A CTO’s Guide to a Knockout Interview

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At some point, we all interview for a job, whether we are exploring a promotion within our existing company, searching outside opportunities, or looking for a first job.  There are countless articles, videos, and opinions on resume writing along with the “top tens of what to do” and “not to do” during an interview.

I’ve participated in many interviews for candidates for many different job roles; I would like to believe I am extremely fair.  I always try to provide meaningful and constructive feedback and I want to use this opportunity to share some thoughts and guidance.  From an interviewer’s perspective, here are a few facts that may surprise (and maybe even ease) a candidate – if only they knew it beforehand!

  • I want YOU to be successful and get an offer.  Remember, we are interviewing for a position we have an opening for and our goal is to hire an energetic and qualified candidate.
  • I am just as nervous to meet you as YOU are to be interviewed.  Of course an interviewer is in a position of power, but that is a misperception.  YOU should be interviewing our position and company or group as much as we are interviewing you.  Remember, for you to be successful and for us to have a strong contributor, it must be an equal bond of contribution.
  • I read your resume only once.  I pick out a few items to discuss that are meaningful and I believe can draw out the real YOU.  Items that match the qualities of the position are key targets.  Read the job description and tailor your resume to some of these areas and think of correlative items that YOU can map to the job description.
  • I think a resume awards you to an interview, the interview and YOU, results in the offer.

In a recent interview, I spoke with someone who ‘had an offer’ based on their paper application. However, it quickly dissolved as the events unfolded. My phone rang at exactly 4:05, and I was free, however, I left it go to voice mail.

You may take this as rude; however, I intentionally let the call go to voice mail as I wanted to evaluate the voice message for professionalism, etc.  You will often have to leave messages in this role and I wanted to hear their approach.

The message was immature and unprofessional.

Candidate: “Hey, this is <name withheld>, you spoke to <name withheld> about me calling you, give me a call… here is my number”.

Strike One.

I called back 10 minutes later.  It was very positive to answer and NOT let it go to voicemail.  However, you must have an energetic hello.  For example, “Hello…this is <name withheld>; I noticed your number and I am very appreciative of your call back” would have sufficed.  The candidates answer was simply “Hello” (and a pause with terrible rustling of the phone).  My mind began to wonder where this person was, since we were to have a scheduled phone conversation…

TIP: Create an interview area aside from your day to day working area.  Be prepared with a quiet room and your headset plugged in. Have a copy of your resume in front of you and write out questions to ask.  Take the call seriously.

And so the conversation began.

Me:  “Please be yourself, I am very excited to talk to you about our position.  How about you tell me a little about yourself and why this position excites you?”

Candidate:  “I am not currently working as it has been very difficult for me.  I took a job at company X, however, the commute was too long and I could not handle the long commute.  This job came up so I applied.”

Strike Two.  All jobs have hardships and you may have to travel, work late hours, commute long distances, deal with difficult people, etc.

TIP:  Explain the positive reason you are no longer there; such as you wanted to dedicate all of your efforts to exploring more appropriate opportunities.  Mention this position appears exactly to what you had been searching for. 

Never use an excuse that is perceived as a job requirement of this job as the reason for leaving your previous one.  Deal with these hardships outside of the interview, and understand what you are willing to accept prior to even applying for any position. 

It will save YOU time and certainly an interviewer will appreciate that as well.  Remember, you must know the expectations of YOU.  

Me:  “I assume you have read our job description; what qualities that you list on your resume would you believe best match those requirements?”

Candidate:  “Well I only have one resume and I am not sure of this jobs specifics…let me think for a minute.  How about this”…and the conversation went on for 45 minutes…

Strike Three.  After all of that time, I was convinced the person was not familiar with the job description.  The lackadaisical attitude is a sign of a less than eager candidate.  A fatal mistake!

After the one hour conversation, I asked if this person had any questions for me.  This was a prime opportunity to ask me questions and convince me to reconsider.

Candidate:  “No, I’m good”.

Unfortunately, Strike Four, and the candidate has lost me…

This leads me into some parting guidance and suggestions:

  • ALWAYS have a few key questions you want to ask.  Even if this is your 4th  interview and you have asked it 3 other times, ask it again.  You may get a different, better, or even a confirmation answer.
  • NEVER underestimate who you are in contact with!  This person may not make you an offer, but they may easily know another division and an opportunity that is an exact match.  Don’t underestimate the amount of referrals within a company from interviews that were great conversations, but may lead to a referral call that may not have been known or listed.  Every interview call is important.
  • Do not try to answer every question if you do not know the answer.  For example, if a technical question is asked and you do not know the answer, say so.  Trying to guess will almost certainly lead to a misstep.  A simple answer of “I do not know, but I am faced with those every day, and I use them to go research or speak to others to find the answer” is appreciated.

Final thought:  Have three resume’s prepared to align to job offers.  I use the approach of Less-Than, Equal-To or Greater-Than.

  • The Equal-To resume aligns your skills, education, and personal desires directly with the job description.
  • The Less-Than one is used if you are under qualified BUT willing to do whatever it takes, and essentially need to convince the employer to take a risk in hiring you.  The hiring manager may choose to get an employee with an advanced degree but at a lower position for future advancement – and you both win.
  • The Greater-Than is used if/when you believe you are over qualified but you are willing to take the position.  You may be over-qualified from an educational perspective but you may still be under qualified from an experience perspective.  Be realistic in your comparison to the job description.  Remember that EVERY hiring manager may have any level of position and once you are hired, you can prove yourself and be first in line for a Greater-Than opportunity.  Always remember, it is much easier to promote a great person than to hire one.

Above all:

  • Be engaging
  • Be spirited
  • Be passionate
  • Be respectful
  • Be YOU

This approach just may put you first, with the First Impression.

About the Author: Chris Gaudlip

As chief technology officer (CTO) for Dell Technologies Managed Services, Chris Gaudlip provides visionary leadership for Dell Technologies Managed Services customers. Chris brings 25 years of experience at Electronic Data Systems (EDS) and Perot Systems to his role at Dell Technologies. His accomplishments include pioneering Dell EMC Proven Certifications, filing multiple pending and approved patents for his innovations, and designing solutions for Fortune 500 customers. He was recognized for his achievements by being selected as an Dell EMC Distinguished Engineer – Lead Technologist in 2011. In his current role, Chris is actively involved in Dell Technologies sales efforts, technical validations, and directing the future endeavors of Managed Services. He is the customer liaison and advisory consultant for the Managed Services offerings. Dell Technologies' customers look to him as a trusted advisor. When not traveling or reading up on the latest technologies, he can be found at his favorite hunting and fishing spots.
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