just about how to improve your interview, also about why you were perhaps not a good match for the job, or why someone else was a better match.

Try to to see an interview not just something as something to 'win', where the best outcome is always that you get the job. It's matchmaking, both sides are there to learn. And you might learn that it's not the job for you. That other people could that job much better than you could. Or that you could do some other job much better than this one.That's still a good outcome.

In my experience, such an open attitude improves my interviews. When I was younger, I wanted to max out interviews. Give the best-sounding answer to every question, ask the most impressive questions, show no weaknesses, really sell myself with the best image I was able to project. And I even think I did a halfway good job of that, but perhaps more despite my efforts than because of them. My desire for salesmanship made me nervous to make mistakes, and a tad insincere.

But the truth is, if they don't like me, I probably don't like them and I don't want to work for them. If I only have a shot at the job if I can project an over-the-top shiny polished version of me, then the job is probably out of my league. And they'll figure that out anyway. If the job relies on skills that I am not actually good at and won't become good at, there is no point in overselling my aptitude in that area. It's not the right job, all it cost me was a few hours of time to find out, and I got an inside peek to another company. No big loss.

And as far as I can tell, I can sell myself better if don't try too hard to sell myself. People like honesty, they don't actually want to see the most polished version of me. My questions are more natural because I am really asking them to find out what the job would be like, not to show off my smartness.

It's a personal perspective. It might be useful.

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Re: Confidence and Poise in Job Interviews

Postby PAstrychef » Wed Feb 11, 2015 3:29 pm UTC

About seeing an interview as making a match-I interviewed once with a hot new chef in town, and he would have hired me, but I couldn't have worked well with all that ego. I didn't want to have to cope every day, so I went elsewhere. The company with the biggest buzz may be staffed by folks you loathe.
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Re: Confidence and Poise in Job Interviews

Postby sam_i_am » Wed Feb 11, 2015 8:51 pm UTC

Just keep doing interviews, and as you get more use to interviewing, the more confident you'll be.


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