Thursday, December 16, 2010

Adventures in Interviewing

As I mentioned in my mini-post, I was recently selected for a new role at my job. This is possibly the coolest thing that's happened since I got married, as now I can stop doing the one I said in my original interviews I didn't want to do, and now be doing the one thing I said I really want to do. I'll be developing applications for Android and iPhone platforms and it's magical and exciting. I think I even get a laptop. Oh snap!

To get to this point, I had to go through 4 different interviews. While the types of these interviews was nothing new (initial screen, skills, behavioral, and closing), the path I took through them was probably the most unique and memorable one I've had so far.

Introduction - That thing that makes books seem deep and meaningful

Interviewing is a complicated beast. You need to look completely awesome and badass without coming off like a tool. You need to be memorable, but not weird. You need to be comfortable, but not too casual; answer with ease without sounding overly practiced or coached. (I originally typed that as "overly cracticed or poached". I had no idea that Spoonerisms could carry over into typing. Then I was amused as I thought of an overly poached egg in a little suit having a interview.) It's something we will have to deal with at some point. I always end up going with the plan of using my ridiculous trivia knowledge to interject random facts (but not really weird ones). This way, I stand out as being "that girl with all the facts". Sometimes it falls flat. However, other times, it works absolutely wonderfully and creates a rapport with the interviewer. What follows is one of the latter.

Chapter I - On Handshakes and Boy Scouts

My first interview was a hastily scheduled 15-minute affair, just to put a face with my resume and make sure I wasn't some sort of robot, because apparently robots are not qualified for development work.

I arrive in all my humany glory, which pretty much fulfills all the needed points of the interview. "Let's have thumbs? Check. You passed the first round!" He told me about the position and team, and we discussed my college a little bit. As the interview time drew to a close, I go to shake his hand...

Back story time! Kane is a super Boy Scout-y type, which I have always found really cool. I was a Girl Scout for awhile, but my leader was all about making aprons and cookies and not ever going outside because it was yucky, so that didn't last long. I always wanted to be in the Boy Scouts because they got to do cool things. Alas, I had boobs, which I guess would distract the boys from making fires or pitching (non-pants) tents (yes, I just made an erection joke. DEAL), so no cool Scouts for me. Recently, I've been accompanying Kane to scouting events. Scouts, ostensibly having something to do with trust but really because I think they just have to be different, shake with their left hand. I'm cool with this because I'm left handed.

Since my last few rounds of "shake all the hands!" have been at scouting events, I had left-handed shaking programmed in.

Back to your regularly scheduled blog post! I go to shake his hand....and lead with my left. He, of course, comes in with the right. Oh noes! What do we do? Is he now thinking "wow, this girl doesn't even know how a handshake works? I don't care if she does have thumbs, no job for her." Then magic happens: he switches it up! We shake left-handed! He assumes it's due to left handed-ness, but then I whip out the Boy Scouts knowledge. You Eagle Scouts think that gets you perks...being a girl who knows about Eagle Scout things really helps you out. The interviewer was all "I didn't make it past Webelos. You know what that is?" and I'm all "hell yeah I know about Webelos!" and then we talk about Scouts for 5 minutes.

However, after scouts, we talked about handshakes and the history thereof. This will be important later. The cool thing was that I had made an impression on interviewer dude.

Chapter 2 - And who was late on the pop 'n lock?

The next day, I had my behavioral interview. Conveniently, it was with the same guy I had had the initial screen the day before. This one was your standard "tell me about a time when..." interview where I got to discuss my Senior Design project, which manages to fit as an answer to almost any of the questions those types of interviews contain. I was feeling good. The interview wraps up. Then, this happens:

Interviewer: So, I was thinking about handshakes yesterday. Which made me think of Howie Mandel.
Me: Oh?
Interviewer: Yeah, how he's a germaphobe so he does the little fist bump thing. I think that's kind of weird.
Me: Well, hands can be icky.
Interviewer: Yeah. But then like, fist bumps are really cool.

Random, but neat. So, he walks me to the door. I go in for the handshake. However Chuck (interview dude. Probably should have mentioned that), says "nah...let's be cool." And then we fistpounded. I got to fistpound with the interviewer!

We even did the little "pull back and go boom and make a little explosion with your hand" thing. (That has a name...what is it? I feel like attempting to Google it will lead me down dark paths.) I felt like a champion. It almost didn't matter if the interview itself went well...I had passed into "fistpound" coolness.

