Revisiting the Foundations of Job Interviews, Part 2

Welcome to episode 206 of the Nerd Journey Podcast [@NerdJourney]! We’re John White (@vJourneyman) and Nick Korte (@NetworkNerd_), two Pre-Sales Technical Engineers who are hoping to bring you the IT career advice that we wish we’d been given earlier in our careers. In today’s episode we discuss what to expect in other types of interviews like a technical screen, a team screen, an executive screen, the job offer process, and what to do if you experience delays after the interview process concludes.

Original Recording Date: 12-18-2022

Topics – Continuing the Career Foundations Series, Understanding the Interview Process, Team Member Screening / Technical Screening, Executive Screening Interview, After the Interview Process is Over, The Process of an Offer, Delays after Interviews are Over and A Focus on Process

0:56 – Continuing the Career Foundations Series

  • We are doing a series on the foundations of career progression.
    • In Episode 203 we talked about resumes, their structure, how to showcase your accomplishments, and how you can keep them current.
    • In Episode 204 we talked about what type of reflection needs to be done as before searching for jobs, places and methods to search for jobs, research needed for each job listing, applying for jobs, and ways you can let jobs come to you.
    • Last week in Episode 205 we did a part 1 on job interviews. We talked through the goal of an interview, how to prepare, and some of the types of interviews such as HR screens and first interviews with a hiring manager.

1:45 – Understanding the Interview Process

  • The HR person or first person you speak to at the company you’re interviewing with should communicate to you what the hiring process looks like (number of rounds, etc.).
    • The hiring manager is NOT always the first touch after the HR screen. Sometimes it’s a member of the team you would be joining.
    • John says at Google Cloud the hiring manager is the last person you talk to in the hiring process. You would first talk to a recruiter and do a screening, but after that the formal process is a general cognitive ability interview, a general role related knowledge interview, a Googliness or leadership interview, and a possible presentation interview to a group of mock customers (especially if you are customer facing like John is). After all of this they decide if you can be hired or not. After that you get shopped to a hiring manager.
    • If the first person you speak to does not explain what the interview process looks like, make sure you ask!
    • You should also get some information funneled to you regarding what to expect in each round of interviews (a technical interview, a cultural fit interview, etc.). This allows you to better prepare your thoughts and the right stories to highlight.
    • Competent organizations should provide you with information on what each interview in the process is going to cover and maybe even how to prepare for it.

4:07 – Team Member Screening / Technical Screening

  • This is usually conducted by members of a team you would be joining.
  • Some organizations will have you do a technical interview where team members are trying to evaluate your technical abilities in a specific area.
    • If you’re interviewing for a role as infrastructure architect, expect questions about infrastructure architecture. Your interviewer(s) will have questions that someone with the requisite job experience would be able to answer very cleanly and clearly.
    • You don’t need to expect to get 100% of the answers, but you should be prepared.
    • Think about approaching a technical screen in a similar way to a certification exam.
    • Consider the technical level that is appropriate for the role to which you are applying (i.e. kind of high level, super technical, etc.). If you’re applying for the role of principal architect for an organization, maybe you should be looking at some typical high level architectures for that organization size, the type of work the organization does, etc.
    • When preparing for interviews, even if not as prepared as you would like to be, getting a good night’s sleep could potentially help you fill the gap. It would be better to be well rested and less prepared than fully prepared and running on 4 hours’ sleep. Know yourself and how much sleep you need. If you need 10 hours of sleep to operate at peak performance, block the time on your calendar, and create a reverse timeline so you can achieve your goal of getting the 10 hours of sleep.
  • Reiterating from last week, your goals in this process are twofold:
    • Convince the person interviewing you that you are appropriate for (or maybe even their preferred choice for) this role.
    • You are trying to understand whether this is an organization where you want to work. Even if it’s a technical interview with someone quizzing you, remember you are talking to a member of the team you would be joining. Be sure to ask questions at the end of / where appropriate in the discussion!
      • It is entirely appropriate to ask what the team culture is like, how often the team meets as a team, what it’s like to work for the manager / their management style, how the manager onboards new members, how many people have joined the team in recent months (indicator of team growth / turnover), etc.
      • What is a 1-1 with your manager like?
      • What kinds of things does your manager generally want to know?
      • Is it typical for team members to do a technical screen, or are those normally done by the manager? That will tell you if the manager is more technical or perhaps non-technical. Maybe team members rotate through and each do technical interviews, and in 6 months you would need to be able to conduct one on your own.
      • How does the team keep up to date with technology? Does the company provide paid training, or do team members need to fund all of that on their own?
      • Keep asking what people like about working at the company and if they have been there a while, what made them stay for so long. It’s interesting to triangulate this across people at different levels and in different job roles.
    • It is easier to get information like the above when being interviewed by a potential team member and the discussion is more focused on going over your resume. You can share stories from your background that demonstrate your qualifications, ask questions that reference the job listing, and get feedback. You can also ask if the requirements in the job listing are in the correct order of importance from the interviewer’s perspective.
  • You can ask some of the previous suggested questions like what somoene needs to be effective in the role, what someone would work on if hired today, what the person would like to see in 6-12 months to consider it a successful hire / recommendation to hire, etc. Even if you are not talking to the hiring manager these are still great questions to ask.
    • Your willingness to ask these types of questions will speak to your seniority.
    • Hopefully your interviewer is providing some time for you to ask questions. If that is not provided to you and you’re toward the end of the time block, consider interrupting to ask them then or ask for more time with the person specifically for questions. The person may be willing to answer questions via e-mail after the meeting.

