Interviews

Your Guide to Answering Tough Technical Interview Questions

You know that your upcoming interview might include technical questions – often these questions can make or break your ability to successfully land the job.  

Don’t miss out on your next big opportunity. Make sure that you are fully prepared for even the toughest questions.

Read on to find out more about how you can effectively prepare.  

Critical Preparation Strategies

Know Your Resume. Anything you put on your resume is fair game for the employer to ask about. Make sure that you can articulately speak to your experiences and skills. Never put anything on your resume that you don’t feel comfortable explaining or talking about.

Research Terms from the Job Posting: Review the job posting carefully. Are there any terms or skills listed that you aren’t familiar with? Don’t just ignore those. Do the research to make sure that you have a solid understanding of what the posting is asking for.

Identify Your Related Skills: You may not have exactly what the employer is looking for. But you might have something similar. Take inventory of what technical skills the posting asks for and then figure out your closest equivalent skills and experience.

Practice, Practice, Practice:  Interviewing is like a muscle – the more you do it, the stronger you will become.  Google technical questions related to your field to create a question database. Create flashcards or book some interview coaching to hone your interview skills.

10 Tips for Mastering Technical Questions

1. Understand the question: Ask for clarifying information if necessary before answering.

2. Use examples: If you have related experience, use those stories in your answer. If you are new to the field, you can use examples from your courses, labs, volunteer, or personal. But, keep in mind that employers will weight work and education over other types of experience.

3. Demonstrate your thought process: Employers are evaluating your thought process, not just the final solution you present. Lay out any assumptions that you might make in your decision making. Outline possible alternatives. Talk about why you would choose the route that you did.

4. Get clarification: If you aren’t sure about something along the way, ask for more information.

5. Stay calm: Yes, you want to provide the right answer. However, the employer is also watching to see how you act under pressure. Stay focused, polite, and calm even if you feel flustered. I talk more about staying calm during interviews here.

6. Organize your thoughts: Employers appreciate candidates who can clearly articulate their ideas. Present your ideas logically and coherently.

7. Focus on soft skills, too: The interviewer wants to know if you can do the job, but they are also looking for other skills as well such as openness to learning, teamwork, communication, curiousity, safety, and problem-solving abilities.

8. Be honest: If you don’t know, just say so. However, you might know something related so transition your answer to talking about what you do know. You could also mention your willingness to learn.

9. Write it out: If you are trying to explain something complex, it might make sense to draw diagrams or write out examples of your work. Also, if you have a portfolio, you could draw on tangible examples to illustrate your point.

10. Don’t get fancy: Go with the solution that is obvious – don’t try to come up with something brand new as you risk getting it wrong.

To your future career success, 

Kristin

Kristin Vandegriend is the founder of Career Story where she has helped hundreds of her clients successfully transition to work they love. She supports her clients to uncover their strengths and communicate to get what they want in the workplace. 

Connect with Kristin at kristin@careerstory.ca or sign up to get her monthly career and job search tips straight to your inbox.

When a Career Coach Goes to an Interview

I advise clients on interview strategies, often with very positive outcomes. But talking about something and doing something yourself can be two very different things.

So, what happens when a career coach finds themselves on the other side of the table?

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This past summer, a professional acquaintance of mine posted a part-time, contract career advising position up at a local university. Having heard about the progressive work this careers centre was doing, I decided to apply.

As any good job seeker would do, I created a targeted resume and cover letter. I then messaged my contact on LinkedIn to let him know that I had applied.

I didn’t hear anything for a while. Just at the point when I wasn’t sure that I was going to get a callback, I got one. Whoo hoo!

Interview Preparation

My next task was interview preparation. I know that stress can mess with my mind and reactions during interviews, thus making preparation critical for me.

1. Question Brainstorming:  I brainstormed as many interview questions as I could think of including this critical question. I knew this team valued theory and practice so I created some questions for that. I then wrote out responses for each answer.

2. Practice: I had to take my own advice – I advocate for clients to record themselves answering interview questions.  So as awkward as it was, I video-recorded my responses. I then listened to my answers to ensure they were complete while also catching any annoying verbal habits (Apparently, I often start my answers with "So" or make this weird clicking sound) or poor ways of explaining information. 

3. Research: I did as much research as I could about the department. I looked through the website and their blog. I reached out to current employees.