Chapter 3 - The danger of random outbursts

Later that same day, I had my skills interview as well. I had asked a friend who had gone through the process beforehand what kinds of questions to expect. She told me nothing super technical...just know your stuff and you're. Specially, I asked about all those "what is about abstract things versus interfaces..and so on" questions typical in Java interviews. She said they wouldn't be asking those. I thought I was set.

I get on the call (this was an over the phone interview with someone in St. Louis), riding the high of my fistpound from earlier. Things start well, typically "describe some projects you've done" kind of discussions. I again get to use the magic Senior Design project. Things are looking good.

But then…interview theme shift! He does, in fact, make with the “typical Java interview” questions. Now, I am aware of all the answers to these questions, trust me. However, when you’ve planned to not have them asked and have been focusing on an entirely different question set, it takes a bit to refocus your brain. I’ve mentioned previously how my brain works differently. So I’m over here thinking about Batman and then I’m called on to explain polymorphism.

CRAP! I panic. This is an approximation on the conversation that followed:

Me: Uh…well, it’s Greek for “many forms” [Yes, I said this. Please punch me in the face].
Interviewer: It’s one of those things you use all the time but you can’t describe.
Me: It’s like that you can have a car, but that car can be a Ford and haul heavy things, or it can be a Cadillac and go 30 miles per hour down the highway since a little old lady is driving.
Interview: Hm…that’s actually a really good panic answer. It’s ok…I think you know it. Like I said, it’s something you see every day and can’t remember the name of.
Me: LIKE A UVULA! [Oh Lord, what did I just say!?]
Interviewer: ….What?
Me: That little thing in the back of your throat…you see it, but it has a funny name…
Interviewer: Oh. Yeah. Like that…

The interview continued with the rest of the Java questions and now that my brain had readjusted, I answered them with no problems. I was wary, however, that I broken my rule of “no weird facts” and had ruined everything but going for the anatomy lesson.

Chapter 4 – The Closer

I was now left to wait and see if I would be granted a closing interview. I did not feel the tides where in my favor since I had whipped out my uvula the day before, but I hoped nonetheless.

After a day or two, I was sent the request for a final interview. I had hoped the skills interviewer had gotten temporary amnesia and forgot to record my uvula outburst. This was to be a short phone interview. It became a lot less intimidating when a woman called me and “coached” me for the interview – essentially telling me everything I should say to sound good. I had a script in hand – how could I screw up?

Spoiler Alert: I didn’t. This interview actually went really well. But, since none of these could happen without something of note, I shall recall the two amusing side-tracks my closing interview took.

First, the phone was making that weird interference noise when someone has their cell too close to the handset. The lead interviewer (the woman who coached me the day before was also present) apologized, saying that he had been put up in what used to be a girl’s school but was probably actually a prison and he could reach out and touch any of the four walls if he sat in the middle of the room. Thus, he couldn’t get his cell far enough away from the phone without hanging it out a window – which he said he totally thought about trying. Cool dude – I liked his ingenuity.

Secondly, this happened (for reals):

Interviewer: This is an uberly cool thing!
Me: Excellent use of a form of uber.
Interviewer: Yeah, it’s sweet. Though I guess it doesn’t become “uberly”, since it’s German. I guess it’d be “Uber…stein”? “Uber…macht”? I don’t know – something that sounds angry no matter how nicely you say it.

Then we went back to serious matters, and finished the short interview. I was excited to work on this guy's team. Anyone who makes tangents on girl's school-prisons and angry German-sounding things is awesome.

Epilogue – The part where things actually end

So, I got the job. I like to think that my random outbursts mostly helped. Remember, it’s good to remembered in interviews. Just probably not for uvulas.


P.S. Oh, you totally knew I was going to draw the poached egg in a suit. You had to.


  1. Whipping out the uvula. Like a champ.

    Also, I'm all over the senior design project in interviews. My research that I've been doing on for the past six months is now also on the "shit to bring up if at all possible" list. Oh, and did I mention I'm in the process of getting published? Why haven't I been hired yet, again? Oh, right. I should probably start actually looking for a job...

  2. Yes, senior design is in the "use this for every interview" bucket, as are my internships. I love how you defined polymorphism by giving its origin. You should have used a video game reference, "It's when you turn a person into a sheep in WoW".

  3. Peter - What about grad school? Or is it a job for summer?

    Micah - Heh...except I know nothing of WoW.