12:45 – Executive Screening Interview

  • John’s experience, before engaging in this type of screening you have likely spoken to a recruiter, the hiring manager, had a technical screen, and maybe even met with people in other job roles who are not directly on the team you would be joining but work with that team.
  • The hiring manager may want you to speak with one of their leaders (a very positive thing). This is a strong buying signal and may indicate a final rubber stamp / approval to hire you.
  • Nick remembers meeting with a director level peer of his boss with a director title when going through the interview process at VMware for a pre-sales technical engineering role. But he has not been through the exact scenario here (meeting with a potential boss’s boss in the interview process).
    • The manager of a sales team is peered with the manager as a sales team since sales engineering works in parallel with sales but may not have a "sales manager" title (could be head of sales, director of sales, VP of sales, etc.).
    • The scenario Nick describes is still a very good sign you’re close to the end of the hiring process since it’s a screening with a manager of a group of people he would be working closely with.

15:45 – After the Interview Process is Over

  • By the time you reach the end of the process, you should have completed your evaluation on whether this is somewhere you want to work. In this way when the organization with which you have been interviewing is ready to speak about a job offer, you are 100% on board.
    • If you are not 100% on board and need to continue the evaluation once the potential employer wants to talk about a job offer, this is the point at which you need to ask for the things you still need to make a decision. Do it before talking about a job offer.
    • John has been in a situation like this when interviewing for a sales engineering role. He asked to speak to the salesperson he would be working with if he got the role.
      • For a request like this, it is possible you would only be able to meet with the sales manager because the salesperson has yet to be hired. Or, they might tell you they don’t know which team you would work on (i.e. not being hired to partner with a specific person).
      • This is additional information to help you make a decision.
    • Maybe you don’t have a full cultural picture and you want to talk to another team member and ask further questions. Perhaps you ran out of time during the team member screen / technical interview and still need to ask these questions.
    • This part would need to happen relatively quickly because the potential employer will want to know if you are a yes or no so that they know how to move forward (i.e. present you with the offer or look at more candidates). Be sure to block time to allow this to happen.

17:48 – The Process of an Offer

  • You likely will not get a written offer unless they know you are a yes. The offer normally comes verbally first (i.e. discuss before it comes in writing). A verbal offer will contain:
    • The compensation package – if adjustments need to be made here, the time to negotiate is before the formal written (and usually electronic) offer is made. Make sure you don’t get to the point of formal written offer without talking compensation.
      • Evaluate benefit amounts for dental / medical, the retirement plan (401K and matching policy, etc.), reimbursement for phone or internet expenses, support for speaking at technical community events like VMUG, etc.
      • If your salary is $10,000 more on this offer but the medical benefits are such that it would cost you more than $10,000 with this new employer, you are taking a pay cut!
      • When John moved from VMware to Google Cloud he had to factor in moving from a company with unlimited vacation to one with a specific vacation allotment. It was a consideration point.

