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Surviving the IT job interview: dos & don'ts

IT trainer Doug Paddock offers tips for acing an IT job interview.

In a downsized economy, many IT professionals are faced with a task tougher than bulletproofing network security: acing a job interview. As an IT instructor at Louisville Technical Institute (Louisville, Ky.), part of my job is helping people learn how to handle any IT situation. Trouble is, if they can't get a job, they can't put that knowledge to work. So, by necessity, I double as a job interview coach.

A few years back, I was a forty-year-old Army veteran thrown into the job market after retirement. I've been a cross-country truck driver, insurance salesman, and farmer, cook, etc., as well as a teacher for a CTEC and two colleges, so I've been to a few interviews myself as an older job seeker.

Based on my experience as a job seeker and IT instructor, I've put together these do's and don'ts for acing an IT job interview.

Do polish your personality.

Matt Grady, a senior recruiter with Manpower Professional in Louisville, places personality as number one on his hit list. Often, people with lesser qualifications get jobs over more highly qualified people, simply due to their personality, he said.

I knew a senior engineer who was laid off when his company went under, which seems to be happening a lot lately. This guy could NOT get hired. Now, this engineer had been my student in the NT 4.0 MCSE track. I observed then that he thought everyone should defer to him because he was very good in one narrow area of expertise. This guy could irritate you if he walked by three blocks away. The last I heard, he still hadn't been hired.

Companies want someone who is personable, confident, and enthusiastic, shows a respect for a healthy work ethic, and fits in with other employees.

Do remember that clothes make the man or woman. Appearance is critical. Your interviewer is going to form an instant opinion about you the moment you walk in the door.

One of my best students was a little fellow who borrowed his father's dress shirt for an interview. He looked like Opie talking to Andy Taylor. You could barely see his head sticking out of the collar. I'd have hired him to mow the lawn. Of course, he didn't get the IT job.

Don't overlook basic hygiene. This sounds so basic, but many people stumble on this one by not shaving or neatly trimming their beards or shining their shoes. By the way, if you have arm tattoos, wear a long sleeved shirt. Some companies do not like tattoos.

Do take out the unusually-placed items of jewelry. Yes, you should even take out the cute eyebrow rings. Personally, I grew up in the Sixties and could care less, but most companies do care. Corporate executives tell me that piercings tend to bother a lot of their customers both young and old. Let's face it, the company needs its customers a lot more than it needs you.

Don't be inconsiderate about the interviewer's time. Thank the interviewer for his or her time right away. As a follow-up to this, don't talk too much. Interviewers are usually on a schedule to see others as well. Be concise and don't ramble on. If an interviewer wants more detail, they'll usually ask you for it.

Do practice your answers! Many web sites offer lists of common questions asked by interviewers. MSN has a whole section if you search for job interviews. Use a mirror when you practice. Get a friend to listen to you, a friend who is honest enough to actually help you.

Do have answers prepared for common questions. This is important! It shows you have a sense of purpose and self-direction, as well as discipline. Some common questions are: Where do you want to be in five years? What are your career plans? How can you help our company? What do you know about our company?

Don't go into an interview knowing nothing about a company. Look up the company's information on the Internet. Prepare some questions to show that you know about the company.

Do not bad-mouth your prior employer. You will probably be asked why you left your last job. Choose a positive answer for this, such as your desire for career advancement or a desire to work for the interviewer's company.

Do be prepared to take a drug test. The interviewer could request a test on the same day you have your interview. A word to the wise suffices.

Don't be on time! Be about 20 minutes early. That means that you need to know how to get to the interview location and leave in plenty of time to be early.

Do follow up your interview the next day with a call or an e-mail, thanking the interviewer for the opportunity and expressing your interest again. Personally, I like e-mail because it's physical and stays in the interviewer's in-box as a reminder.

Don't be afraid to ask for the job. I've heard split opinions on this, but let's be aggressive. Let the interviewer know you're interested, motivated, and excited about the job, and that you feel you're the one to fill the position.

Good luck!

About the author: Doug Paddock is a SearchWindowsManageability Ask the Expert advisor and an MCSE, MCT, MCSA, A+, N+ qualified teacher at Louisville Technical Institute in Louisville, Kentucky.


Check out Doug Paddock's Webcast on "IT Career Paths" at 1 pm EDT on Aug. 26, 2002, or read a transcript of the Webcast at any time.

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