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Interview Advice...From Both Sides of the Table

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Interview Advice...From Both Sides of the Table

After being both the interviewer and the candidate, I wanted to provide some advice which will help keep the focus on the topic at hand...a successful interview.

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There are benefits to having a long career Information Technology. A couple of those items are going to be the focus of this article.  

The first is that I have been through the interview process numerous times – both as a full-time employee for a given position and as a consultant interviewing for a project. While they are not truly identical interviews, for my article I am going to treat them as if they are.

The second benefit is that I have had the pleasure to interview potential job candidates for open positions where I have worked. While my role has been mostly technical in nature, I have gained an appreciation of keeping the candidate's soft skills in mind too.

Over the years, I have been on both sides of what I call the "interview table." As a result, I have compiled a list of questions, answers and thoughts that are beneficial to the process of having a successful interview.

Successful Interview

Before I begin, I feel like we should establish what a successful interview means. A successful interview does not mean the interviewer loved the applicant and the candidate accepted the job.  That is really the "happy path." Rather, a successful interview is when:

  • The interviewer has received enough information to determine if the candidate is a fit for the open position.

  • The candidate has provided an accurate representation of their ability to meet the requirements for the open position.

While I don't expect to change the interview process in this short article, my hope is to provide some advice that both the interviewer and the job candidate will consider useful. 


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As the individual giving the interview, the expectation is that you are considered the owner of the meeting. The agenda, direction and control are expected to be in your hands. That said, there are a few items I want to pass along:

  1. Try to avoid "rabbit hole" questions. What this basically means is to avoid asking the candidate if they can figure out the answer to a problem that your team struggled for weeks to resolve. My rule of thumb if it takes more than 30 seconds to ask the question, you probably should think of another question to ask.

  2. Avoid asking questions about technologies you cannot implement. I recall being asked a question about Atomic Integers shortly after Java 5 was released. However, the project I was interviewing for was still running Java 1.4 with no immediate plans to upgrade to a version that could actually use the class. Perhaps, a more relevant question could be asked instead.

  3. Don't forget to focus on the soft skills. I recall working on a project where it was clear the soft skills were not a priority during the interview process. As a result, the team was very strong technically, but they struggled to communicate with each other – which made working on the project a challenge.

  4. Don't be afraid to ask the candidate to complete an assignment. This is one of my favorite ideas.  The goal is to have the individual build something similar to what they would be working on if an offer is made and accepted. During the interview, the candidate would walk through the design and development work that was completed.

Job Candidate

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As the job candidate, the expectation is that you are truly interested in the position. You are prepared and believe you have the skills and abilities required to perform the duties communicated to you. Anything less and you probably should not have applied for the position. While you are not leading the meeting, you should consider yourself an equal stakeholder – since it is your career that is being discussed. With that in mind, below are some thoughts to consider:

  1. Be clear on why you are the candidate for the job. The interviewer is not only talking with you, but most likely several other candidates as well. In the end, they are looking for ways to differentiate you from everyone else. 

  2. Ask questions and try to learn as much as possible. The interviewer will provide an introduction that is often of a generic nature. Doing so, they may not include information that is important to you in making your decision. This, of course, is no fault to the interviewer, because as noted above, they are looking for information about you.  
  3. As you learn more about the opportunity, continually ask yourself "do I really want this to be my job?" It is understandable to view the opportunity one way during the initial process, but see something unexpected when the interview happens. Don't be afraid to walk away from the opportunity if you don't see it as a fit for you. Believe me, the interviewer will understand and prefer this happening during the interview process instead of after your start date.

  4. Always be honest. I cannot stress the importance of honesty. I would much rather have a candidate express where they are lacking in a certain technology/area over trying to provide their best guess. Employers value honesty. After all, if you are a 99% fit otherwise, they may plan to get you up to speed in the areas that may fall short of the requirements.

Social Media

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The rise of social media has had an impact on the interview process, both in a positive and not-so-positive nature. There are just two items I want to point out here:

  1. You can learn a lot about the company offering the position and the job candidate over social media. The biggest benefit is to figure out if any connections exist.  The employer can reach out to the candidates shared connections and vice-versa. Doing so provides an additional view into the evaluation process.

  2. Always be careful what you post. Mostly this applies to the job candidate, but I have seen posts by the interviewer's company that might have an impact on the candidates that may be interested in their opportunities. While deleting posts is possible, it is very difficult to un-see or un-learn what has been posted.


As noted above, I don't expect to change the interview process with my thoughts. While some of the suggestions may be viewed as common sense, you would be surprised how often the items I listed have come into play recently. My hope is that you were able to find value in this information.

Have a really great day!

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