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How can I really “wow” an employer at an interview?

I graduated college last year & I've never gone through the interview process - my current programming position evolved out of projects I did in school, but in a few months I'm making a clean break and moving across the country so I'm going to have to face a "grown-up" jobsearch. I'm kind of scared of technical interviews - I think I'm pretty good at my job and my hobby programming projects ... but what if it turns out I'm part of that group that thinks they're qualified, but really just cause despair at the state of education in the hearts of interviewers?

So, I'm thinking of doing a "practice" job hunt in my current city to get an idea of what it's like and what kind of experience/expertise employers are really looking for. Is this a dick move ethically (applying to/interviewing for jobs I can't take)? If so, is there another good way to prepare for technical interviews, especially those little trick puzzle-type questions?

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marked as duplicate by Mark Trapp Oct 29 '11 at 21:13

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

You're here, you have hobby projects -> you're not one of them – Steve Evers Mar 3 '11 at 20:31
@SnOrfus - Aw, thanks. :) – Beekguk Mar 3 '11 at 21:29

7 Answers 7

up vote 3 down vote accepted

Another thing to practice is solving programming puzzles on a whiteboard. Many companies now do this to gauge how well you actually write code and communicate what that code does. For me, it was a rather unpleasant surprise, as I'm not the best at communicating my reasoning during the process of coming up with the solution. It took a few attempts for me to strike the balance between speaking too little, and appearing uncommunicative, and focusing so much on the explanation that I get distracted from the task at hand.

It might be helpful for you to pick some programming puzzles (like from Project Euler, for example) and work your way through them on a whiteboard or on paper. Start with easy ones that you already know how to solve, and focus on delivering an explanation of the reasoning process used to derive the answer. Then, work your way up through more difficult puzzles, and try to explain the reasoning process as you come up with the answer.

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Oh, cool, good idea - I've been doing Project Euler to learn Python/practice math; hadn't thought it might help with this issue too. I'll go back over the ones I've solved & try to work through them again from this perspective. – Beekguk Mar 3 '11 at 21:07

Practice everything for the job title that you're applying for/being interview for. Also practice non techie questions too. Have a look on some job websites that give tips e.g. Monster.

Regards, TDG

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If there's > 1% chance of you accepting the job you're (fake) interviewing for, it's fine.

While no one can really give you advice about ethics, the best we can do is say what we'd do in your shoes - the rest of it is for you to discern how much of it to take on board.

If you walk in with the mindset of wanting to learn from the interview process being engaged and taking everything seriously, I don't see any problem with that at all. Interviewers know that the candidate in front of them has multiple interviews with other companies.

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I was concerned with the same stuff as you, I had just graduated and was scared I would bomb the actual technical portion.

but something you have to realize is that companies KNOW your not going to be ready to just start blasting away making apps and all this stuff right as you get out, they (well the good ones anyways) will train you and you'll work your way up.

I mean Im an Average programmer at best, but I got the job because of my personality and critical thinking skills, even though I did "average" at the technical portion part (which REALLY wasn't that bad)

That being said.....don't worry to much about the technical portion. Maybe freshen up, go through some old programming notes and best of all go into the interviews with a good personality and show that you are WILLING and READY to learn.

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I feel more confident about my winning personality and totally-not-awkward-at-all social skills, so this is good to hear ;) – Beekguk Mar 3 '11 at 21:30

Do you know anyone (through a user group, your school's alumni association or career office, etc.) that would be able to do a mock interview with you? If so, that is likely to provide much better feedback. They can tape the interview so that you can watch it later. That can be eye opening if your body language comes across as nervous. Additionally, the mock interviewer is going to be able to provide you with constructive criticism about what you did well and what you could improve on.

If you do a real interview, the only feedback you're likely to get is the decision on whether you got the job. That's great if you get the job but less than ideal in the more likely case that you don't get the job. Interviewers aren't going to want to provide detailed feedback about what you can work on for a variety of reasons. They don't want to inadvertently open the door to a discrimination lawsuit. They also don't want to do something that seems to invite the candidate they've turned down to debate the decision. And the company recognizes that they may be interviewing the same candidate in a few years for a different position and don't want a critical evaluation to change the candidate's feelings for the company.

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I've done lots of non-technical interview prep - got my answer to the dreaded "What's your greatest weakness?" all worked out, for example (& it's not "Kryponite"). But since the last person I talked to at a college career center asked me if "Java" should be capitalized on my resume, I'm not really confident about their help with technical interviews specifically. – Beekguk Mar 3 '11 at 21:01
@Beekguk - What about a local user group? A friend that has a bit more experienced? A contact through the alumni association? – Justin Cave Mar 3 '11 at 21:53

Sometimes, non technical stuff interferes with a technical interview. That doesn't suppouse to happen, but, in the real world, it does.

Some companies, the interviewer (even if is a technical interview) takes notice how do you dress. (Not everyone is a Sillicon Valley Company where you can go with jeans, shirt & sandals). So go to the intervew, clean, take a mint or bubble gum before you enter, dress with a suit (navy or gray, NEVER black, unleast you go for a CEO job), or casual dressed (khaky pants, polo shirt or suit shirt without tie, shoes, never tennis shoes).

Look while answering questions. Sometimes the interviewer doesn't want to spent time applying a test on a computer, so they just ask you technical questions. And if you look insecure, even if you are right, the interviewer may dump you. Talk clear, strong, slow, be calm, and watch in the eyes while listening or answering.

Sometimes, the technical interviewer, had some repetitive problems with other developers, and insist on test you if you have the same problems. OR do the same question over and over to see if you change your answer. That is a way to detect if someone is lying. So don't be angry if you get the same questions several times. It may be misinterpreted, as if you where lying. The same goes if you are not making eye contact.

Eye contact should be friendly not aggresive.

Sometimes, the technical interviewer, feels treated by competition, and may dimish your expertise or skills. In interviews, try to show your knowledge, without sounding too much proud.

If you are going to have some exams, don't sleep late, the day before. Try to have breakfast or lunch before the interview. Bring a bottle of plain water, (not soda), and some chocolate bar or similar, to eat while you are driving or in bus, your brain will need that sugar.

If you feel thirsty at the interview, don't be afraid to ask for water.

Just my 2 cents.

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Practice makes perfect. First you're assuming you would actually GET any of the jobs in question (which is always up in the air). The only way to prepare yourself is to go through the process, and this is a fantastic way. While ethically it may not be the nicest thing to do to an interviewer, the interviewer him/herself will surely have to be prepared for the idea that a candidate will not be able to accept an offered position (this actually happens a lot). I've turned down several job offers in the past because a better one came up in the meantime, the offer was not good enough, during my final interview something didn't feel right and I felt that the company just was not a match.

Don't concern yourself with doing the interviewer's job. Submit your resume, attempt to go through some interviews if you can. It's the same as programming, the only way to get better is to do it. You might even ask your boss/co-workers if they know of managerial types in the local area who might be nice enough to take the time to help you by giving you some mock interviews. There also may be some companies local to you that provide training or similar mock services to help you prepare.

In any case, do it.

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Heh, yeah - I'm also assuming I'd even get an interview. But that's the only reason I'd consider this approach - I've never been able to learn something without trying it out and screwing up a few times. – Beekguk Mar 3 '11 at 21:05

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