On Interviews

A year ago I wrote about my dislike of puzzles and their use in job interviews. The gist of it was I don’t like coming up with complex algorithms. Yet, they’re often used in job interviews. Luckily, since that post, I have been very lucky to get a job at a great company. And guess what? A year in, I’m the one conducting interviews with potential job candidates. Who would’ve thought.

Now it is up to me to figure out if this person that I never met and never heard of is a good fit for Cloud9. We’d like to maintain our high standard of hiring. How am I supposed to know somebody’s good and would fit the team? By letting them solve a puzzle, perhaps?

Let’s not, although a test in the shape of actually implementing a simple Cloud9-related feature is usually part of the process of hiring somebody (if we find it difficult to judge if somebody has the skills required).

But it all starts with an application and interview. So let me share a few things I’ve learned so far (after doing about a dozen interviews and sifting through many dozens of resumes). These are tips “from the other side” that may be helpful if you’re applying to a company like ours. I do realize these may be very unique to me — I always like to think of myself as a very unique person — but chances are they’re not, so these may be useful for applying for jobs in other tech companies as well.

First, getting a foot in the door by applying for a job. A few tips:

  1. Be known. The first thing I do is look at your name. Do I know you? Have I heard of you already? If so, that’s a big plus, because you’re either famous or I will already have an idea what you’re about (good or bad). This is also how I got to work for Cloud9: I accidentally ended up at their launch BBQ, talked to a few people there about what I did. Some had actually heard of it. That helped a lot. Like it or not, networking helps a lot.
  2. Be prolific. This is related to 1. If I don’t know you already, what will a Google search bring up? Do you have a github page, twitter, blog, youtube videos of talks you gave? These are the type of people I look for: people with their own passion that they want to share with others. Github is a great way to show off your abilities, if you have a bunch of projects there that you started that are related to what we do: great! This will also give me an idea of your coding style.
  3. Write a good email. I see a lot of by-the-book style emails (or emails that simply say “Yeah, I’d be interested, here’s my CV.”). That’s fine, but also won’t make you stand out (positively). What I like to know is just two things: 1. Why Cloud9? 2. Why are you qualified? Send your resume, but highlight the parts that are of interest to us, what projects have you worked on that we can see in action of even see the code of (again: github?).

So, you did all this and you were invited for an interview. Here’s what I want to find out during an interview:

  1. Tell me something about you. I usually start with asking about your background: what have you been up to thus far, what are you about, what drives you? What are your hopes and dreams. Why do you want to leave your current employer (if any)? What are the roles you’ve had that you particularly liked?
  2. Tell me something I don’t know. In preparation I usually pick a few things from an application letter, github profile and resume that interest me. A Javascript library you wrote, a project you worked on, a library you used that I heard of and I’m interested in. I’ll ask you dumb questions, like what is it for, how have you used it, what do you think, how does it compare to Y. I’d like to hear you speak about a project you’ve been involved with, what is its vision, how did you execute? Or in the case of a third-party library, do you grasp its vision and core concepts, how do you evaluate them?
  3. Why do you want to work for us? Motivation is very important. Why us? Why not any of the other dozens of interesting tech companies? What would you like to work on at our company? If you have specific features you’d like to work on, how would you implement those, do you foresee any challenges in its implementation?

Beside being “smart and getting things done”, I care a lot about communication skills, these first steps are an important test. We all have to be marketers in a way, you need to be able to market yourself. I believe people with a passion can do that, and we want people with a passion (ideally one closely related to our product).

Oh yeah, we’re hiring.