What does it take to land your dream job?
For Bill Bruschi, it took up to an hour of job interview prep time, six days a week for six months. And it paid off. He landed a job in December as an Amazon AWS software development engineer.
“I was really nervous. I didn’t get any sleep the night before” Bruschi recalled. “If I messed up, that would have been six months down the drain.”
Job Interview Tips
- Research the company and position.
- Learn about the interviewer and hiring manager.
- Rehearse responses to common interview questions.
- Ask thoughtful questions in return.
- Don’t speak poorly of former employers.
- Send a follow-up thank-you note.
For Puneeth Nettekere Rangaswamy, he snagged a job at Amazon AWS as a software development engineer on his second attempt after upping his preparation efforts.
“Amazon has these leadership principles and they asked me questions around them at all stages of the interview process,” Rangaswamy said. “This time, I was a lot more prepared for the technical questions and I think my preparation was more thorough too.”
Both Bruschi and Rangaswamy attended free weekly Ask Me Anything (AMA) online sessions offered by senior Amazon AWS in-house recruiter Zafar Choudhury. The sessions are open to experienced tech professionals who are seeking job interview tips on applying for AWS positions.
Like Amazon’s Choudhury, Google also offers insight into its job interview process from ways to sell yourself to hiring managers to the various steps to take during your interview rounds. One of the best places to check if interviewing tips are offered at the company you are interested in is to take a peek at its careers page.
Hiring managers and in-house recruiters at Amazon, Twilio and BeyondTrust, as well as career experts at top tech universities, offer these critical steps to take before, during and after your job interview to grab a coveted spot at the company you desire.
Tips for Before the Job Interview
Think it’s a slam dunk and you have the job because a recruiter reached out to you unsolicited? Think again.
“Even if I approached you and said, ‘Hey, this would be a great role for you, and would you apply?’ The job still isn’t yours. Just because the recruiter found you, doesn’t mean the hiring manager is on board with you at that point. So, you still have to prepare and show you can communicate effectively, show your strengths and your worth,” Santina Pitcher, associate director of counseling and programs at the University of California at Berkeley, told Built In.
Here are some critical steps to take to prepare you for your next job interview.
1. Research the Company and the Position
Do more than simply glean the company’s website for information on its products, services, values, mission, management team, board members and recent company announcements.
“I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve sat in an interview and asked the candidate, ‘So, what do you know about us?’ and the answer is ‘Well, I was on your website and this is all I know,’” Dermot Williams, senior director of engineering at cybersecurity firm BeyondTrust told Built In. “Any company like us has great information on blogs and white papers. If you spend an hour or two reading these it gives you an idea of who we are and it goes a long way to show you’re interested in us.”
It’s critical to know Amazon’s leadership principles, for example. You will be asked questions relating to those principles at all stages of the interview process, Bruschi and Choudhury said.
Reading company reviews on Glassdoor is another way to prepare for a job interview, since it may offer information on what prospective and current employees have to say about job interview questions the company may ask, said Rachel Amos, director of career services and employer relations at Carnegie Mellon University. Also read the company’s social media posts on Twitter, Instagram and other sites to gain a better understanding of the company, she added.
Know the specifics of the role you are applying for, as well as which department or division it’s in, said Marvin Lopez, director of student programs for the University of California at Berkeley’s engineering student services department. He noted applicants sometimes go to job interviews without a clear understanding of the role, leaving hiring managers and recruiters with the impression they’ll take any job.
Review a company’s website and social media to offer examples of how you fit in or add to the company’s culture, team, core values, product or services direction, Leena Macwan, a principal recruiter at Zynga, told Built In.
“Interviewing at Zynga is more than just about having the right answers,” she said.
2. Learn About Your Interviewer’s Background
Look up their LinkedIn profile, read their blogs and social media postings, and don’t forget to Google their names to learn more about them.
“Use that information as an ice breaker to start the conversation when you meet them,” Choudhury told Built In. “You can say, ‘I read you did a TED talk last year or I saw you did a cybersecurity presentation.’ Hiring managers love it because it shows you’ve done your due diligence and homework.”
