Yes, I have to admit it, in my 40s I was an older unemployed IT worker. Because I work in many varied languages I do not test well when asked to code something in a specific language. I have uncovered a method that seems to work quite well and am giving this to you.
First, dissect the job description to uncover all of the various areas that may be covered in the interview. The example that we will use here includes .Net, C#, T-SQL, and Sharepoint design/server. I have a laptop, as many people will, so there is an additional opportunity to show samples of my code and programs.
The first interview that you will be likely to have is the HR interview. This may be with HR personnel or with your main interviewers. You will encounter questions such as:
- What circumstances bring you here today?
- How would your best friend describe you?
- Give your two greatest weaknesses
- How do you alleviate stress?
- Name your short and long term goals
- What is your preferred work environment?
- How do you generally deal with conflict?
- What tools or habits do you use to keep organized?
- Describe a time when you had to go above and beyond to complete a project
- Name a major obstacle overcome in the past year
- In what ways do you raise the bar for yourself and others?
- Describe two memorable projects – one success and one failure
- Give unique qualifications/experience that separate you from other candidates
- Where do you see yourself in five years?
- Name your greatest strengths
- What is your most irritating pet peeve
Keep in mind that the purpose of some of these questions is to gauge your approach to improvement. One perfect example is the question about weaknesses. I chose two weaknesses outside of my profession and showcased the plans to improve in those areas. Another of these is the project that resulted in failure. I chose a project that I alone could not complete but turned it into a teamwork positive by passing it off to another programmer for completion in a different area of programming. Another revealing question involves the pet peeve. Once again you should choose something outside of your profession and keep it brief.
After completing the general HR interview you get into the meat of the matter – specialized questions aimed at assessing your skills. As stated, I don’t do well in a technical interview (or test) without the web to use as a resource. I also do not do so well in remembering a list of anticipated questions laid out on a notepad. This approach seems to overcome those shortcomings, though.
The example position used here involves Sharepoint designer and server so I set up a blog style Sharepoint site and listed all of the HR, T-SQL, and C#/.Net questions in separate sections. These were gathered from sample interview questions posted on various web sites. If you do a search with your favorite search engine and stick with the first page you are likely to hit on the same questions as your interviewers. To extend the study of these questions I then recorded them to an MP3 file and burned them to CD for additional review during the drive to the interview. You could burn them to an IPOD/MP3 player as long as you can listen to that safely while driving. The end result there was a 16 minute file and an hour drive to the interview so I was able to listen to these questions/answers four more times as I approached the interview time.
You may be thinking to yourself – “I don’t have a server to set up or access to the software needed.” There are steps to take that legally overcome this problem, as long as you have the resources available on your computer. In order to set up a server or different operating system I have installed a program called <a href=”http://www.virtualbox.org/”>Virtual Box</a>. This is an open source virtualization package and I have set up Server 2008, Ubuntu, Windows 8, and others within this framework for testing and real work functions. Now you may be thinking about how you can get the software without entering the world of pirated software distribution. Trial installs would be the answer to this question. If you need to install Server2008 and Shareware Server (and basically any commercially available software) download the trial version from the manufacturer web site. This will generally give you a full feature three to six month install and it is perfectly legal and safe. Of course, you would need the properly configured hardware to support this. In all of my system builds I avoid the lower end processors such as Celeron or Sempron and go with the most memory that I can afford. My current laptop is a Phenom dual core with 4G of memory and it is strained when running the Server2008/Sharepoint Server virtual system and accessing the Sharepoint sites with IE9. It is strained and slower than I like but it is quite functional.
How does this help? If you anticipate properly you will be able to answer the questions without stumbling around or wasting valuable time. If you achieve the same results as the interview used in this illustration, you will finish the interview with some time to spare so you can pull out your laptop and show off code and design samples. Maybe the interview is for a graphic design position. You don’t need to spend huge amounts of money on printing services so that the colors are exact. Show examples directly on your laptop. Maybe the interview is for a technical writer. Don’t kill trees printing examples of your work – show these examples directly on your laptop screen or on the projector in your interview room. Remember to smile and make eye contact, be positive in all responses and answers, and keep those answers explicit but brief.