One interview, Many learnings

I recently had an interview with a company for a Senior Software Engineer position and after going through it repeatedly, I found many learnings that I would like to share with all job seekers out there.

Context

The story starts with a consultant company having two openings around my area of expertise:

  • Opening 1 (The one I applied to): Required deep technical knowledge about API/REST but (and very important) it also required a deep knowledge on how to effectively communicate with external customer, developers and POs specially because the project would have been done by a one-man team.
  • Opening 2 (The one I knew but was not fully interested): Required a deep technical knowledge of Systems Design and IAM and although it also required knowledge about effective communication with external customer, developers, and POs, this was not an essential requirement since the project would not have been done by a one-man team.

Stage 1: The presentation

The interview finally started with two interviewers on the call, and after a little bit of casual conversation we got into a crucial part “The presentation”, the moment they said we should introduce our-selves my mind shifted into a “inner-voice mode” trying to come out with a perfect presentation for the situation, even though I already had it in a small script.

Since I was on “inner-voice mode” I was not able to put full attention to the presentation of my interviewers (effectively failing to get insights) and when my time came I just tried to say what my mind created, which was a very short introduction thus a not good enough.

Learning #1: This was the first mistake, not putting full attention to your interviewers, prevents you to get insights on how they are expecting you to present yourself.

If your interviewers introduced themselves by talking about “their names —where they live — what are they achievements — what is the value they bring to the company”, then its extremely likely they are waiting you to do the same, and that is why you need to put full attention, doing so will allow you to find patterns and try to match with your interviewers more easily.

Stage 2: Tell us what you worked on

The next part of the interview was a common question, “Tell us about what your worked on”, here what I did is explained what was the last projects I worked on and I tried to give a good explanation on why those projects were challenging from the technical point of view, so I can look knowledgeable; after a bunch of minutes explaining it, one of the interviewers interrupted me (in a good way) to pass to the next question.

Learning #2: I know this was an common mistake; considering I was applying to the first opening, having spent my time talking only about the technical side of my work did not give my interviewers enough insights on whether I was good fit for the opening or not, which means that the first opportunity was lost.

So, in this case, (although it depends on the scenario) generally, you should give your interviewers the opportunity to decide what they want to know more about, and you can do so by giving them a quick summary on your technical projects as well as a summary on how you handle management work with the rest of your team.

Stage 3: Tell us how you would work with your client (PO)

At this point I was soo in the “Technical mode” that I did not notice that this question was a second opportunity to address something I missed on Stage 2, and so my answer was purely from point of view of a Engineer working on nothing more than building features or designing features.

Learning #3: Although there exists scripted interviews, you must be aware that normally your interviewers are constantly seeking to answer one important question “does this candidate meet the requirements for the opening?”, and for that they will try to give you more than one opportunity.

And again, this was a problem of not putting full attention but this time to environment/questions; during interviews specially after you passed the technical part, you must always be focus on finding why a particular question is being asked, if you are able to do so and answer well, you might be able to recover the opportunities you have lost earlier.

Stage 4: Tell me more about your experience with IAM

At this point (as you might have realized) the question of whether I was a good fit for the opening #1 was already answered and it was no, but since I was doing well technical wise the interviewers decided to focus on that, which was more appropriate for the opening #2, and although I did answered well I also insisted (several times) that my main preference was on opening #1 which effectively put me out of the two openings.

Learning #4: The reason why I was continue insisting on the opening #1 is because I did not realize that by that moment I was already out of it, and if my goal would have been “getting a job” then this would be my final mistake.

Yet again, not putting attention to the environment/question and not focusing on finding why certain questions are being asked can make you loose the opportunities, in this case if I would have realized my state I would have had the chance to either pivot and secure my spot on opening #2 or find a way to fix my mistakes and change the minds of my interviewers in respect with the opening #1

Closing

This was not my first interview at all, but it was my first one on full english and although I thought that would not make any difference, it turns out it did, probably because I was not analyzing what I was saying in real-time, like I do on my native language; a process that helps a lot to adapt your conversation.

This experience gave me a lot of learnings (explained above) and I will try to summary them and put some extras ones:

  • Put full attention to your interviewers the way they act/talk can give you insights on how they are expecting you to act/talk
  • Put attention to the questions, in a good interview every question has a meaning and if you find what it is, then you have half of the battle won.
  • For any high level questions try to answer with summaries and let your interviewers decide what part they want to expand on
  • If you are looking to “secure a job” make sure you are attentive to when you interviews are pivoting, if they are pivoting from a one opening to a different one, that is a sign that they find you valuable, you just need to take the opportunity
  • Finally make sure you analyze your interviews toughly, they have important insight and if you find the correct ones you will ace your next interviews

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A software engineer that focuses on research and teaching and would like to discover and share more about the field.

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Juan Barahona

A software engineer that focuses on research and teaching and would like to discover and share more about the field.