Friday, June 02, 2006

Job Interviews

My recent job hunt made me face job interviews for the first time in more than 10 years. The amount and variety of these interviews I went into is such a wealth of experience to me that I have to write it down for posterity.

The line of job I'm in is a bit technical so there are a lot of quiz-type of questions that usually have absolute answers. Interviews I went into are usually divided between technical and the more HR type. Usually you have to hurdle the technical one first before you are put on the second HR type which gauges more of your personality and suitability to the current team and company culture.

I can't tell you enough of my nervousness in the techie interviews because I know if I got 1 or 2 wrong - that's it I'm screwed. Especially for contract jobs since they expect you to plunge into the job right at the start so they want you to be extra sharp. So just imagine yourself in like a 'Mastermind' type of scenario where the person opposite is asking you questions and probing everything you say in a technical way. Worse still is if you're doing it over the phone. Well actually that has advantages such as you can hide your nervousness since they can't see you. Also you can rummage thru your notes (very quickly) as they fire away their questions. But it still boils down to whether you would appear and sound like you know what you're talking about. I think that's where my weakness lies because I'm a bad liar. I can't bluff very well. Whereas some of my colleagues were able to blag themselves to plum roles even though they don't have all the required work experiences.

Besides those points, going on interviews after more than 10 years in a job can be quite a shock. I'm not really good at it since I am by nature an insecure person and as everyone knows it is very important to appear confident and sure. There were also times when I have a 'mental block' where I forget even the simplest things that I do.

The solution to this is to prepare and to prepare well. Think of all the things they could ask you and if possible write down your best answer. Don't just try to remember everything in your head. You're bound to forget one or two things. As for technical questions, you definitely have to revise via textbooks in libraries (even in bookstores) or in the internet. Unless you have a photographic memory of everything you read and click on your computer you might be in for a shock when at crunch time you realise that you forgot the collective name of the suite of software you're using and some other everyday work stuff.

As for my actual interviews, there were times then that I feel like a multitasking operating system. I had interviews almost everyday for several weeks. Sometimes I have two at a time. Sometimes one phone interview in the morning then a face-to-face one in the afternoon.

First one, I was so unprepared I forgot to answer one fundamental thing about Packaged Procedures in Oracle Forms which I was using everyday in my work. Duh! Be prepared! I learned later that an ex-colleague was getting interviewed for the same position so I gave him all the questions they fired at me and all the tips I can muster. He did get the job, which I was genuinely delighted, but was troubled that he was only asked 2 quite easy technical questions. Waahh, not fair!

Second one, I went thru all the trouble of commuting to their offices and back for a series of exams. Spending almost £50 of my own money. Then after repeatedly calling them for 2 weeks to get an answer, they came back and said they're not recruiting afterall. Arrrggghh!!

Then followed a series of phone interviews:

One was for a job in Belgium, which was so intense they were asking about syntaxes of Oracle commands. They really need one with photographic memory.

Another was for a bank up north, which I really liked but it turned out I was beaten by an ex-colleague. Oh well ...

Then came this job for a software house in East Midlands whose interview was done by an agency person who didn't have a clue on what Oracle was. So I had to continually ask her to repeat the question and often ask her to spell it. As you can tell, it's one of those quiz type of interviews - one wrong answer and you're fried. Not surprisingly I didn't get a followup phonecall from them.

A software house up in Scotland liked my first interview so they sent plane tickets for my second interview. I didn't the job but I got to ride an airplane. :) They said they want someone with more customer facing experience. Maybe that means they want someone who's not fat. hehehe!

Next one is a university who had the temerity to ask for so many years of experience and technical skills then pay you peanuts. I thought it could do for the meantime but when I saw their offices - my God! It was really grim. They are in a tower block that didn't seem to have been maintained much since the 70s. Halls were dark, there were piles of boxes and paper everywhere. What's worse were the holes and cracks I saw on the window panes then patched up higgedly-piggedly with cello tapes or electrical tapes. Yikes! And everyone had a personal heater by their desks. It must be freezing up there in winter.

A financial investment firm in the City called me for an interview. Offices were a stark contrast from the above - very posh, quite new, sleek and trendy, all reeking money. I think I did well in the written technical exam but I did not gel well with my interviewers. Besides one of them was so glum I think he had made up his mind even before he'd seen me. Though I was not sorry to see that job go because even if they're paying top money, the work was all about maintaining their legacy system (read: old system). Not much development work so no real prospect for growth.

Then I had a couple of 'long-shots' - meaning I really didn't have all the core work experience they need but were interested because they were in the insurance industry as well. The one in the south coast is the one I really covet. All new system with lots of development needed and lots of new technologies being introduced. Sadly they said they like my personality but needed someone with experience on the new ERP technologies. I know they're still looking but with the salary they're offering I think they'll have a tough time.

Next one is an insurance company near where I live. I really think I am a good fit in that position but my hunch is that the boss who interviewed might have been intimidated by me. She's well experienced and all but still quite young.

This is a funny one, the guy emailed me for an informal interview in an address in the City. So I went to the designated place expecting an office building. I kept circling around the area but couldn't seem to find it. Just then I saw one of the shop awnings with the number of the address. It was a wine bar !! I have heard of jokes about interviews in pubs but I never thought it would happen to me. I couldn't believe it that I must have walked by about 4 times unsure of whether to come in or not. To be fair, they were a decent bunch of people and wanted to see mainly my personality since they are a very small consulting company. Still, I think they should have done better than having it in a wine bar. That one would really stick in memory. :)

Did you have a meeting where everything seems to go wrong? Well this one was in the Docklands and I don't know what happened but I ended up being late! Tsk tsk, one of the cardinal sins of interviews - never be late! I made sure to leave home in plenty enough time but I think there were train cancellations and I ended up almost running from Canary Wharf tube station across a mall, over a bridge, then sprinted the last 250 meters (my PE teacher would have been proud). As I opened the glass door I was sweaty, panting, and looking particularly haggard. The interview was all right but it's just as well that they didn't call me back because from what they described me the job is mainly doing technical sales. Not for me!

Another software house that developed a multi-media broadcasting ERP software called me for an interview. Location was in North London high tower block office in a not so nice part of town. Though the inside of the office is nice enough in stark contrast to their surroundings. The people there looks laid back and were smart-casually dressed. The senior techie guy I met gave me a written test after only a few minutes of questioning. It wasn't a problem. I was confident of my answers so I handed it in after about half an hour. I thought that was the end of it but no! He sat down and dissected each and every answer I made and questioned me on why this why that. It turned out more exhaustive than I thought. After 2 weeks still no answer but I was not too bothered.

The interview I got for my current job was quite an ordeal really. I have to travel a total of about 6 hours to get to and from the site. Then a project manager and a senior techie guy grilled me for 1 1/2 hours on probably anything they can think of in Oracle. Minutes after all that, they had me take 2 45-minute verbal and numeric assessment exams. I tell you, I felt like a pulp when I got home. Good thing they offered me the job otherwise it would have been all for nought.

So there they are, all my interview experiences this year. Aren't you exhausted yet? It may not be over yet. I might repeat the whole circus in a year or two, who knows?

No comments: