So word on the street is, Yours Truly has a new job at a new place. Given that it follows on the heels of several months of vain searching, I must admit I am a little incredulous. Saturday, however, I received a packet in the mail which would appear to confirm that the rumors are true.
I must apologize for being perhaps unnecessarily tight-lipped throughout the process. I don’t know what’s fair to say in times like these when the chicks are not yet hatched, and for some reason it also feels a bit odd talking about all the places I didn’t get an offer from. That being said, here is some food for thought.
Job-hunting and social networking tools are at their most valuable when you’re able to devote time to them exclusively in the narrow niche where they provide the most value: Monster for generating queries from recruiters; LinkedIn for keeping contact info on recruiters, colleagues, and potentially on interviewers at the companies where you enjoyed interviewing; and don’t forget those all important Gmail / Outlook filters, to keep you from seeing all the chaff when you don’t need to.
On the other hand, I would avoid at all cost using LinkedIn to make contact. Do not end a phone conversation with “I’ll look you up on LinkedIn”; at worst, you’ll fail to find them, or at best, you’ll waste money sending “InMail” if you don’t already have their address as proof that you “know” them. LinkedIn makes sense as a business networking tool inasmuch as it is ad-free, clutter-free and appropriately organized; but everybody’s gotta get paid, and theirs is an obnoxious model for doing so.
The recruitment process works a bit differently depending on how skilled the work and where you are looking. In particular, Boston’s tech sector, which demands a range of skill-sets for a wide variety of employers, is well exploited by a number of specialized staffing firms. It’s a win-win-win arrangement, and for a rookie like myself, one that can make all the difference. Interview skills are a huge, huge part of landing any professional job, and while they were ultimately not beyond me to obtain, learning them was not entirely intuitive.
I find that this all-important knowledge has to be acquired in layers, each of which can lend a sophomoric sense of completeness although it is in fact an incremental improvement. For instance: early on I learned to approach interviews as a fun and exciting process of candidate-to-employer fit. This made me less nervous, but sometimes came off as bold and cavalier. Some interviewers played well with this attitude; others seemed to think I wasn’t taking matters seriously and would ask disorienting questions to take me down a peg.
In response, I began to approach interviews with more humility, which made managers a bit less ornery but didn’t improve my rapport or help me answer the open-ended questions. After discovering I had a flair for technical interviews (due largely to freeform reasoning skills acquired at Olin), my problem began to take on a definite shape. It was polarized between my strong rapport with the engineers and weak rapport with managers. I put more effort into having prepared answers to the tough questions they might ask, but it’s hard to be prepared for absolutely anything, and so ultimately not being able to think fast on my feet was a liability.
Between early March and mid-July, I interviewed at maybe a dozen companies, and several times was asked back for a second or third interview. I can’t estimate what fraction of those failed to turn into offers because of interview slip-ups versus there simply being a more qualified candidate; I was, however, able to get specific feedback in many cases from the recruiter working on my behalf. It confirmed that although I was well liked, I often did things, without realizing, that could hurt my chances. I meandered in my responses. I equivocated. I sounded disinterested in parts of the job. I entered “buy mode” without having first successfully “sold”.
A breakthrough came when my agent at Sally Silver, working with me on the Yellow Book case, requested an in-person meeting to help prep for my interview there. Sally herself was kind enough to drop by and lend some insight. After going over a laundry list of common faux-pas, we were able to identify some of the root problems with my interview style:
- I spent too much of the interview talking (rather than listening and responding) because I was starting on the defensive. This led to a poor initial impression and drastically increased the surface area of my speech.
- I answered questions before I knew exactly what information the interviewer was looking for.
- Even when I tried to, I didn’t walk into my interviews with enough stock answers to questions, or enough questions of my own to ask.
- I tended to lose energy over the length of an interview.
All of these factors contributed to the muddiness of my responses and increased the risk of saying dumb things. Number three turns out to be the hardest to fix, as it requires some homework. But none of these are unfixable problems of social functioning–they can all be countered with knowledge. Sally made the following suggestions:
- Carbohydrates and caffeine do not supply steady energy. Since I only drink water during the interview, I shouldn’t go into it caffeinated, lest I crash. Sally suggested I carry some Powerbars in my pocket, but I’ve found that a few eggs for breakfast is enough to carry me through. Much like lembas, they are most potent when unadulterated.
- Balance of discussion is important to how you’re perceived. Trying to answer opening questions like “Tell me about yourself” yields one-sided talk with a lot of “noise”, stuff other than what the interviewer actually wanted to know. These questions are asked for two reasons: the interviewer doesn’t know what to ask, or he just wants to see what you’ll do given the space. Unless your “rocket pitch” is exceptionally strong, it’s good to prompt for a more specific topic. Ask what stands out in the resume as of interest, and take opportunities in your answers to collect more data and keep the dialogue going.
Almost immediately afterward, my fortunes turned for the better. I got two offers, which presented a rather difficult decision, to put it mildly. I made my decision charts, I paced, paced some more, but eventually I just had to get out of the house for some fresh air. I don’t have a lot to recommend about that. It’s hard. Sure felt good to be able to put the choice behind me, though.
I start tomorrow. Not sure how I managed to finagle that, but it’s high time I be back in an office More details will be forthcoming.