Life as an Interviewer

july 31, 2010

A while back I was put on a team of interviewers for new service engineering candidates. In the past, I did a lot of interviewing and then it became quiet. Now, it seems to be picking up again and I wanted to write down some thoughts about the interviewing process. Usually, I walk around the office bemoaning the fact that I have to do yet-another-interview -- but, in reality I like doing interviews because I like to interact with candidates. I like to see how the creative and smart ones tackle questions. And I like the fluidity of the chat with smart candidates. The thing I do not like is dealing with those that are not ready. Before an interview, I take a good look at resumes -- these are the first impression. If there are spelling mistakes on the resume, it knocks off points from the candidate. The resume is an ad for yourself, make it good and take the time to iron out mistakes in the resume. If I see that you know "tasteful firewalls", I know for sure that you relied a little too much on the spellchecker and didn't take the extra time to proofread your resume manually. That reflects badly on the you. What bugs me most are the people that list things on their resume and do not bring that knowledge to the interview. If you list that you know Perl, at least be able to tell me the difference between an array and a hash. If you list bash, then at least be able to show me that you can write a for-loop. If you list Unix/Linux then you'd better be able to answer a whole slew of systems questions. Lying on your resume will only get you into trouble because it is you vs. whoever was picked to interview you. Usually, if you list a specialty, the company will have someone to grill you on it. Know that the person who is interviewing you has taken time out to come, sit and talk with you. What I let people know before we start is that I am not looking for them to answer all my questions correctly. What I am looking for is how they think, how they figure things out and how they will fit into a role at the company. Given this, it is important to know that saying "I don't know" is actually a good thing. If you sit and stammer and "uhm, uhm, uhm" and waste time, that is wasting my time -- and taking time away from me being able to find out more about you. A lot of times, I will get candidates who, I am guessing, feel that saying "I don't know" is some sign of weakness -- it is not. If you don't know, you don't know. Pulling some answer out of your butt will make you look worse than saying "I don't know." I bring to interviews three types of questions: basic "I memorized these arguments" questions, more advanced "softball" questions, and problem-solving/troubleshooting questions. Examples:

The memorize questions are just starters and I usually don't ask many of those because most of us don't memorize a lot -- we use "man" and we use search engines. That's fine. The softball questions are concepts that I feel that candidates should know based on what they have written on their resumes. If you can't hit the softballs, we have a problem. The problem-solving and troubleshooting questions are the ones that are most important. And, I think it's important to remember that asking questions is priority when it comes to these questions. If you're asked to troubleshoot an issue dealing with 1000 hosts, then you should ask, "How are these hosts named? Is there a sequential pattern? Are they listed in a text file?" Show me that you're thinking through the problem and talk me through what you are thinking. This helps me gauge your skills. I always leave the last 10 to 15 minutes of an interview for the candidate to ask questions. Someone who wants the job asks questions. "What are the people like here? Is it fun to work here? What's your job like? How are the perks? What's the benefits like?" And other questions. If you don't ask questions, it's a sign that you're not really interested in the job -- so be sure you bring some questions. I just finished an interview on Thursday, it was horrible and it's the first for this quarter. There are more candidates to be interviewed and I can't wait.