Monday, January 8, 2018

Joel Avrunin's Advice for College Hire Job Interviews

In my position managing the US AE team, I have the opportunity to interview engineers at various levels of experience, from new college hires to senior level engineers.  Having conducted more interviews than I can count, there are certain pieces of advice I would like to give to engineers looking for their first job out of school.  My list applies mostly to engineers going into sales, but of course, much of this applies to any job interview.

Main caveat here - I am not a career coach or counselor.  I'm just an employer sharing what I find are best practices in a college interview.

  • Make your resume relevant.
If you are a college hire, that resume should only be 1 page and should contain only things relevant to the job at hand.  Internships, jobs, notable group projects, etc.  If your resume goes to 2 pages, don't go to a small font or make the margins smaller.  Delete delete delete!  Your college admissions counselor cared that you were an Eagle Scout and in the National Honors Society, but frankly, it isn't very relevant to me unless you can work that into the story of why you are well suited for the job.  If you can make being an Eagle Scout into a good story, then by all means include it!  Also, if you have a college degree, I don't need to know where you went to high school.  Every single line of your resume should somehow communicate to me why you'd be good for this job.

By the way, not every piece of experience must be directly relevant as I mentioned with the Eagle Scout.  Work experience such as internships or even unrelated jobs that show your work ethic do count!  One of my favorite interviewees worked at Rite-Aid in college.  Everything on a resume is fair game, so I asked him about it.  He explained all of the roles he played in the store, and kept me occupied as he described the various aspects of the jobs.  He was a good story teller about his experience (a plus in sales), and I knew that the attention he put on a job as seemingly mundane as operating a cash register would mean he'd be effective in a sales engineering job.
  • Ensure your resume is true.
Everything on your resume is fair game to ask about.  I had one candidate write "RF Transmission Line Design" under "Classes".  Most candidates do not list their classes, and frankly it is not great practice in general.  If you do list classes, confine it to junior and senior level specialty engineering - don't list freshman calculus!  But if you do list a class, be ready to talk about it.  I asked this candidate to define impedance.  He couldn't.  I wrote out Z=sqrt(L/C) and asked him to explain it.  He couldn't.  I explained the whole equation, and then asked if I made a microstrip wider, how would that impact the impedance.  Blank stare.  Finally the candidate said, "I didn't think I had to know this for this job".  I told him, "You wrote you took a class on Transmission Lines on your resume, and this is fairly basic transmission line question.  If you couldn't discuss it, then it shouldn't be on your resume.  What else can't I trust on this resume?"

My favorite new college hire question is about group projects.  Tell me about it.  I then ask further questions on how the project worked.  Or how it could be improved if given more time or resources.  Very quickly I realize the difference between the group leader, and someone who was on the team but didn't do much.  In other words, if you can't discuss a line item multiple levels deep, then don't put it on there.
  • Look up your interviewer on LinkedIn
Especially for sales jobs, you must realize that an interview is a sales call where you are selling yourself.  Look up your interviewer.  First, the interviewer gets an alert when you look at his or her profile.  I am always impressed when a candidate looks me up prior to the interview.  I have only had 3 new college hires do this, and I hired 2 of them.  You can see your interviewers past experience, connections you may share, even personal interests.  If you looked me up, you'd find my blog and see everything you needed to know to have a successful interview with me.  Last week I even posted the answer to my favorite interview question!
  • Research the company on their website and LinkedIn
Spend some time on the company's website learning what they do.  Read some white papers, news articles, etc.  I am always impressed when a candidate has already been on the website.  People want to hire people who want to work for them.  If you put effort into learning about our company, it will reflect favorably on you.
  • Act like you want the job
Continuing on the last point, you are under zero obligation to actually take a job offer.  Therefore, there is no reason to equivocate during the interview.  During the interview, make it clear how much you want to work for my company.  Tell me why you want to work here.  If you decline my offer, you won't be "in trouble" for acting like you really wanted to work here.  If you are a good candidate, I will likely do some of my own selling during the interview.  But the interview is not the time to play hard to get.  If I don't think you really want to work here, I likely won't be too excited about hiring you.
  • Don't drone on and on - answer questions succinctly
I had one manager who, as a rule, did not interrupt people he was interviewing.  I witnessed him do this, and watched a candidate give a great answer in 30 seconds, and spend the next 5 minutes undoing their great answer.  Give the answer and then be quiet and let the interviewer talk.  As an interviewer (especially in phone interviews), it is frustrating when I can't get in a word edgewise.
  • Dress for success
Yes - even for telephone interviews.  Dress nicely, wear shoes, and stand up.  You'll sound so much more energetic over the phone.  I "meet" with customers over the phone, and I always dress as if I am meeting them in person even when I am in my home office.
  • Bring questions and ask them, even if you know the answer already
When I asked you, "What questions do you have for me?", that is actually an interview question.  Better phrased, I could say, "What questions did you prepare to show you are interested in this job and have thought about working here seriously?"  Saying, "I have no questions" is the wrong answer.  Even if you asked your questions to other interviewers, ask them again.  I always leave at least 10 minutes out of a 60 minute interview for questions.  Use those 10 minutes wisely and have questions to ask.  And no - don't ask me how much vacation you get.  The questions should be about the company, the work, our future vision, etc.  Or get personal - ask, "Why do you like working for Tektronix?  What's kept you here so long?"  People like talking about themselves.  I recognize these questions as good sales questions, and I give credit to interviewers who use them.  They are all fair game and show you have a genuine interest in the company.
  • Close - ask if you are right for the job and if not, why not?
If an interview is a sales call where you are selling your services, then you should close the interviewer like a sales person.  Ask the interviewer to tell what your strong points are and where you are weaker.  Ask if you are a good fit.  The interviewer may refuse to tell you, or may share a potential red flag that you can alleviate.  "You seem like a great fit, but I am concerned you've never had any leadership positions."  "Oh?  We didn't discuss my time as college debate team captain.  Let me tell you about that....."  I always give candidates credit for closing me, and the process can allow you one more chance to tell your story.
  • Send a thank you e-mail
This one should be obvious.  Send a quick follow-up thank you e-mail.  Send it immediately because the interview debriefs are often the same day.  Include a few bullet points if you must about why you'd be the best for the role.  But get it sent quickly.

Hope that helps.  And if you are interviewing with me and find this blog, not only have you done your research well, but you'll be ready to nail the interview.

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