Tap current or former employees of the company you’ll be interviewing with who are also your college alumni, Pitcher advised. Ask to pick their brain for a few minutes to learn more about the company culture and what it’s like to work there, she said, adding that nine times out of 10 they are likely to be willing to speak to you. They also may be familiar with the people you will be interviewing with and can provide you with some insight to make a good impression.
3. Match the Job Description and Company’s Core Values to Your Skills and Traits
“You literally memorize a couple of bullet points from the job description and match that to your experience, where you can connect it to a strong example that demonstrates that skill,” Amos said.
For example, a startup notes in its job description it’s looking for a software engineer who is comfortable working in an ambiguous environment with a lot of demanding deadlines. Let’s say you worked in that type of environment in your previous job and thrived. Point that out to the interviewer and provide data or information to back it up, such as, you consistently turned in projects a day or two ahead of schedule as the scope of work evolved on a weekly basis.
4. Practice the Required Hard Skills
LeetCode and HackerRank were among the tools Bruschi and Rangaswamy used to prepare for their job interviews at Amazon. They said the examples used were very accurate to what they found in the coding tests they took, they said.
“Amazon asks general programming questions that test your knowledge of computer science and programming and will give you a problem, usually by having you do a screen share,” Bruschi said. “It’s important to think out loud so the interviewer can hear your thought process and you’re encouraged to ask questions. You’re really working with the interviewer to solve the issue at hand.”
Zynga’s Macwan also stressed the importance of practicing whiteboard tests where you think out loud and share your thoughts and decision-making rationale with the interviewer.
She also added it’s important to brush up on the fundamentals required for the specific position you seek and be able to demonstrate the depth and breadth of your skillset when solving coding questions.
5. Consume Relevant Resources
Amazon’s technical questions were mostly around algorithms and data structures, such as arrays, trees, string manipulation and graphs, Rangaswamy said.
“I had not done extensive preparation the first time I applied at Amazon. But this time around, I specifically focused on data structures and algorithms and being able to apply them appropriately during the interviews. I felt that was the key difference this time,” he said.
His reading material included a GitHub post, a coding blog and watching coding YouTube videos.
6. Make Flashcards
Prepping for a job interview over an extended period of time can have its drawbacks, Bruschi said.
“I didn’t want to forget something I studied six months ago, so I used spaced repetition flashcards,” he said. Anki is one of the flashcard tools he used, which shows new and more complicated information more frequently than older and easier-to-understand material.
7. Rehearse Your Interview Answers
Find a friend, family member or colleague to do a mock job interview and rehearse answering questions on why a company should hire you. And although it may not replicate the feeling of a real job interview, Amos notes it’s better than nothing. “It’s good to have questions thrown at you and it forces you to quickly come up with an answer,” she said.
Conducting a mock job interview provides an opportunity to receive feedback on your body language when answering questions, Pitcher said. Do you fold your arms across your chest, or avoid eye contact in an in-person mock interview? Or are you constantly looking down in a virtual mock interview, rather than looking into the camera at the interviewer?
8. Find a Distraction-Free Environment
Scope out a location for your virtual interview that is quiet and without distractions, such as pets or kids, which will help you stay focused during the interview, Choudhury said. It’s also important to test the microphone and webcam before the interview to ensure both are in working order.
Another critical prep step is to test your Internet connection far in advance of your interview, so there is time to bolster your connectivity if needed, Williams said. “If our video call during the interview keeps dropping out and the image is fuzzy, I will look at that and say is this how it’s going to be if you are working remotely?”
Find a place to set your resume where it’s out of the camera’s view but within easy sight to refer to during the virtual interview, recruiters said.
9. Visit the Interview Site Ahead of Time
If you have a morning interview, visit the employer’s site a day early to scope out traffic and potential parking issues, Choudhury said. And if your interview is in the afternoon, arrive early to allow enough time for potential snags.
10. Make Copies of Your Resume
Print two or three extra copies of your resume to bring to the interview if you’re going in person.
