Evangelizing Mainframe
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Tips for Job Candidates From an Interviewer

Since December last year, I’ve been involved in a number of job interviews, not as a candidate but as an interviewer. It’s a role that I have had a lot of experience with over the years, but I thought it might be interesting for would-be candidates to read the views of someone on the other side of the fence (as it were).

I’m not going to talk about completing the job application form, writing your CV (resume) or getting references. I’m not even talking about the inevitable presentation that you’ll almost always have to give. I’m just thinking about what the interviewer is thinking about during the formal interview process. And this is true for jobs working with mainframes, in management and pretty much everything else.

In the past, when I’ve been interviewing four or more candidates for a job, it can be very easy to begin to forget much about the candidates we saw earlier in the day. It’s called interview fatigue. Especially on days when we had to choose from six candidates: I think there should never be a reason to see more than six people for a single job, and it would be better to use other tests during the day to bring that number of people to be interviewed down to a maximum of four. So if you find yourself as one of a large number of people being interviewed, you need to make sure that you stand out in a positive way. You don’t want to be the candidate who fell over the chair! It’s very hard to recover from that situation—although a joke, a smile and quickly moving on work very well.

So, how have candidates stood out? As an interviewer, I feel myself warming to people who come into the interview room and smile. Look as though you’re pleased to see us; you’ve finally got to the formal interview. Don’t look like a deer that’s suddenly been caught in the headlights. And shake hands, if it seems appropriate (and that often depends on how close people are), with the interviewers. These simple techniques make a candidate seem confident and, in the back of the interviewer’s mind, they are beginning to stand out in a good way.

You often hear people being advised to make eye contact with the interviewers. This is a good skill, but remember in everyday life, that’s not how a conversation works. Unless you’re a heavyweight boxer sizing up an opponent or a couple of young lovers, you don’t stare into the eyes of the other person. Looking directly at someone is what you do when you’re listening, or when you’re emphasizing a point, or when you’re ready to stop talking and let them speak. So make sure you do make eye contact, but not too much of it—it’s creepy, especially the Cylon (from Battlestar Galactica) look where you stare into the eyes of each interviewer in turn and then back to the first one.

And when you leave, it’s always nice to thank the interviewers for their time; again, it makes you stand out from some of the other candidates. And don’t leave your bag behind. If you bring in a bag, remember to take it out with you. Nothing says incompetent like having to go back into the interview room for your bag after you’ve already left. And, yes I know, we’ve all done it, or something similar.

Lastly, I want to talk briefly about the questions. It’s important to know some details about a company so that when the first question comes out—why do you want this job—you can answer about your own career progression, but also talk about how working for them will add to the opportunities, and how happy it will make you to have these particular experiences. Also, try to relax—easier said than done—by practicing questions beforehand to recall what you planned to say and reminding you of how relaxed you were at home when you last ran through this question. If you find yourself talking as fast as you can, take a slow breath. 7-11 breathing is an easy relaxation technique. You can breathe in for the count of seven and breathe out for the count of 11, for each breath you take, while the interviewer is asking you the question. Interviewers don’t mind if you take a second or two to think. Although any longer than that might not go down too well. You’ll have noticed the interviewers writing or typing what you say. So, if you talk too quickly, they may not catch all the good things you have to say. And sit up in your chair—don’t slouch or drop your head.

And prepare for the weaknesses question, the one that asks: “what are your priorities for your own professional development.” You’re allowed to have weaknesses going into a new job. You’re not the finished article. You can say that you might want more training on DevOps or connecting your IMS applications to the Internet of Things. Or maybe you’d like and advanced leadership training course? But do think about the job description and what skills you’ll need to do the job well. Also prepare a list of your own strengths. Be able to reflect on your character, experience and skills, so that you can tell the interviewers what you’ll be able to bring to the job. Perhaps even think about your unique selling point that will make you stand out from the other candidates.

At the end of the interview, you may not feel that the interviewers have asked the right questions. You may feel that there’s some important information about yourself that you haven’t been able to give them. If that is the case, then do find an opportunity to say it. They may ask: “is there anything you’d like to tell us that you’ve not had the opportunity to already?” That’s brilliant. If they got to the final question about whether you’re still a candidate for the job, then you can answer that you are and you think it might help their decisionmaking process if they knew that (and here you add that all-important final piece of the puzzle).

As an interviewer, I’ve always tried to see the best in the interviewees who’ve been in front of me. I do weigh up their answers, and I consider their body language and what it tells me about what kind of person they are. I do understand that people will be nervous, particularly when interviewing for a job that they really want and, hopefully, as the interview progresses, the candidate will relax enough to give us their best answers.

I hope this has added some insight into what’s happening on the other side of the table in the interview process, and some tips on how to make your next interview successful. Good luck.

Trevor Eddolls is CEO at iTech-Ed Ltd, an IT consultancy. A popular speaker and blogger, he currently chairs the Virtual IMS and Virtual CICS user groups. He’s editorial director for the Arcati Mainframe Yearbook, and has been an IBM Champion every year since 2009.

Posted: 5/17/2016 12:00:33 AM by Trevor Eddolls

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