My Interview Day 

1. Logistics: I researched where to park ahead of time and I knew which building I had to go to. It took longer to get to the building than I expected so I was glad that I gave myself lots of extra time.

2. Timing: In the past, I have shown up ridiculously early to interviews. This time, I practiced restraint. I waited in another part of the university until closer to my interview time and arrived in the Career Centre only 10 minutes ahead of the interview time. (Tip: Employers don’t always know what to do with candidates who arrive extra early.)

My interviewers, Tony and Deanne, made me feel comfortable. They cracked a few jokes which broke the ice. As Tony and Deanne asked me the interview questions, I felt mostly prepared. But for two questions, I felt that I could have had stronger answers.

One of the questions was related to what career theories and student development theories I use in my work. Initially, I panicked as I didn’t know anything about student development theory. But I took a deep breath and realized that I could focus on what I did know instead.

I bit back my honest tendency to point out my deficiencies (can anyone else relate to that?) and instead spoke about all the career theory that I integrate into my work.

Secondly, I was asked to share about a time that I facilitated a workshop. Launching into my explanation, I forgot to clearly wrap up my story with what the outcome or result was. Thankfully, Deanne was gracious enough to prompt me by asking a clarifying question.

I prepared several of my own questions for the end of the interview, but only asked two. In previous interview settings, I had gone overboard with asking questions so I wanted to ensure that I got good information without over-burdening the interviewers.

After the Interview

My goal for the interview was to provide great responses but to show up as my authentic self. I wanted to ensure that if I was offered the job, I would be a fit within the team.

After the interview, I reflected on my responses, wishing that I had added this or not said that. But there was nothing so egregious that I felt that I needed to offer additional clarification.

Within 24-hours, I sent a thank you email, outlining my enthusiasm for the work along with my references.

Then I waited. Tony was great at keeping me in the loop regarding their progress. My references also kept me updated on when they received reference calls. (Tip: Ask your references to let you know when they get a call.)

Finally, I got the call, offering me the position! Working as a Career Educator for the past few months, I’m delighted with my decision to join this team.

Best of luck with your next interview. To find out about my interview preparation coaching, click here. 

Kristin Vandegriend is the founder of Career Story where she has helped hundreds of her clients successfully transition to work they love. Kristin is passionate about supporting her clients to uncover their strengths and communicate to get what they want in the workplace. 

Connect with her at kristin@careerstory.ca or sign up to get her monthly career and job search tips straight to your inbox.

 

 

Why the Post-Interview "Thank You" Note Matters So Much

You completed your interview and the next step is to send a “thank you” note. But if you think that the intention of the note is to simply to say “Thank You,” you are missing out on several key opportunities.

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The main purpose of this communication is to reiterate your interest in the position. The interview process allows both you and the employer to determine if there is a good working fit. After the interview, you need to let the employer know if you are still interested in the position and why.

Use this note to talk how you could add value to the role and fit within the company. Some companies value this expression of interest so much that they will not consider you as a viable candidate unless you send it. 

Did you miss the mark on an interview question? It's not too late to share extra information. In your note, reference the question and expand on your answer.

Though some people may tell you to send a physical card, email is an acceptable way to follow-up after your interview. But regardless the method you choose, make sure that you respond within 24 hours of the interview as the company may want to make a hiring decision within a short timeframe. A hand-written card has a greater chance of not making it there on time. Even if your card arrives promptly, what if the individual only checks their mailbox once a week or less?

Though you want to keep your note personable and friendly, don't make it too casual. It is still business communication. And keep it short. A few brief paragraphs will do.

After all the hard work you have put into your job search, don't miss out on this one last critical step to market yourself.

If you are stressing about your next interview, consider our affordable interview coaching. You'll feel much better, knowing that you are fully prepared. 

Kristin Vandegriend is the founder of Career Story where she has helped hundreds of her clients successfully transition to work they love. She supports her clients to uncover their strengths and communicate to get what they want in the workplace. 

Connect with Kristin at kristin@careerstory.ca or sign up to get her monthly career and job search tips straight to your inbox.

 

The #1 Question You Should Prepare For Your Next Interview

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There is one critical interview question can make or break your chances of landing your next job. This question is often asked early in the interview process. So your answer is pivotal to whether you move forward or not. 

The question is, “What do you know about our company?”

