I hate interviews as an interviewee. I have had many memorable experiences with them. Even writing this blog post has been challenging as I relive some of them. I haven’t shared a lot of the worst ones!
When I was a lad
My first interview was for a waiter/washer up at a local country pub aged 15 or so. I stumbled and stammered and stuttered my way through and I think it was only because they needed someone that evening that I got the job.
When I was 17 I wanted a car and whilst doing my A-Levels I got a job at a local private school to achieve this. It was about a 10 minute cycle from my college to the school and I was so nervous that about half-way I was incapable of riding my bike and had to walk. I then was faced with two people interviewing me which I was not expecting or prepared for. I remember nothing of the interview other than leaving it soaking in sweat.
As a young man I interviewed for numerous jobs and things got progressively worse for me. I would get so incredibly nervous. I could not sleep or eat before an interview. This meant I often was feeling very nauseous and tired during an interview. I would arrive incredibly early and have to waste time wandering around, giving me more time to think about how nervous I was and, of course, making it worse. Obviously I wouldn’t give a good impression and didn’t get the jobs which meant more interviews and more nerves.
I tried many things, I sought advice and information from many sources and approached the situation in a number of different ways without much change to my internal responses.
Preparation, Practice, Knowledge and Distraction
To this day I hate interviews even after 20 years of having to do them. I can still get so overcome by nerves that I forget even the simplest and most obvious things such as what the N in DNS stands for or what the question is that I should be answering.
To minimise this, I try my best to prepare as well as I possibly can. I learn and revise the things I think I will need to show that I know by reading the job descriptions and adverts carefully.
I also split the whole process into separate boxes. Revising and researching a company and a job was one part. Getting ready and travelling and arriving was another and the actual interview was then just the last part consisting of talking to some people. This definitely reduced the overall stress and improved my performance in interviews.
A previous shop provided interviewer training and needed volunteers to be interviewed for those courses. I volunteered as often as I was able to and treated them as realistically as was feasible. This helped me a lot and also enabled me (sometimes) to view an interview as just a chat. If you suffer with nerves and this is available I would recommend doing so. If not, ask someone who interviews for some practice interviews and treat them as realistically as you feel is necessary.
A wise person told me to remember that interviewers are people too and also that good interviewers will recognise nerves and assist the interviewee. After all, they are trying to find the right person to fulfil their needs and want to know if you meet their requirements for that position.
Another wise person told me, during an interview, that it was ok to ask for clarification about a question. A decade or more of interviews before I knew that. It enables me to pull back from a spiral of nerves making me gabble and to be able to return to the question required. When I find that I am rambling in my answer or that the answer has disappeared from my mind I ask the interviewer for clarification and get some much needed breathing space.
To reduce the impact of nervousness before the interview I learnt to distract myself in the couple of hours prior to an interview. I have been known to go and see a film if a cinema is close to the interview or do the weekly shopping. Anything that can occupy my mind without risking me being late. This may be of no use to many people but it works for me.
The other side of the table
As an interviewer, I hope that I recognise when people are nervous and am able to assist them and also coax out the information that I need to be able to make the best decision about the candidate for the position.
Interviewing is tiring.
When I worked in secure units we would sometimes spend 2 continuous days interviewing. It is hard work. You need to look after yourself in these situations. It is important to drink plenty of water, to ensure that you eat and at least get up and stretch in between interviews. The very last person you interview might be the perfect candidate don’t miss that because you have switched off.
You are being interviewed too
The person that you are interviewing is also interviewing you. They are considering if they want to come and work for your company with the people they meet. That might only be the people in the interview so it is important I think to ensure that you make a good impression as well. During a day of interviewing many candidates try to reset before each person.
Being courteous, attentive and professional is important during the interview even if the interviewers recognise that the person is not suitable for that role within 2 minutes. They may be ideal for another position or you may come across them later in your career. Leave a good impression.
A shop I worked at employed a new DBA who had impressed the manager in interview with their knowledge as they had passed a lot of exams. The manager was very pleased and looking forward to the new arrival. This changed quite quickly when it became obvious that the new DBA was missing some basic knowledge about installing SQL Server and creating new databases which was a significant part of their role. A lot of time was wasted by the other DBAs in the team re-doing and re-checking the work that this person had done and team dynamics went downhill very quickly (although I did learn a lot about Policy Based Management from this experience!)
When I was working in secure units focusing on people with Autism we knew that communication skills both verbal and non-verbal were vital to all members of our team. We had an excellent set of questions and scenarios early in the interview to establish peoples capabilities in these areas and this allowed us to close off interviews early when we could see that the candidate did not meet our requirements as well as ensuring we employed people with the right skills for a very challenging workplace.
Before the interviews for a replacement DBA the manager asked how to avoid a repeat of that situation. I described the situation above and as a team we identified the basic skills, knowledge and approaches that we wanted in our future team members and designed a set of questions and scenarios so that candidates could demonstrate them. This was excellent for ensuring the entire team felt that they had some input into the recruiting process and also added confidence in the new team member. I think it was an excellent piece of team management as well.
The biggest take away from this post, I hope, is preparation. For both sides of the table preparation is a vital part of any interview process. Also if you see me all dressed up and in the queue for a film I am probably very nervous and won’t want to chat!!
Make sure that you go and visit the round-up post that Kendra posts on her blog to read further posts on the interviewing process from others in the SQL Community. You can also find all the archives at http://tsqltuesday.com/
Any resemblance to any living people in this post apart from myself is complete co-incidence