20:05 – Delays after Interviews are Over and A Focus on Process

  • As a candidate, you may experience delays after the interview process is over.
  • You may have come in second or third. Probably anyone who has made it to the finals is appropriate to be hired, and those conducting the interview process have ranked candidates in order of preference.
    • The person in first place is likely evaluating the compensation package and weighing whether they want to accept an offer as described above.
    • You may be on ice just in case the person in first place does not accept the offer.
    • The person in first place may have said they don’t want an offer.
  • If you’re not going to take an offer, don’t ask someone to present the written offer to you. It wastes that person’s time.
    • If recruiters are contacting you, a couple of times per year, take some calls to keep your interview process knowledge fresh and to be aware of what is out there as a progression opportunity for you.
    • At the urging of a former colleague, John went through an interview process to learn the hiring organization wanted specific technical skills which were for him pretty rusty (would have taken a long time to get back up to speed in certain areas). He decided that probably was not the right role for him.
    • There was another instance where John opted out of a process after reaching the finals. He couldn’t get his head around the value proposition of the product this company was selling. Despite the recruiter telling him how much money he could make, John opted out.
    • It’s hard to say no, but if you need to, you need to.
  • Another reason for potential delays is problems with the funding of the position.
    • It could have been pulled after the interviews finished.
    • If delays like this happen, what you want from the recruiter or your main point of contact is frequent updates and when they might have some answers.
  • If they just go silent on you, that is indicative of how the organization is run. If you follow up multiple times over the course of several days with no response, it may be indicative of a greater problem (i.e. could mold the opinion in your mind that this is how they treat potential employees).
    • Even a response that you didn’t make it, were not qualified, or it is a straight up no…that would be something. It would keep people’s minds from wandering. No response is wicked to anxieties people have when anticipating a response.
    • If your point of contact at the company is on vacation, there should be someone acting as a backup for hires in flight that can help you in their absence.
    • Maybe you leave a review of the process on Glassdoor. You have no other way to judge the organization except how they are treating you. You can go on Glassdoor, state the name of the company, how long you invested in the process, and the name of the recruiter. You are warning someone else going through the process to be careful how much time and effort they invest and what might happen as a result. People may want to qualify the organization in or out based on this.
  • If you know people at the organization as you are going through the interview process who are willing to speak to you, they can provide guidance on what may be happening at the organization in question.
    • Maybe they know, for example, that the recruiter you were working with was part of a 3rd party the company has just fired. It’s information you likely would not have access to without an internal contact.
    • Remember it’s ok to explain the situation to someone you know, but you should not be holding that person accountable for what happened (since that person is not the recruiter). Approach the conversation as a way to potentially get additional context.
  • We’re suggesting that even if you were ghosted we should come together as a community and post public reviews that accurately depict what happened when candidates are treated this way.
  • There’s no one magical job that is the best you could ever have. There are just possible jobs.
    • There’s not one manager, one company, or one position. There is a spectrum of each of these you could have. This references Episode 19 and dreaming in bands.
    • Certainly everyone who enters this process wants to win and get the job.
    • Hopefully even if you don’t you can recognize that you did something better than the last time you went through this process.
    • Consider whether there was some feedback you received along the way that was helpful and would allow you to improve for next time.
    • Maybe you chronicled your experience in the process and realized you told a specific story better this time compared to the last time. That’s a bright spot.
    • You’re trying to focus on the process over the outcome even though you really want the outcome. No one will blame you for being bummed out after not getting a job, but hopefully you can become better through the experience (even if not the right fit, not the right company).
    • Outcomes are things we cannot control. Things that can be controlled are the way we execute, and it’s not just on a project or a sales campaign. This is including participation in the interview process.
      • Maybe you interviewed really well this time and felt much better during this round of interviews than the last time you interviewed. Maybe you set proper expectations throughout to ensure you knew the process well.
      • If you can tie how you feel to your process and not the outcome, in the long run you will be much better off.

Contact us if you need help on the journey, and be sure to check out the Nerd Journey Podcast Knowledge Graph.

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