As a recruiter, I used to do phone screening interviews for a screen door manufacturer. I would call potential candidates to ask a few questions including this question.  When I got to this question, the candidate would often stumble. They would respond vaguely based on the company name. “I think your company makes screen doors?”  Or they would say, “Where are you calling from again?”  Sometimes, candidates would recite information from the company website.

One of my friends operates a home staging business. She uses this question during phone screening interviews. If it is obvious that someone does not know anything about her company, she moves on.  Recently, she advertised for an accounting position. The candidate she selected had the accounting skills necessary to do the job. But beyond that, this candidate also expressed her motivation to work for a home staging company. She had researched my friend's company and was able to share how she could add value. 

Think about this from the employer’s perspective. Employers want to hire people who want to work for them, not just someone who wants a job!  When you can demonstrate that you know about the company and how you can add value, it makes you stand out!  

When you do your research, go beyond the company website! Employers do not want to hear their website information recited back to them. And in an age of accessible information, you can tap into a variety of information sources. 

Read the company’s blog.

Like their Facebook page.

Use LinkedIn to research who works there.  

Find out if the company has been in the news recently.

Try to talk to someone who works there already.

Because you could receive a phone call at any time, you need to do your research ahead of time. Keeping track of your job applications is critical to successfully answering this question! Create a spreadsheet or paper-based system that will allow you to quickly access information.

If you can nail this question, it will go a long ways to making a good impression!

Good luck. You got this. 

Cheers, 

Kristin 

Kristin Vandegriend is the founder of Career Story where she has helped hundreds of her clients successfully transition to work they love. Kristin is passionate about supporting her clients to uncover their strengths and communicate to get what they want in the workplace.  

Interviewing for an Internal Position

I have the opportunity to interview for an internal position at my company. How should I prepare?

Wow, that’s great!  And good for you with being proactive in looking for ways to be prepared. One of the mistakes that many internal job seekers make is being too laid-back when interviewing for an internal position. Depending on the organization, the interview format may involve a formal process or it could feel closer to a casual conversation. Either way, it’s a good idea to be prepared. 

Here are a few key pointers:

Check Your Assumptions:  With an internal position, it might be tempting to think that you will automatically get the job! Unfortunately, this is not always the case.  And do not assume that the hiring manager will automatically know what you do in your current role. Be ready to clearly articulate your accomplishments, experience, and skills.  

Stay Positive:  If you are struggling in your current job due to a negative environment or supervisor, be sure to share about your challenges in a positive way. Communicate how you have learned and developed your skills even in a difficult situation.  As much as it might be tempting, never bad-mouth your current supervisor or manager.  

Do Your Research:  Even with internal positions, it is important to do your research. Try to talk to the hiring manager to get more information or someone who has done this job in the past. Gather information on the company and any upcoming initiatives that could be related to this new position.

Your Approach Matters:  You may already have a relationship with the individuals involved in the hiring process, making it tempting to be casual in your interview.  Try to keep a friendly, professional approach.  By being too casual, you risk not being intentional enough in highlighting how your accomplishments, experience, and skills would be a good fit for the job.  

Find Out What Your Reputation Is:  You are not starting with a blank slate. Hopefully, this is a positive for you. However, it is possible that you have made a few mistakes along the way. Before your interview, take some time to to figure out how you are perceived within the organization and then use your interview to challenge any negative assumptions.

Find a Tactful Follow-Up Strategy:  Like any other job interview, you should send a thank you card or email immediately after your interview. Then be patient.  If a significant amount of time has passed since your interview, it would be appropriate to send a polite follow-up email.

Be Ready to Accept the Job:  If you apply for an internal position, you need to be ready to accept it if it offered to you. You will not endear yourself to the organization if you go through the hiring process only to pull out at the last minute. 

When preparing for your interview, you should be practicing some of the basics such as “Tell me about yourself,” “What are your weaknesses?” or “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?" 

Here are some additional questions that you may also want to prepare:

·         Does your current manager know that you are applying for this position?

·         What interests you about this position?

·         What do you know about our department?

·         How would you describe your relationship with your manager?

·         What made you decide to apply for this position?

·         Why should we hire you for this position?

By taking the initiative to prepare for your interview, you will be more likely to be successful!  Good luck!

If you would like help with preparing for an upcoming interview, Career Story can help. We provide interview preparation coaching and support.  You can contact us at info@careerstory.ca or at 604-614-3155. 

