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Two Critical Questions for Your Next Interview

I’ve interviewed probably over 500 engineering and management candidates over the last several years.  There have been a lot of really smart people who have applied at DocuSign, Microsoft and Tempo Automation. A surprising number of them didn’t have a clear answer to these two essential questions:

  1. Why are you interested in joining our team?
  2. Why should we be interested in you? 

If you are an applicant, having a prepared answer for these questions is critical.  If you are a hiring manager, you should ask them and have a clear answer to these questions at the end of the first interaction with your future team mate.

In a field where work is somewhat predictable and static, those questions are less critical, but in software development perseverance, ingenuity and focus make all the difference. These are the two main questions that will separate a subpar and a superb hire.

When I discuss those two questions with an applicant I try to go below the surface.  Generic answers like “it says you are looking for a Python programmer and I know Python” are not good enough.  That type of an answer shows the lack of research and behind that could be a lack of interest.  Don’t bring in disinterested people onto your engineering team.  Low energy is contagious and firing is worse than never hiring someone in the first place.

For applicants: don’t take a job that you are not absolutely interested in.  Software is hard work, often involving a lot of hours.  Do you really want to be doing something you are not a good fit for?  One of the ways you can figure out whether you will be interested in the field is to pay attention to what it is that you are doing in your free time.  Before taking on my current job where we are using software to automate hardware manufacturing I started playing around with Raspberry Pi and looking into connected devices.  The software engineers that succeed on my current team have been playing with machine automation, robotics, hardware design.

If you are applying for a job where you can’t answer those questions, then maybe it is not the job for you.  Before getting too far into the process review the company website, the mission, press releases and blog posts.  Second, study the job description and ask clarifying questions over e-mail.  No matter what - do not sign up for a technical or an onsite interview until you gain clarity.  It could be a giant waste of time for everyone involved.  Be aware of companies that don’t ask those questions, organizations that think they can take any engineer, pay a decent salary and get requirement docs translated into code aren’t looking for ideas and innovation.

The good news is that if you do get these answers the job is likely to be fun and rewarding.  There is a good chance the team will be comprised of people who driven, energetic and have an interest in this field.  How fun would it be to get paid for the things you were exploring on your own, and to be surrounded with folks who have innovative ideas?
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