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I’ve noticed a lot folks in various venues (including Linux Academy) talking about their difficulties with the IT interview. It’s an animal unto itself and rightfully has a few books wrote about this very thing.

Let me start by saying that you’re not going to get every job/gig you interview for. No matter how qualified, experienced or intelligent you think you are. There’s numerous meta parameters that you will not know coming in and likely, never know going out.

at this point, I’ve done well north of 100 interviews and I have failed over half of them. But with all that failure comes experience that can not be gained in a classroom.

People looking to tame this beast should consider the following tips:

– If one doesn’t know the answer to a question, then respond with those three magical words you use on your wife, “I don’t know”. Never try to lie, fabricate or guess your way through a question. Honesty and integrity is one of those things most employers care about, a lot.

– Treat the interview like a conversation. Treat it like a first a first date. DO NOT treat it like a quiz or use it as an opportunity to trumpet everything you’ve done. That’s an insult to the interviewer’s intelligence and you’ll come off conceited. If the conversation just so happens to go that way, then you have license to speak about achievements. Again, don’t linger in this zone even if the interview goes there.

– If the interview is a conversation then a job description is a polite suggestion. You’d do well to read and understand it before going in however there’s no referee in this game. There’s nothing stopping you from leaving the football field (the job description) and playing cricket instead (high level IT concepts).

Don’t be afraid to drudge up RCA methodology, Infrastructure workflows, or their three year plan. Topics like this will give you presence and credibility. These are great talking points as there’s few answers that could be considered wrong. If you’re doing a true senior level interview and it doesn’t take a turn for high level, you’ve probably failed or it’s a senior level job in title only.

– I’ve heard people say that if you’re a genius then you don’t need to wear a suit. The irony is, if you think you’re a genius… then the opposite is probably true. Always wear a suit. I don’t care if you know before hand that the interviewer is going to wear rags and do drugs right in front of you. You wear a suit! You will never ever be docked points for wearing a suit however not wearing one could cost you the job. Wearing a suit is a sign of respect and can add authority to what comes out of your mouth.

– Preparation is important. Don’t assume that the employer will print copies of your resume for you. If it’s on your resume then it’s fair game to hold you accountable for not knowing the topic. Read through all the terminology of something you used to know so you can speak to it again.

– For all the logic and skills we have, some of us really fail at peopling. Take a shower… use deodorant… always.

Now on to facial hair and hair style. This one is a little more tricky as there’s no one right answer. If you’re not happy with your hair then get it styled to what you like but try to keep it professional. However, if you REALLY care about an unprofessional hair style, then you should KEEP IT. It’s more important to be you than it is to be plain jane.

– 9 times out of 10, the interviewer is not a robot. It’s ok have a little moxy during the interview. I’ve never met a person who didn’t like to laugh. I rarely run into an interview where I’ve been detracted for having a sense of humor. Keep in mind that the people interviewing you are going to have to work with you. Being personable I’ve found to be almost as important as being skilled.

Feel out your audience before whipping out the moxy and never force it.

– As stupid as blind references are as a concept, you should always have a list of them, on a separate page. Most employers won’t bother calling them but it still adds to your credibility… weather they call them or not. Be sure to include their job title and LinkedIn profile… that’s where the credibility part comes in 😉

– If you’ve scripted/wrote any automation that isn’t private property of the company you worked for. Get it to a public repository and get that link posted on your resume stat. This is the singular best way to prevent a low level grunt from forcing you to write code without any reference or internet access during the interview. This is not a representation of reality and it would be irresponsible to do so at work.

That being said, if they do require it then ask for access to the internet. If they won’t, then try your best.

A fail safe that’s worked for me is to bring my own laptop with my own portable internet access. I have my preferred IDE installed and code chilling there, just begging to be referenced. Don’t let some empathy lacking, low level grunt get in the way of your dream job!

– If you think you’re going to fail the interview or not get the job. Do not become agitated, discouraged, or aggressive during the interview. I interviewed for an Engineer/Devops position in PA that was extremely rough. That interview was so awful I cried immediately after the Skype video call. However, during the interview, I kept my cool as best I could and I didn’t lash out. I got a phone call 3 days later with a job offer and it was later revealed to me that no human would ever pass this interview.

Some of you may be thinking, “who would ever want to work for someone like that?”. That’s a fair question. That particular team was full of some of the most talented, intelligent people I’ve ever met. They all have since left that company and became the head of devops teams at Google, Uber, and Wombat.

Great teams are built from an excellent selection process. If you were interviewed by someone who came off a bit dim, odds are, a good chunk of that team will also be. If one makes it through an exceptionally hard interview, You’ll be working with people who also navigated that gauntlet.

– The best way to do an interview is to be already employed. I can not stress how important is to not seem desperate. Being already employed helps a nervous person not be nervous. Acting a little enthusiastic is ok but drooling over a piece of paper is a red flag. Adults are not impressed by this. On the flip side of the coin (and what usually dings me) is not appearing interested enough. It’s just a personality flaw I carry and it can be difficult to overcome. I’ve used recruiters to bridge that emotion gap with a follow up call coming from them(a trusted entity). I’ve also done white boarding sessions during interview to overcome this. A thank you letter is also a solid way to combat this but keep in mind that any written communication is a vector for failure as well. Ensure you thank them for the substance of the interview and not just for their time -_-.

– The single best way I’ve found to build my skills is through relocation. Most people don’t live in tech hubs where they can bounce around and cut their teeth. If you’re willing to relocate, The odds of you finding your dream job just went up a kazillion percent. Not to mention the raise you just gave yourself. Also, Let’s say you failed an interview for a position 400 miles away… do you care? You just gained valuable interviewing skills for free and didn’t burn any bridges locally.

Some people say the IT world is small. Maybe for a particular industry or city this is true. IT is not limited to an industry. I’ve worked on various forms of infrastructure including cloud, transportation, medical and agriculture. Once you cross those boundaries, one comes to realize just how expansive the world of IT really is.

I sincerely hope this helps someone out there struggling to get their next dream job.



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