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
How to Self-Destruct on the Job
- 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
- 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
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.
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?
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.
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.
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