Success in Interviews

This article first appeared on Danny’s blog,

Know Yourself

I know that I would not be very well suited in server position. My career path does not align me for that. Even if I picked up skills that could be used for servers, I do not enjoy nor is my background in it. If I somehow went to apply for a position in server administration, I would not see myself being a senior systems engineer or architect. I have references and colleagues who are very well suited for this. Why do I say this? Because I have had so many people interview for senior and top-level engineering positions, who fail at the interview because their background is either not strong enough for the position they are interviewing or they outright don’t have the background. Instead of joining my organization in places that best suit their skills, they attempt senior-level positions. Almost every organization I have seen has feedback to HR in the same manner: Recommend or Do Not Recommend. There is never a feedback to say “this person would be better over here”. And ultimately, as rude as it may seem, I don’t have the time to work with candidates to direct them to the type of jobs they are best suited for. Pay and skills do not necessarily go hand-in-hand (and that statement works both ways!). Finally, think about what would happen if you got the position. Your time at an organization will be significantly shortened if they realized you cannot perform the duties of that position.


Your resume is similar to if you were to make a profile for an online dating site. It is intended to make prospective organizations interested in calling you. If there is a position posted that you want, there are other people interviewing for that position. If you are applying to a position that isn’t posted, then it really needs to spark interest in potential employers. Adding experience in common projects allows the employer to see where your background is, because are going to want to make sure that you both “match” on expectations. Furthermore, listing emerging technologies would be an attention grabber, because it lets employers know that you are staying on top technology. However, Rule 1: DO NOT LIE . We will get to this later on, but make sure you bare it in mind when editing your résumé. In fact, you should be editing your résumé at least a few times a year to make sure you capture projects and achievement while they are still freshly earned.

Secondly, make sure your résumé is condense: 1 to 2 pages maximum. List highlights from previous employments that are going to stand out to employers, speaking in real numbers. When speaking in abstract, it gives the impression that you are inflating your résumé and not speaking from truth points. Also, do not underestimate prior employments, as every job in your career path has given you skills that you feel are necessary for the position you are applying for.

For a very broad list of Do’s and Don’ts:

  • DO list positions in your current career (if they are IT-related or could be IT-related)
  • DO list all current certifications and the dates you recieved them
  • DO list emerging technologies you have worked on
  • DO list quantifiable statistics of your past performance
  • DO have your résumé memorized – this will be huge in the interview. Know what you said
  • DO NOT LIE !!!
  • DO NOT post TCP/IP as protocol you know – I believe you if you have a CCNA. But if you list it, I will quiz you on it
  • DO NOT list anything that you cannot speak to. If it is listed, it is a conversation point
  • DO NOT give yourself a title or responsibilities you did not have. You will be expected to speak to them
  • DO NOT list expired certifications. If you did not feel the need to keep them current, then they are just as meaningless to the interviewer

The Interview

Congratulations! You have a match! What does this mean? The HR department of an organization had flagged your résumé as a match for what they are looking for to fill a position. This goes back to knowing yourself. You should be anxious, but after re-reading the job description and duties, you know you can perform at least 90% of them without issues. From here, there may be one or several interviews, based on what the orgnization is looking for. Keep in mind the employer is feeling you out, but you shoudl also be feeling the employer out – there is a reason this position is available, and it is completely acceptable to ask why. Almost all interviewers will reserve the last 25% or more of the interview for questions from you, so let them talk first. Be confident in what you answer or say. Words like “uh” or “um” may detract from your message, so practicing some go-to lines prior to the interview is definitely worth some time. When inquiring about salary, make sure to ask if that is a question for your interviewer prior to asking the question. Telling an interviewer what you want in compensation may be counterproductive if he or she is not the right person.

The sunsequent interview (or part of the same) will involve some technical examination. Depending on the interviewer, they will ask a combination of technical aspects related to the position AND points résumé. Let’s cover that second point first. Remember what I said about your résumé? If you said you were a Data Center networking expert, then be prepared for high level questions about data center right off the bat. If this is an online interview, chances I have Wikipedia and Google pulled up, so if I get a response from the interviewee that is directly from a website, I am less inclined to believe they have experince. The level of questions will be related to the experience and the position. If someone claims to have deployed VXLAN in the data center, I will ask what platform, what use-case, what challenges, and how to do it. If any of those aspects fall short, I will doubt the level of experience in it. Secondly, (and more related to working for a VAR), I am going to take the technical interview one step past your comfort level. This has nothing to do with wanting to sound smarter, but more to see what your natural reaction is being outside of your comfort zone. Even the best plans may need to be changed on the fly, because customers may change the environment while you are working on them. This has nothing to do with the technical portion and everything to do with your soft skills when dealing with people (especially difficult ones). The issue, however, is that you will never know whether it was to test your knowledge or soft skills during the interview.

As a side tip for more junior engineers, do not be afraid to respond (later, after the interview), asking how you did, if the interviewer had any feedback or areas of improvement, or anything you wished you had said (not things you want to say again). This feedback may be invaluable at other interviews, and let’s you grow in the process. After all, it is still another human doing the interview, and they may want to help you even if it wasn’t a good match. Finally, if you don’t get the position, it only means that it wasn’t a perfect match. Don’t be discouraged, because the right one is out there.

A quick list of Do’s and Don’ts for the Interview:

  • DO talk yourself up – this may be one of the few times to throw (most) modesty out the window and talk about how great your are
  • DO NOT be cocky or pompous during the interview – this is a quick way to to clash with the interviewer
  • DO feel relaxed and candid – the interview should be a time for both sides to better get to know each other
  • DO NOT ask about salary with the wrong group – this can create an issue resulting in a lower offer than expected
  • DO be on time, and as “in-person” as possible – if you are meeting on a web-meeting platform, join video.
  • DO NOT LIE!!!
  • DO talk about what your work on a team was, and make sure to credit other members of your team if they did the work
  • DO NOT pretend you did something if you didn’t – speak to how you enabled someone else to do the work
  • DO have fun – this sounds silly, but if you take it too seriously, your anxiety will get the better of you
  • DO NOT talk poorly about prior organizations or management – it only shows your inability to work in difficult situations

Golden Interview Question

If you have read this far, it is only fair to give away my favorite interview question: What IT project have you worked on that was your absolute favorite? If we were sitting at the bar at an IT event, what would be your ultimate story, and then talk it through from beginning to end. This one question has the most profound impact on the interview, because it shows what your level of passion is for the industry. Dredging up a mundane story, when given an open platform, shows little passion, and I will be less willing to be passionate about bringing someone on board. Even if it is a lab situation, it shows what made you proud. On the opposite side of the coin, I will also ask follow up questions about the project, so make sure that it wasn’t a lie.


Tying it all together, start with a strong résumé, putting your best stuff forward. Keep the résumé concise, so that I want to talk to you and ask more during the interview, and just be yourself. If everything goes well, you will be working at that organization for a long time, so make you like the people and the position, and I know they will do the same!

Published by semperfinein

Networker at Red River Technologies ( Architect at times, engineer at others, mad scientist always, but never an adult

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