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We have many stories of skilled engineers who've done a great job on contract and full-time positions, leaving behind happy managers who sing the engineer's praises for the rest of their days.

We've also seen engineers self-destruct at each step of the hiring process, eliminating themselves from consideration for what could have been great opportunities.

As technical hiring has shifted from employees to employers calling the shots, it's especially important to pay heed to the errors of those who have come (and gone) before.

How to Blow an Interview

  • Don't pay attention: Look around the room, show more interest in photos on the wall and books in the bookcase than in talking to the interviewer. Okay, so not everyone is comfortable in a face-to-face interview. But if you want to make a good or even decent impression, force yourself to focus on the interviewer and respond directly with pertinent answers.
  • Challenge and contradict the interviewer: You know more about technology than the hiring manager, right? Maybe you do, maybe you don't. But just to show them how smart you are, after they explain the project tell them it won't work. Tell them they're making a big mistake and going about it all wrong. You'll make their job a lot easier (instantly reducing their list of candidates by one). If you do have another idea of how to execute the type of project they've described, after listening carefully to the project description (and convincing them that you could do it), phrase other suggestions with, "Have you considered using...?" This shows your respect for their current plan, and your willingness to offer meaningful input.
  • Look like something the cat dragged in: No matter how brilliant you are, a dirty t-shirt, unkempt hair, or torn jeans are universal turnoffs. Believe me, we've seen it all. If you smoke, make sure your clothes don't reek, don't light up right before the interview, and pop a few breath mints before going in. You may be as casual as you like on the job, but for an interview, clean up your act. It shows respect for yourself and for the people who are interviewing you. It also communicates a professional image that many engineers don't think to convey.
  • Put the interviewer on the defensive: The point of an interview is to make sure the interviewers are who they says they are, right? Grill the interviewer, cross-examine her or him, then get up and leave because you just blew the interview. The point of an interview is to learn about the project, answer questions about your skills and expertise, and convince the interviewer that you're the best person for the job. Intelligent questions about the project and the company go a long way, but remember that you're there to sell yourself.
  • If it's not your dream job, tell them you're not interested: Maybe the position described isn't your ideal first choice, maybe you've got a few other irons in the fire. But unless it's a serious mismatch of skills (like you're a Java architect and they're looking for a DBA), don't walk away from an interview leaving the impression that you don't want the job. Leave the manager with the option of offering you the job. In today's tight market it's especially important to keep all of your options open. First choices often fall through - and you can always politely pass on the offer later. This leaves the door open for them to consider you down the road for what might be an even better opportunity.
  • Never mind about this job, focus on the next one: Many positions, both contract and full-time, have the potential to lead to bigger and better things, but that's after you've proven yourself to be a valuable asset to the company.
    A first interview is not the time to focus too much on promotions and the potential for advancement. It can give the impression that you're only looking at their current project as a foot in the door. Get yourself in, do a great job on the project, and then talk about where you might go from here.
How to Self-Destruct on the Job
Many things can go wrong on any given project. But some of the people we've crossed paths with seem to have gone out of their way to get themselves fired.
  • Catch some z's: Sleeping on the job has been a timeless method of angering employers ever since the first caveman fell asleep on the night watch and let the village fire go out. And it's still a surefire way to get canned today. Would you pay us to sleep?
  • Personal perspective: Have you heard the one about the contract consultant working at a major Silicon Valley firm who started an e-mail war with a co-worker from a different cultural background? It's true. It happened. He was fired.
  • Fight the power: For the quickest, most effective way to implode on the job, nothing beats picking a fight with your manager. Get into heated arguments in front of other members of the group, and try to rally co-workers in your battle against your manager.
    And if you've still got a job, try getting your manager in trouble with a superior and leave threatening messages at the manager's home number. What's a little restraining order between friends?

Author Bios
Bill Baloglu is a principal at ObjectFocus (www. ObjectFocus.com), a Java staffing firm in Silicon Valley. Previously he was a software engineer for 16 years. Bill has extensive OO experience and has held software development and senior technical management positions at several Silicon Valley firms. [email protected]

Billy Palmieri is a seasoned staffing industry executive and a principal at ObjectFocus. His prior position was at Renaissance Worldwide, a multimillion-dollar global IT consulting firm, where he held several senior management positions in the firm's Silicon Valley operations. [email protected]

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