Job Search Tips From a Hiring Manager

Ever want to know what is going on inside the mind of a hiring manager? Well, you are in for a treat. I recently had a fascinating conversation with Darrell Lim of Oak Management Consulting. Darrell is a strategic business leader, corporate trainer, and coach. He has many years of hiring experience in a variety of industries including retail, software, non-profit, and manufacturing and he has hired for a range of positions from front-line employees (customer service and production) up to highly specialized technical and creative experts and organizational leaders.

I asked Darrell to share about the recruitment process that he generally follows and I am glad that he did. There are some fantastic nuggets of wisdom here for job seekers! 

1. Create a Recruitment Culture: Instead of hiring when there is an urgent need or vacancy, Darrell advocates for businesses to take a more strategic approach. He encourages organizations to always be open to having conversations with potential candidates and he sees great value in conducting informational interviews with interested candidates even when not actively hiring. This ensures that companies already have a qualified pool of candidates ready to go when they DO need to hire, and mitigates the risk of hiring weak candidates because they need to fill a position.

Tip: One of the greatest falsehoods in job search is that employers do not want to talk to potential job seekers. This is not true. Make informational interviews and networking an active part of your job search strategy. 

2. Discuss Needs with the Hiring Manager: Once a vacancy comes up, Darrell will work with the hiring manager to understand their needs and vision for the new position. Just because there is a position does not mean that it needs to be filled exactly as is. Darrell asks the hard questions: Does this position actually need to be filled? If it does need to be filled, does the position need to be changed in any way?  

Tip: When a position becomes vacant, it may not be filled in exactly the same way as it was in the past. This is an opportunity for you as a job seeker. By reaching out through networking, you may be able to position yourself as a potential answer to the company’s needs even if you do not have the same qualifications, education, or experience that the previous employee had. 

3. Create the Job Posting and Circulate: After determining the best position to fill the needs of the organization, Darrell focuses on creating a detailed job description. He posts it to various job search sites depending on the position type. Indeed and craigslist are favorites for entry-level positions while LinkedIn is a good option for more technical or leadership positions. Darrell generally waits 2-3 weeks before reviewing applications as he wants to maximize his time by having a critical mass of applications. 

Tip: Applied for a job and have not heard back yet?  Be patient. The hiring manager or recruiter may not have reviewed your application yet. 

4 .Review Job Postings: When it comes to reviewing applications, Darrell wants to see a resume and cover letter that are targeted to the job that was posted.  For each time that the resume contains vague or fluffy information unrelated to the job posting, Darrell mentally gives the job seeker a demerit point. After an applicant has accumulated 5-6 demerits, depending on the role, he moves onto another applicant. He does look carefully for technical competence and educational levels. And lastly, he always reads the “Volunteer Work” section as a way of trying to gauge company culture fit.

Tip: One of the critical mistakes that job seekers make is not targeting their resume to the job posting. Creating a targeted resume for each job you apply for is critical! 

Tip: Consider having a “Volunteer Work” section on your resume. 

5. Conduct a Phone Screening Call: After reviewing applications, Darrell then conducts 10 -1 5 minute phone screenings. He wants to weed out people who do not fit in company culture. Often, he quickly gets a feel for people even within the first few minutes, particularly if the conversation is awkward or if the applicant only gives one-word answers. Unfortunately about 50% of people have not carefully read through the job description and are often unable to answer any questions related to the position or company. 

Tip: Keep track of the companies that you apply for.  Each time you apply for a job, create a folder (electronic or paper) with a copy of your cover letter, resume and the job posting along with any company research you may have conducted. You may be looking for any job, but companies want to know that you want to work for THEM! 

Tip: Practice your phone manner. If you find the phone awkward, find someone to practice with even if they are just in another room in your home.  

6. Perform Second and Third Rounds of Interviews: Throughout the interview process, Darrell talks about looking for three things: competence, character, and chemistry. He wants to know that the person to be hired is able to do the job! One of the ways that he screens for this is through using behavior-based questions. He includes questions regarding ethics to assess character.  And then finally, he is looking for someone that he finds a connection with.

Darrell shared that he has recently been using web technology in his interviews, specifically Google hangouts.  He has been conducting group interviews with 4-6 people through Google hangouts. For technical or creative positions, he may give the individual a small task to complete as part of the interview. 

