IMO: Interviews

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I can’t speak for everyone else, but I think I have a unique opinion towards interviews. My opinions really began to form when I interview for the global engineering firms at my freshman year at Notre Dame. I pretty much brought nothing to the table, and it was clear to me all of my interviewers know that. There decision to interview me was probably more of a professional courtesy to my connection in the industry who recommended me, but I appreciated it nonetheless. Experience is key to mastering interviews (not that I am a master) and that initial experience helped me moving forward.

The most important part of Matt and I’s interview advice is the notes on preparation. Our comments were very different and I think that is the most important takeaway. There is no interview preparation book that applies to everyone. Some students cracked the coding interview in their high school education, so they are way ahead of the curve and probably need to practice answering behavioral questions. Some students coded a little in high school, but succeeded as social butterflies and developed useful communication skills, so they probably need to practice answering technical questions. Some students have no experience coding at all (besides MATLAB), so they might not be able to crack the coding interview even if they tried. So what’s the answer? If you’re an engineer, use your problem solving skills to develop the best solution for interview preparation. I think that each student’s interview preparation can be viewed as a unique engineering problem. Examine yourself and determine the best guide to help you prepare for an upcoming interview.

My personal guide went roughly like this:

  1. Brush up on basic syntax/structures
  2. Have confidence you can solve weed out questions
  3. Know that technical questions above your head are worth attempting, but you can always be honest about your lack of knowledge of a topic
  4. Brainstorm memories that can apply to general behavioral memories
  5. Go to sleep on time

I think the most important part of my guide is number 3, it is completely okay to admit when you don’t know something. The first time I was flown out to a company’s offices, I did three consecutive interviews. During those interviews, I probably came across four or five questions that related to subjects I never studied. I made the interviewer aware, but still asked for a chance to solve it based on the general knowledge I had of programming. Typically, the interviewer and I ended up working through the problem together until the answer made sense to me. Flying back to ND, I assumed there was no chance they would offer me a job, but that ended up being my first internship.

I wish I would have known to be confident in my own technical skills. Naturally, I would compare myself to my peers in computer science. In retrospect, that was a useless practice because we all came from different backgrounds. Fortunately, companies are pretty good at determining a candidate’s ability to learn, not just what they already know. From my experience, what I already knew was actually less important than my strength of being able to pickup new technologies quickly. I hope that future students at Notre Dame who find themselves in my shoes will have confidence in their current skills and faith in their ability to learn.

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