“I’ve seen this happen on multiple occasions where the interviewer may suddenly want to loop in someone else for a second opinion,” Choudhury said. “Wouldn’t it make you look more professional to pull a second resume from your folder and give it to us? That makes you look prepared and ahead of the game. These are leadership things we look for.”
11. Select Your Interview Outfit the Night Before
In-person interviews call for a neat and clean appearance that is business casual and not a three-piece suit, nor blue jeans and a T-shirt, Amos said.
A similar wardrobe should also be planned for a Zoom interview, as well, she added. Amos warned against taking a hybrid approach where business casual is worn on top but you’re wearing a pair of blue jeans, pajamas or shorts below. A hybrid attire could detract you from having a top-of-your-game mindset during the interview.
Tips for During the Job Interview
12. Practice Active Listening and Watch Your Body Language
Engage in active listening when responding to an interviewer’s questions, Pitcher said.
“I’ve had cases where I asked a question and the candidate will go on to a whole other place I didn’t ask about,” she said. “In my head, I’m thinking maybe they just pivoted because they had no idea how to answer the question or, on the flip side, they weren’t listening.”
And when responding to questions, give a thoughtful answer, Choudhury advised.
“You can say, ‘That’s a great question,’ can I have a moment to think about it?’” Choudhury said.
He also suggested mirroring your interviewer’s body language and tone to make them more comfortable. If an interviewer has a high energy level, ramp up yours. If an interviewer leans back when talking, do the same. Mimicking their behavior makes you more appealing as a candidate and is also an effective communication tool.
13. Pronounce the Interviewer’s Name Correctly
Wondering how to pronounce your interviewer’s name? Try popping their first name into a YouTube search to see if it returns examples of how the name is pronounced, Amos told Built In.
If that doesn’t work, ask the interviewer to pronounce their name and repeat it back to confirm you’ve said it right.
“I think you should try to say someone’s name correctly,” Amos said, but added, “I also think you shouldn’t let it hijack your brain with embarrassment if you can’t say their name correctly.”
14. Have Answers Ready for Difficult Interview Questions
When it comes to all the zillions of questions you will be asked during your job interview, here are five questions that carry the most weight in determining whether you will be hired.
5 Interview Questions That Mean the Most
- What are you most curious about?
- Could you share a recent project you accomplished with your team?
- How do you usually react to setbacks?
- How do you manage and prioritize your day?
- In your last project, what was the one thing that you were most proud of and what was the biggest challenge?
“We want to understand how a candidate works and if their style aligns with our values and principles,” Bryan Powell, senior vice president of talent acquisition for San Francisco-based Twilio, a cloud communications platform company, told Built In. “Questions that get to the heart of their ability to be an owner, their curiosity, and how they approach building and problem solving are important to us.”
15. Remember How to Answer “What’s Your Greatest Weakness?”
Questions around your weaknesses are not meant to uncover your shortcomings, but rather to learn what you are doing to overcome them, or ways your prospective employer can support you to address them, hiring managers and in-house recruiters said.
So, rather than give a response that clearly is not meant as a weakness, such as, ‘I work too hard’ or ‘I have a hard time saying no,’ be forthright with the interviewer but offer perspective.
Pitcher, for example, considers herself an introvert and previously viewed it as a negative trait. However, she has since learned to present it as a positive trait. “I’ve found in my previous job it was really helpful because I worked with teams and was able to be a really good listener,” she said.
16. Avoid Bad-Mouthing Former Employers
“Never throw people under the bus and always compliment your team,” Choudhury said. “If you blame your team members or colleagues that you had to pick up the slack because they were late, I don’t care how technical you are or how senior your title is, your interview will go south so fast it’ll make your head spin.”
Prospective employers fear that if you’re willing to cast blame on your current or former teammates, what will you say about them should they hire you.
17. Eliminate Interruptions
Think it’s ok to answer your cell phone in an interview? Think again.
