It’s been a minute since I was last searching for a new job. Since leaving my previous role a few months ago and having taken some time off, I have now been actively involved in multiple interview streams. And, unsurprisingly, the interactions have been all over the map.
Nonetheless, this process has been a tremendous learning experience yet again, helping me become a better professional. The interviews themselves are an invaluable feedback loop. The following observations stem from my own present and past experience interviewing for CTO/VPE roles but I suspect they can help any Engineer or Engineering Manager become considerably stronger than the average candidate.
Fit is everything
There are all sorts of candidates and all sorts of companies out there. Neither are absolutely good nor absolutely bad. What matters is the fit between the two. If both sides are great, but one is not looking for what the other really brings, odds are it won’t work anyway. Having this mindset going into any interview loop helps you remain objective, grounded and pragmatic throughout. Because fit is everything, remember that it takes two to tango — you are interviewing the company as much as they are interviewing you.
Prepare thoughtful questions
You can’t do a good job interviewing the company if you don’t ask good questions. Therefore, preparation is not just about anticipating the questions you will get, but also planning the questions you are going to ask. Good companies, and good interviewers, will highly value a candidate that asks critical, outside-the-box questions that challenge them, and that reveal you have done your homework. It will also give them good signal on what you care about (and vice-versa). And if an interviewer leaves no time for your questions, that’s a big red flag, particularly for senior roles. Regardless, knowing in advance who you’ll be talking to, and roughly what topics, helps tremendously in crafting good questions.
Partner with the recruiter
Just like in a hand of poker, the more information you have, the better off you are. While executive recruiters tend to be closer to their candidates (due to lower volume and higher upside on a successful close), in general partnering with the recruiter is critical. Good internal recruiters will still be helpful if you ask them questions, but external recruiters will be particularly incentivized to get you hired, and therefore will be on your corner throughout. Help them help you — be honest and clear on what you bring to the table (and what you don’t), push them for information if they’re not proactive about it, and debrief with them after each step. Everybody benefits.
Take notes and make adjustments
Continuous improvement can only happen through reflection. While a job search can be draining due to the sheer number of interviews potentially across multiple companies, that is also why it can be such a growth experience — each interview translates into an opportunity for learning, and for making adjustments to your strategy or approach. Taking notes during the interview helps the introspection later, especially if you capture the questions you were asked. Where you feel your answers were lacking, you can take the time later to come up with a better answer and file it away, ready for future use. That’s how compounding happens: one interview at a time.
While it’s in companies’ interest to hire, that shouldn’t make you any less appreciative of someone taking their time to talk to you, and giving you an opportunity to interview with them. After all, if nothing else, you’ll learn something. So when you feel the interview was a good experience, and that you were treated thoughtfully and respectfully, I suggest sending an appreciative email to your interviewer(s) a few hours later, or the day after. Be specific on what resonated with you — maybe they gave you insights on certain internal topics, or they were very candid and clear about the challenges. This gives them further insight into what you value, sets up a long term relationship and, let’s be honest, it’s just nice.
Interview didn’t go so well? Sleep on it. It actually went great? Don’t get complacent. Going through a job search can be an emotional rollercoaster. Rejection, in particular, stings — especially for those gigs you’re really keen on. However, it’s important to realize that a rejection does not define you as a professional, much less as a person (remember, it’s all about fit). And if you truly see each rejection as powerful feedback to make you better, that’s when you turn “failure” into growth, lemons into lemonade. And always press the company to give you detailed feedback on why they passed on you. Otherwise, you can’t effectively reflect and take steps to improve. Beyond that, let go.
If you’re currently searching for your new job, particularly during these crazy pandemic times, good luck! I hope these tips help maximize your chances of landing a job you’ll be happy and productive in. And remember, whatever happens, just be yourself. It’s better to slowly improve who we are, than pretend to be someone else. Authenticity goes a long, long way.