A reader asks for help dealing with an interviewer’s questions over video, in the September 15, 2020 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter.
After I passed a phone screen with an HR interviewer for a software developer position, I was given a technical test/challenge of seven questions which I aced. Now I’m scheduled for a technical interview with one of their developers and a manager for 90 minutes over Zoom. The HR rep said they will ask me questions, give me a coding challenge, talk about their processes and answer my questions. They’d like me to have my camera on “to make it a more personal experience.”
I know your feelings about video interviews and I’m generally not too crazy about code challenges over Zoom calls. I think this is dumb, as everyone works differently. Some people might need more time, for example, to research something. This is not high school that we need to test each other. I think the most important thing for me is that I feel confident, and that my life doesn’t depend on getting this job, so I’m not stressed about it. Do you have any advice for me for this interview? Thanks.
Zoom interviews are common nowadays because of the pandemic, but I dislike video interviews at any time. (At least the interviewer will be human and not a HireVue-type A.I. algorithm!) Job interviews are already stressful and a smart (rare!) interviewer must account for a candidate’s added nervousness and awkwardness while using video.
Then there is the problem of how the interviewer comes across on video and how that affects the applicant’s performance and how he or she is evaluated.
Your advantage is that you don’t need this job. This by itself will make you more confident and powerful. So I would just take it as it comes. But I think the key to success is not what you’re asked during your video interview; it’s what questions you ask.
Take some control of interview questions
I never advocate confronting an interviewer. But I do advise avoiding an unfair or unreasonable interview setting.
If you believe the video interview format might hurt you and the employer’s ability to choose the right hire, you might consider bringing it up diplomatically. For example, if you feel awkward about coding while they’re literally watching over your shoulder, let them know. This gives you a measure of control while still demonstrating respect.
If you need to look something up, you might quote what Albert Einstein reportedly said when he was asked what is the speed of light. “[I do not] carry such information in my mind since it is readily available in books.” Smile and gauge the interviewer’s reaction. You may be taking a risk, but the risk of saying nothing may be bigger.
Now I’ll suggest two things you can do when they ask if you have any questions. You’ll see how one sets up the next, almost magically.
Magic question #1
First, ask them what the deliverables are for this job. What do they expect their new hire to do (tasks) and accomplish (specific objectives) in the first month, three months, six and 12? You’re asking for a sort of a project plan for the job. What’s “magic” is that this makes most interviewers realize you’re really thinking about their business and not just about getting a job offer. It also tells you whether they really know what they need.
If the interviewer provides a cogent answer, you’re ready to really engage them. Since any coding challenge they give you will probably be hypothetical and not directly related to the job, up the ante. Segue into an offer that no good employer can refuse.
Magic question #2
Based on their answers to #1, ask the second question, which is magical because it turns an interview into a demonstration.
“I’ve been happy to discuss hypothetical examples. Now could you outline a real problem or challenge you’d want me to tackle if you hired me? I’d like to show you how I would approach it or do it. Of course, I don’t expect you to disclose anything proprietary or confidential! And of course, I’m not going to complete a project here in the interview, but I would like to show you how I’d do this job.”
That’s a very powerful request and a worthy risk to take. I doubt any other candidate will make such an offer to the interviewer. It demonstrates that you are fearless and confident – and prepared. I think it will set you apart. Of course, don’t do so much that you’re delivering free work or actually solving a problem without getting hired!
There’s not a job interview where you can’t ask the interviewer these two critical questions. If the employer cannot answer them to your satisfaction, or isn’t interested in a demonstration of your abilities, reconsider whether this job is a good opportunity — or a mistake waiting to happen.
Finally, if they turn your Zoom meeting into an awkward, uncomfortable inquisition, then you probably don’t want to work with them anyway because that’s what the job is going to be like!
What are the best questions to ask an interviewer? How can you get a measure of control in a video interview?