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Not every IT interview goes as smoothly as planned. Interviews can be botched for many reasons; sometimes due to the interviewer, candidate or even factors outside of either person's control. Most of these reasons are fairly easy to predict and avoid, but not always. Here are a few stories of botched interviews and how they may have been avoided.
There are many ways interviews can run off the rails, regardless of how professionally a candidate or employer conducts themselves. Some errors can be avoided and others, well, not so much. Here are some stories that you may or may not be able to relate to, but can always learn from.
Story 1: We're happy just the way we are
A few years ago Brian Kelley, now a CIO for Portage County Information Technology Services in Ohio, applied for an IT position with a large organization. When you hear the rest of his story, try to remember the position was responsible for the IT administration. During the interview, Brian highlighted his success and capabilities with integrating IT services across IT fiefdoms, silos, and islands.
After selling the employer on his skills for ten minutes, the executive interviewing him grimaced and promptly gave him a stern talking-to, conveying that someone with these types of abilities was of no desire; furthermore, they had well-functioning IT fiefdoms that operated separately. They had no desire to change what was working for them.
What was the takeaway from this? Some may say Brian could have been more careful to try to gauge the executive's receptiveness to hearing him talk of fiefdoms, silos, and islands. Is this the real issue?
It may be that in the process of Brian highlighting his relevant qualities and how it could enable improvement and efficiency, the interviewer perceived this as a personal affront to how the executive team structured and ran departments instead of seeing Brian's skills as an asset to the business as a whole.
In order to secure top candidates capable of enabling company-wide strategic objectives, interviewers at all levels of an organization must eliminate personal biases and insecurities. A business is as strong or as weak as the sum of all of its people, regardless of their position.
Story 2: Don't focus on our needs
The next story is an example of a time where a person said all the right things in an interview, yet everything goes awry nonetheless.
Richard Starnes, MSc, CISSP applied for a position with an employer in the IT, networking and governance space and was quickly turned down for the position citing he was “too focused on governance, risk, and compliance (GRC)". He left absolutely bewildered, as GRC was a heavy component of the position and the business as a whole for that matter.
The lesson to learn from this example is that interviewers need to ensure they are fully versed in not only the position they are hiring for, but also the exact skills required to fill it. If technical skills are key, employers should convey this in the job posting. If the softer management level capabilities (or other skills) are of higher significance, then be clear in the posting and list in order of importance as this is what will drive a candidate's focus.
What could a candidate do in a situation like this? Near the beginning of the interview, consider asking the employer what they consider to be the key attributes or skills in order to be successful in the role. Remember: the fit has to be right for the candidate also.
Story 3: Don't be so cavalier
This last and highly entertaining story is about Steve Silberberg, now a Software Contractor with Firestone Financial and Owner of Fatpacking, a fitness, weight-loss backpacking adventure business in Hull, MA. Back when Steve was a fresh MIT graduate, recruiters from some high profile companies came to campus to recruit computer scientists. “So many companies interviewed us that it was easy to be cavalier with them," he recalls.
After a very successful interview with a large chemical company, Steve was invited to their headquarters to get to know them better and interview with various departments in order to assess the best fit for both parties. After the company set a date, purchased him an airline ticket, and sent him a standard employment application, he figured the visit was simply a formality and decided he would have some fun with the application.
He says, “I don't remember that much about how I filled out the application but in the box marked Education, I put 'none'. Under Honors and Awards, I listed items such as 'Finalist, Bahama Mama hairy legs contest' and '4th-grade Locker Monitor'. Then I sent it back in."
Upon receiving the application, they were not amused. The human resources contact called and reamed him out for his lack of professionalism saying they were considering canceling his company visitation. After explaining his thought process, regret over his actions, and desire to gain employment with them, the HR person relented and the trip was back on.
Just as they were wrapping things up, the employer added one more thing: “If we find that you are lying on this application, we can terminate your employment at any time." To which Steve replied, “I, too, was 4th-grade locker monitor". Not surprisingly, the nice HR person immediately canceled his visit, yet again.
The craziest part of Steve's story is that less than two years later, he ended up working for that very employer… well, at least one of the companies they bought out anyway.
What was Steve's takeaway? I think this one is obvious: keep the cavalier for family and friends, take every step of your interviews seriously. Nothing is done until it is done, and even when the hiring process is done, take the job seriously.
Where are they now?
Despite past botched interviews, Brian, Richard, and Steve are now successful IT professionals within their fields.
Almost everyone in IT has a story to tell when it comes to a botched interview, often played over in our minds just before walking into another interview. Whether you are the interviewer or interviewee, the important thing to remember is to learn not only from your mistakes but also from the mistakes of others. No one is perfect, we are all just human. Mistakes have the ability to greatly assist us in our development.
How to avoid botched interviews
To avoid some of these job and candidate search-related pitfalls, IT Employers and candidates should consider getting in touch with experienced IT recruiters like Modis that can offer the benefit of professional advice and services to ease the burden.