“I had one person who took a call during an interview and initially thought it could be an emergency. Then, a second call came in and they took that one too. I stopped the interview and said, ‘you clearly have better things to do, so let’s stop this interview and set up a time when you’re more available,’” recalled Lopez, who is also a former tech hiring manager.
Put your cell phone on airplane mode during a job interview, because calls and notifications on vibration mode can also be distracting in an interview.
18. Ask the Interviewer Questions
“When a candidate has no questions, I’m done. They may seem great on paper and have even had great conversations, but if they have no questions — and I’ve seen this many times — it says they’re not curious. It tells me they haven’t thought about the organization, haven’t thought about the position, they’re just going to come in and do what they’re told,” Lopez said.
In other words, be prepared to ask the interviewer questions.
6 Questions to Ask In a Job Interview
- What are the day-to-day responsibilities of this role?
- What are the one or two traits that a candidate needs, in order to be successful on this team?
- Can you tell me about the team’s culture?
- Can you tell me about this specific company value?
- How do employees live these values at work?
- How does the company recognize these values?
19. Recognize When the Interview Is Going Well
When interviewers ask probing questions and the conversation goes deeper, take it as a good sign the interviewer is engaged with what you have to say, Lopez said.
Another good sign is receiving unscheduled additional interviews and a tour of the company’s operations, things that other candidates may not be receiving, Pitcher said.
20. Recognize When the Interview Is Going Poorly
If your interviews are cut short or the hiring manager appears to be quickly reading off a list of interview questions to just get through them, then it’s likely your interview isn’t going well.
Long pauses and gaps in the conversation are also not a good sign, Williams said.
21. Show Work Samples (If Time Allows)
Avoid thrusting your work samples upon the interviewer with the expectation that the material will be reviewed then and there, Pitcher said. Instead, if time allows, offer to show the work toward the end of the interview and be prepared to leave it behind to let the hiring manager or potential team members review it at their leisure.
“You have to trust they’re not going to take your ideas,” she added.
22. Close by Asking for Clear Next Steps
Ask the interviewer how soon the company anticipates hiring for the position, rather than putting them on the spot by asking “What’s the next step?” Choudhury said.
Also, never ask the hiring manager or interviewer “So, how’d I do?” Lopez said, adding, “Don’t put the interviewer on the spot. They likely won’t answer that question and you don’t want to put them in an uncomfortable position.”
Tips for After the Job Interview
23. Send a Thank-You Email Within 24 Hours
The thank you note or email should include specific information about the topics you discussed in the interview, such as system design or data structures, Choudhury said.
“Instead of a general thank you note like ‘Thank you for your time, I appreciated it,’ talk specifics,” he said. “That will have more psychological impact towards the decision they are about to make.”
24. Follow Up If You Don’t Hear Back
After a week or two has passed since your interview and still no word on your status, follow up with the company’s recruiter or the person who arranged the interviews, Macwan said.
You can forward an article or industry-related report in the thank you email, noting you thought they might enjoy reading the materials and inquire about the timing when the company expected to fill the position, Choudhury said.
Career experts say it’s usually fine to follow up two or three times on your status, but after three follow-up attempts it’s usually better to move on.
25. Ask What You Can Do Better Next Time
If you receive a formal letter stating you were not selected for the position and you really want to work at this company in the future, inquire about ways you can improve your candidacy the next time around.
That will likely get you further than asking questions about why you weren’t selected. Companies hesitate to respond to such questions because of liability concerns, hiring managers and recruiters said.
There are exceptions, of course.
“If you follow up with the recruiter, they might be able to share some high-level feedback,” Macwan said. “For candidates who are further along in the process and have established communication with the recruiter, we are open with them on where they stand throughout the process and why they might not be a fit for the role.”
26. Keep a Positive Attitude
Rebounding after losing the position to someone else is never easy but it’s good to keep a positive attitude, nonetheless.
“Sometimes the rejection reasons might not be related to the candidates’ competency,” Macwan said. “For example, there might be a role mismatch, two strong candidates for one role, the position may get closed. In such cases, the candidate can work with the recruiter to identify other roles.”