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Think your CV is crap? Your interview skills are worse

Really, why do you even bother...

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'Team players'

Actually, I know how hard it can be since many of us think sounding too keen sounds fake. This simply means you need to practise, in shops, and on colleagues and friends if you have some.

Managers like “team players”. And yes I know most tech work is single combat between man and machine, but they want an easy life, so often you get the stupid question “Can you work in teams”?

This has two wrong answers: “no” and “yes”. Yes is a bad response because anyone who has ever been trained to interview wants examples not just assertions. Find a situation where you enjoyed working in a team, preferably before you go to the interview since for some of us, recalling a pleasant team experience is not something we can do in real time.

That’s part of a deeper truth. You need to sprinkle the words “team” and “enjoy” into your conversation. The more you think this advice is stupid, the more you need to do it.

Please stop digging

The best jobs are almost by definition on the edge of what you can do, so expect to get at least one thing wrong. I’ve seen people just collapse at this point, floundering around with increasingly bogus and irrelevant answers.

You must draw a line under a failure and honestly admitting your limits is actually good for your case since it shows honesty. It may shock you to learn that not everyone is completely truthful in applying for jobs. Trust me, I’m a headhunter, and it does happen. That means it is worth explicitly mentioning a limit because it helps the employer believe the other things you say.

Experienced people sometimes screw up when asked a seemingly easy question like how many registry hives there are in Windows, what a protected function is or how long a 10base-T cable can be.

Part of that is because you’ve focused too hard recently on the things you need to know for the project in hand, driving out trivia.

One of the most common programming questions is around the “tortoise and hare” algorithm, which is so entirely useless that I worked for >25 years as a programmer without ever feeling the need for it.

That nonsense means you need to search for common interview questions for your speciality, because frankly that is how some interviewers come up with them. Remember you may be being hired because they don’t have anyone who does what you do, so they can’t ask good questions, or in some cases the boss wants to keep the hiring process under his thumb and resolutely refuses to get in a junior who knows what he or she is talking about.

At IBM I once recall saying to a manager: “And if he smiles when you say this, he’s probably OK” since I was only a contractor and therefore too scummy to see candidates.

A little something for HR

In the words of a friend, the head of HR for a household name firm, her job is to "protect management" from the staff. This captures how many HR people see their job when doing the HR interview. They are trying to catch “rogues”, people who’ve managed to get one past the hiring managers.

Their principal weapon is inconsistency. They focus hard on gaps in employment and things that aren’t 100 per cent as they seem and they are pretty implacable if they find anything that is less than truthful. That is where the soft bits of your CV can trip you up in the way I explained at the start of this article.

As I wrote in my last piece, you really ought not to be surprised by most of this, but it’s a tough market that may be getting worse. Even a slight improvement in your interview skills, or simply avoiding some common screwups, can make the difference between a good job and working in local government. ®

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