The Curious Candidate Gets the Job

Remember the last time you were looking for a job… A job search can be a stressful experience, whether or not things are going well. It’s hard not to agonize about things you could have said in your last interview, problems you could have solved, how you could have prepared better, etc. I’ve really enjoyed my multi-week job search extravaganza (see note at the beginning of my first post), and a large aspect of that has been to keep the following in mind:

Be curious!

A job search is an opportunity to learn about people, companies, and yourself. I firmly believe that treating it as such is not just a luxury for those of us lucky enough to be confident that they’ll get a job. It actually makes you a better candidate by helping you prepare better, be more engaged throughout the interview, and improve for the next interview.

Preparation

Think about the company. Poke around their website. What’s cool about what they’re doing? What’s cool about what you might get to do if you worked there? What are their unique advantages? What challenges might they have? Are there things about the technology or the business that you don’t understand?

At the interview: Ask questions you’re genuinely interested in.

You probably thought of questions you’re curious about while you were preparing for the interview. More questions will come up if you engage with what you’re hearing when you’re there. Pull on the threads that seem important, and get multiple perspectives. Here are some things you might be curious to learn.

  • Maybe you’re trying to imagine yourself working on the team. What would affect your experience? Projects, organizational structure, tech talks, culture, …?
  • Maybe you’re talking to a manager. Are there things you want to know about the overall direction for the company, and how the team you’re interviewing with fits in that picture?
  • Do you want to know how your interviewer decided to join this company, and whether they encountered any surprises?
  • Maybe you’ve already decided you’re unlikely to join the company. You still have a unique opportunity to learn how things work around here.

By the way, if you get an offer, you’ll almost certainly get a chance to talk to more people. It would be reasonable to leave the more down-in-the-weeds questions until then.

After the interview: Agonize productively

If you’re like me, after an interview, you’re likely to be agonizing about all the things you could’ve done better. You can make that productive rather than miserable.

  • Were there things you didn’t know that you should have known, or would like to know? Go out and learn them! My interviews have caused me to go through the Django tutorial, review the math behind SVMs, read up on Spark, etc.
  • Were there interactions you can handle better next time? I had an interview where I rushed to code up a solution without first making sure the interviewer and I were on the same page about the right approach. I’ll be sure to watch out for that temptation in the future.

Positive attitude

Being curious will make your job search a less stressful experience, which will make you more effective. If you go into an interview thinking of it as a learning opportunity, and the interview doesn’t go well, at least you still learned something!

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