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Posted on Monday, June 01, 2015 | No Comments

Wow, its been so long since I did my last blog post. Over the last weeks I have felt that I really miss the days where I was blogging frequently. Hence I decided I would do a month of blogging and force myself to get something small out more often. Lets see how it goes.

Today's topic is interviews.

I see a lot of interview tips on sites like Lifehacker (http://www.lifehacker.com.au/tags/interviews/) such as Killer Questions, why not to Humblebrag or how to answer questions such as Why for a role or What Motivates You. I find these interesting to read and sometimes there is some good insight.

As someone who has done close to 300 interviews at Amazon I thought I would share my very non-official quick list of tips for a interview. Some of them may slant to how Amazon interviews or my personal preferences. I am generally interviewing for technical roles but I also do lots for sales staff, operations and so on.

Here is what I think is important when it come to interviews.

  • Be yourself - you may have a perception of what the company is looking for but there is little use putting on a show. You may assume wrong and you probably wont be be able to maintain the facade for the duration of your employment. If you never intend to wear a suit, don't wear one to the interview. People say "Dress for the job you want", I say "Be who you are." I am not really talking about dress code here, although that is one element. Show your personality and what you will be like to work with, what you will be like with customers. The interviewers are thinking, "Is this someone I want to spend my days with?", so be yourself.
  • Be articulate - The interview is a key circumstance where you want to be on your game when it comes to communication. This means body language, pace of speech, active listening and providing short clear answers. Try to ascertain early on the style of conversation the interviewer is using and match this. Is it a friendly conversation, is it a list of quick fire question and answer rounds? Also note that the style may change through the interview. Many people talk way too fast in an interview. If you do this normally then practice slowing down, as this can be hard for people who are listening to you for the first time. Nerves are no excuse IMHO. If you think an interview is stressful, trying having a conversation with a senior executive at a customer when you have a senior executive from the new company with you, that's stress. Listen to cues. If the interviewer says "So tell me about your high level career background. But lets cover this in less than 5 minutes in order to get onto other topics", then you really should answer within 5 minutes. If after 10 minutes you are still going through the subjects you did in high school there is a problem. Listen to the question and provide enough information and colour to answer it, that's all. Don't keep talking on and on and on until the interviewer needs to interrupt you. If more information is required the interview will ask a followup up question. Very long answers to the one question are not adding a lot of value to your answer and removing time for giving answers to other questions which can give greater insight into you and your skills.
  • Use examples and stories - This may be influenced by my time at Amazon but try to use examples and stories (short ones) for answers. It not only provides interesting colour and is easier to remember but it also provides great insight into what you have actually done and achieved rather than a general assertion. For example, if asked "So how do you learn new things?" you might answer "I like to read books, I love reading. I don't find classes that effective as they move slowly." but compare to "I usually learn through reading. Last year I had to learn Ruby so I read the O'Reilly book on Ruby and then hacked away. After a few months I wanted to go further so read Eloquent Ruby which really helped me understand the nuances of the language." The second version really provides some demonstration of how you applied or practiced whatever the question is about. However, don't be tempted to make something up, a good interviewer will ask you a detailed followup question which may just catch you out.
  • Do your research and improve during the process - do some research on the company and understand who they are and what they do. As you pick things up during your interviews do more research, dive in more. If you don't know the answer to a question in one interview remember what it was and do some research, you never know you may get a similar question by another interviewer.
  • Have some good questions to ask - You will often get asked if you have your own questions. In my opinion unless you are now convinced you are not going to take the job there has to be something you want to ask. You can ask questions about the role, the company, the culture. You will be spending a lot of time working for this company and with these people, surely you want to know more about them. Also, avoid common questions if they are not really that meaningful. I started getting a few "What's The Most Frustrating Part Of Working Here?" questions after the Lifehacker post. Its a fine question if you really are interested in the answer, but avoid just asking filler questions.
I can't say I have been the interviewee many times in my career, but I have survived two rounds of Amazon interviews (first externally and a second for an internal role change). What I did find was that if you are a good fit for the role and the company (which is really what you and the employer wants), then the interview should not be like a visit to the dentist. It should be like a first date, a little nerve racking, some fun, a chance to learn more about someone else and yourself, and a good start to what you hope could be a long and rewarding relationship. If the interview is like that dentist visit, maybe you are not made for each other, that's okay.

There you go, first post. Lets hope I can throw out some more random ones this month!


P.S. Shameless plug. Remember Amazon in always hiring. See amazon.jobs for open roles in Australia. If you apply for a role in Solution Architecture you may end up having an interview with me! Wouldn't that be fun!

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