For the final interview, Darrell will often meet candidates at a coffee shop or at the company site.  Here, he will ask more detailed questions about the applicant’s background and career.

Tip: Be prepared for anything in terms of interview format! 

Tip: Practice your behavior-based questions which ask you to share what you have done in the past. Often these interviews questions will start with “Tell me about a time…” 

As you can see, the employer and recruiter put a huge amount of effort into the hiring process. The next time you submit an application, try putting yourself into the employer’s shoes and implement some of the tips shared here! 

If this information has been helpful, but you feel that you could use more help with your job search, consider connecting with Career Story for support. We offer resume writing and interview preparationservices at affordable prices. Please contact us at 604-614-3155 or at info@careerstory.ca

9 Easy Tips for Keeping Calm in Interviews

Recently, I was helping a client practice his interview skills. During the session, he suddenly stopped and said, “I am physically here, but I feel like my mind is outside of my body. I am finding this stressful and I can’t focus.”  His sudden disassociation between mind and body is a classic example of how stress can derail the interview process.

When we experience stress, on a basic level, the core issue is safety. As human beings, we are programmed to protect ourselves. When we don’t feel safe, our brain may take over for us and send us in a more primal response of fight, flight or freeze. It’s important to recognize the stress cues that the body is giving so that you can take steps calm down before and during the interview.

Stress cues could be: feeling disassociated from the body, losing language or the ability to be articulate, feeling blank, sweating, rapid breathing, shortness of breath, fumbling, forgetting how to read social cues or using protective body language.

If you find yourself demonstrating these stress behaviors, try using these 9 calming strategies to help you manage interview stress.

1. Prepare, but Don’t Script:  Preparation is key to succeed in an interview. The more you prepare, the better you will do. Before your interview, be clear on your key points and practice adaptability to responding to unexpected questions. However, straight memorization of answers might get you in trouble when you are under stress since one common stress response is a blank mind. If your mind does go blank, see if you can remember even one of your key points and then try to work it into your answer.

2. Grounding: If you feel disconnected from your body during an interview, trying a modified grounding technique to bring yourself back to reality by focusing on a certain colour or shape in the room.  For example, you might ask yourself to look for one red item in the room. By bringing your awareness back into the room, you can re-build your mind-body connection so that you can manage your stress response.  Another grounding technique is put your feet flat on the floor and press them into the floor as hard as you can for a few seconds. 

3. Breathing: Intentionally focus on your breath. Try holding your breath for a few seconds and breathing out a little longer than normal. Repeat a few times. You have to be subtle in an interview, but even just bringing your awareness to your breath might be all that you need to get focused again.

4. Admit Nervousness: Most interviewers understand that you may be nervous. Some job seekers find it helpful to verbally acknowledge this.

5. Ask For a Repeat: If your mind has gone completely blank, you can ask the interviewer to either repeat the question or come back to it later.

6. Create a Safe Space: Remind yourself that you are in a safe situation. Mentally tell yourself, “You are here, you are safe. You are here, you are safe.”  You may also choose to acknowledge that this is a stressful situation and find a way to offer self-compassion yourself in the moment. In an interview setting, this might be as simple as telling yourself, “This is hard, but you are doing the best you can.”

7. Make Small Tweeks to Non-Verbal Communication:  Using positive non-verbal communication is important in showing engagement. But it can be hard to focus on all the elements of non-verbal communication when you are also trying to keep track of everything else that happens in an interview setting. Instead of trying to improve everything, focus on just one element of non-verbal communication that you want to improve and tweek it positively during your interview.  For one person, it may be maintaining stronger eye contract, while for someone else, it might be trying to insert more enthusiasm in their intonation.

8. Try Power Posing:  Researcher, Amy Cuddy, has found that doing power poses before a stressful interview has a positive psychological response on the body’s stress hormones. By putting your body into “high power” poses before an interview, it is possible you may feel more confident during the interview.

9. Visualize the Positive: Walking into an interview, believing that you are not good enough to get the job can result in exactly that…not getting the job. You can not underestimate positive thinking, but beyond that, it is well-worth your time to visualize how you could see yourself fulfilling the duties of the position and then practice ways of communicating what you could offer.

These strategies do work. Every day, I see clients who find healthy ways to cope with their interview fears and anxieties before and during the interview. And the client I mentioned at the beginning? He attended two interviews and was offered both positions!