On December 9th, I had a very exciting interview. The company is Procerus Technologies. They make small unmanned air vehicles (UAVs), which are basically model-sized planes that fly themselves, take surveillance, and what not. The position I was being considered for was hardware engineer. I left the interview feeling good about it, but they had informed me that they had a long list of applicants, so I was trying not to get my hopes up. Nothing happened for a week, but then they called me for references. Some hope restored, I immediately gave my KZCO references. A couple more days passed, and then they called to make sure that I was still interested. Several more days passed and then they called to ask when I could start. Getting excited, I said that I could start whenever. They quickly told me that they were still figuring things out. Damn it! Finally, the following morning, 3 days before Christmas, I got the offer. It was easily the best Christmas present I have ever received. Tara and I hit the slopes the following day to celebrate.
I started work this past Tuesday after getting back from Omaha Monday evening. I can already tell that I’m going to love this job. My coworkers are all very friendly and welcoming. I’ve already been invited out to lunch twice and to go night skiing after work next week. The actual work is exciting as well. I’m currently working on a hardware/software mod for a custom order. Naturally, we’ll have to test it when we’re done which means going out to a wide open place and test flying an airplane with the changes on it. Sounds pretty boring, doesn’t it?
I’m not sure exactly what parts of my personality, skill set, and experience managed to get me to the top of the applicant list, but I’m going to describe my approach here. Perhaps you’ll find some of it useful.
They started with a fairly in-depth phone interview for which I was in a conference call with the engineering manager and the senior hardware engineer. This I particularly appreciated, because too many times I’ve had phone interviews with someone from HR that knows absolutely nothing about engineering, and then advanced to the actual interview with an engineer only to unpleasantly discover that I was completely lacking the skills that they happened to be looking for. So anyway, I told them about my experience, made jokes here and there, and even managed to give them some advice. Thus the conversation ended up being more similar to a group of professionals casually comparing notes than an actual interview. I think that this got me huge points. After about 45 minutes (I had just finished my morning coffee when they called, so, by that time, had to go pee soooo bad) they asked me in for a face-to-face interview that afternoon.
I prepared for the interview by checking out their website (anyone will tell you that), and also gathering samples of my previous work: a couple PCB’s I designed, and for kicks, my LED graduation hat. I daringly chose to wear a sport coat with jeans with the logic that everyone wears suits to interviews, and I want to stand out from everyone. Also, I figured it would be more catchy than my “I really want this job” T-shirt.
The interview itself turned out to be one of the most enjoyable interviews I’ve ever been in. Rather than quizzing me with generic engineering questions, they threw real world issues that they had faced or were currently facing and asked me how I would solve them. I enthusiastically gave my best theories, and could tell they were impressed. I also made it a point to inject a little bit of my personality every chance I got. Everyone has experience, everyone has a degree, everyone got at least this GPA, no one has the same personality. When it was my chance to ask questions, I mixed in some fun ones along with the “boring” ones: “Are you guys a fun company?”, “Do you guys do pranks?”. These questions had everyone laughing and reminiscing their best pranks.
After the interview, they of course told me they’d get back to me. I greatly wanted to send a follow up email, but they had not given me any contact information aside from a phone number, so I deliberated for some time on whether or not it would be appropriate. After I didn’t hear anything the following day, I finally sent a follow-up to the “contact us” email on the website, admittedly to blow some more smoke, but also to genuinely commend their interview process and the company in general. I was pleasantly surprised to receive several positive responses to my follow-up.
So, anyway, here’s my advice, in list form:
1. Be enthusiastic—make sure your passion for your area of expertise shows. If you’re not passionate, you need a new line of work.
2. Let your personality shine—most employers aren’t looking to hire a closet engineer, and if they are, you probably don’t want the job anyway (unless that’s your thing). Also, they got all the “boring” stuff off your resume anyway.
3. Move Before finding the job—granted, it is more stressful, but if you’re trying to relocate, you’re probably not going to have any luck lining up a job before you’ve moved. Especially it this economy, if you’re not local, you resume will get trashed immediately. I should be clear here: you should probably do some research beforehand to make sure that your target industry exists where you’re looking to relocate.
4. Blow Smoke!—Everyone likes being complimented. If you make observations about a target company that excites you, let them know that. Also, ask plenty of questions and show genuine interest in what they say.
5. Talk like you already have the job—It my seem presumptive to do this during the interview, but the way I see it, they’re trying to picture you in the position anyway. Make it easier for them!
6. Do NOT ask about pay/benefits during the interview—anyone will tell you this, but I wholeheartedly agree. Asking questions like this will make it seem that you’re more interested in compensation than work.
7. What is your target salary?—I think this is the most difficult, and almost unfair question an employer will ask. Say there are 2 equally qualified applicants. Guess who gets the job? The one who asks for less. After struggling with this for some time, I eventually started giving a range: “Well, my target salary is x, but I’ll go as low as y.” Consequently, guess what my offer was? Sure, they added a little on to not come off like jerks, but it definitely wasn’t x. I didn’t mind though—I had gotten the job! I figure once I have a little more experience, then I’ll have more leverage to demand more specific salaries.
8. Do you barter the offer?—I’m hoping someone else can offer their wisdom on this one. They give you the job offer with salary z. Do you try and talk them up, or just accept the offer? I’ve honestly never negotiated a salary—I’ve always been happy just to have the job.