Successful Interviews Start with Why
Note: this post has been inspired by Simon Sinek’s insightful book Start with Why.
Working in the IT industry for over a decade, I have been sitting on both sides of the interview table. It’s always the same game:
- A company decides that it needs to fill a particular role.
- A candidate gets selected based on their technical capabilities and invited for an interview.
- The candidate goes through an extensive interview to assess their technical capabilities and culture fit.
- Often, the interviewers go to a ridiculous amount of technical detail (for what the job really requires), leaving the candidate completely exhausted.
- The candidate quickly shuffles through their turn to ask a question, and the interview is over.
- Ideally, the candidate gets the job …
- … only to leave in stress or hurry not long after, without giving a proper explanation as to why they did so.
As engineers, we are eager to quickly get sold on what we will work on and move forward. Unfortunately, by doing so, we often forget the reason the company has invited us for an interview - the why. Understanding the other side’s motivation is crucial in the name of everyone’s well-being. Only then can we all move in the same direction.
Which is why you should always strive to openly learn more about why a role is open, what the company is hoping to achieve, and how your presence could add value to their mission. Being honest may lead the conversation to a more meaningful dialogue. It can reassure the interviewers of your commitment to the cause and allow you to assess if the job is a good fit for what you are looking for. It may also backfire - not all companies are willing to play on equal terms with interview candidates - which is a red flag for me to pass on.
Let’s be honest - when a company offers you a job, it is unlikely to do so simply because it thinks you are a nice person. There is always money on the line.
There are a few reasons why a company would post a job offer on the market, and most of them are less idealistic than the offer may sound. Many of those are inter-related, but I have tried my best to split them into four distinct categories:
- The team is growing. Why does the team need to grow in the first place?
- Does the existing solution need to become more scalable?
- Does the company want to spin off a new project parallel to its existing ones?
- Does the team need operations support to keep building new features?
- Has the team’s velocity slowed down?
- The company needs help with solving a particular problem.
- A problem urgently needs solving; otherwise, the company won’t remain a relevant market player.
- The company needs you to implement a business idea.
- Most teams will rarely give this task to an outsider. There is too much IP involved. Someone internal to the company will most likely build a prototype that works but won’t scale, which leads us back to point 1.
- It is a purely staffing issue.
- Has someone recently left the team?
- Has someone been promoted to management?
- Is the company looking to body-lease your capabilities to a client (applies to agencies and consulting companies)?
We often forget that the job market is a two-way street, and it is important to broaden our understanding of each other’s needs to move forward with a collaborative mindset. It’s therefore essential to ask the right questions not just for the technical details of the job but to understand the reason why the job is posted and why the company seeks the skill set of a particular candidate.
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