How to Do Well at a Job Interview in IT? — Interview with Kamil Ficek
For many IT specialists, the recruitment process is quite a stressful experience. Often the decision on the negative outcome of the recruitment process is affected by the inappropriate approach or lack of preparation of the candidate. The recruiter also plays a very important role in the process — he should properly conduct the recruitment process and guide and support the candidate at every stage.
As part of our Call For Tech series, we talked about these topics with someone who has over 8 years of experience in the field of IT recruitment. Kamil Ficek works at Next Technology Professionals as a Senior IT Recruitment Consultant and describes himself as a man of action, adhering to the principle that he always works with other people, not with the object on the bill.
During our interview with Kamil, we focus on analyzing candidates’ interview behaviors and discuss valuable tips and tricks to increase employability.
Kamil, what do you think is the single most inappropriate candidate’s approach to the hiring process?
In my opinion, it is being distracted, i.e. taking part in too many recruitment processes. If even a given candidate has very good intentions but comes across a recruiter who does not have good practices (does not remind him, does not mark his presence, or does not emphasize the recruitment process he is approaching), the candidate is lost, because, for example, he takes part in 7–8 processes at the same time, and thus in most processes he is treated as a product (i.e. he is treated quantitatively). Of course, there are several other major sins of candidates, but in my opinion, it is this distraction, failure to remember arrangements, etc., that all arises in the recruiter-candidate synergy, and it is the recruiter’s job to guide the candidate accordingly.
How should a candidate not behave during an interview?
Certainly, the candidate should not put himself above the interviewer who may be his future employer. The conversation should always be equal. This happens very often with people with more experience — with Team Leaders, Seniors, and Architects in the IT world. Whether it is within the development or IT operations. Often a very experienced person is convinced that he can do the job and knows a lot. If he/she feels put up against a wall, he/she may automatically switch from defense to attack — exalting or lecturing the other party with expressions such as “what kind of question is this?”, “this is an academic question, it was 20 years ago!”, “I feel offended by this question”. Such situations did happen during interviews, but when they did, they were 95% caused by a very experienced professional — with 10–15 years of experience and more, who simply felt that he didn’t know and that the person on the other side had higher competence. Then automatically the candidate would go to the attack or ambition to shift the focus to themselves.
On the other hand, candidates also often place themselves much lower in the communication or hierarchy than the interviewee. It is known that often the client is a much more experienced person than the candidate, but the candidate should not put himself in the role of being bombarded with questions, should not approach the conversation in a one-way — that he is the one who has to perform well, that he has no right to ask questions or learn more about the company or the project. The candidate should be well prepared, know their own market and intellectual value, and approach with due confidence but not overstepping good tact or get above himself in the conversation. As I mentioned, the interview should be conducted in an equal manner — don’t invite the candidate “FOR” the interview, but “TO” the interview.
Now, on the other hand, how should a candidate behave in order to perform well in an interview?
He should certainly be properly directed by the recruiter. A candidate is not born with the knowledge of how to behave towards the client to whom the recruiter sends him. The recruiter should put effort into making the candidate feel at ease, be prepared, know what he/she is signing up for, perform well at the interview, and not be thrown into the deep water. Of course, this is not always possible, especially in such broadly corporate environments or ecosystems. In that case, it would be a good idea for the candidate to prepare some questions before the interview about the project and position he is applying for. Certainly, the questions that a candidate prepares for himself before the interview look very good in the eyes of the recruiter or a Hiring Manager. To list one point on how a candidate should behave at an interview in order to do well, it is the preparation of questions, because if the questions come up, it means that the candidate is prepared well, is motivated, and has ambitions to develop or learn more about the environment in which he/she intends to work.
Do the stress and body language of the candidate, affect the process? Does the fact that hiring processes are now done online somehow affects this?
In my opinion, yes. When building IT teams, I was much more able to sense people and worked better with those I accepted face-to-face than on camera. In the end, it worked out that on camera during an hour-long conversation, someone had a lot more room for “putting on masks.” It was hard for me to see through such people, but I am also aware that in the IT industry you can assess a candidate a bit better, more precisely, zero-one. Very generally I can say that remote recruitment decreases some of the private aspects in getting to know a person, but it has been going on for almost 3 years, so somehow candidates “pass the test”. The job market is saturated, people take on jobs, and they don’t leave after a week or a month, so you can see that it works. It also always depends on the approach and expectations of the Hiring Manager. Body language, nervousness, or stuttering have always had an impact, but the fault never lies on one side. If we have a Manager who does not take into account this element of stress in a candidate, we may deprive ourselves of the chance to hire a great specialist. It always has to be balanced. Candidate stress is not one-sided, it can be caused by the approach of the interviewer, the overly formal tone, or the way that the recruiter / Manager is dressed. It can be a visual shock because someone didn’t inform us about the dress code or previously worked in a different environment.
Does stress, body language, or nervousness affect the process? Yes, they do. If the Manager does not do anything about it and does not maintain proper business and psychological maturity, usually nothing comes out of it. This is the IT world — a world of quick decisions, and quick conversations, and rarely does the business interlocutor have the time and inclination to prepare. If he sees someone who stutters, who can’t answer a question — then he can judge them zero-one.
What should you keep in mind when contacting a recruiter?
It will sound a bit brutal, but in order to be able to talk to recruiters and effectively look for a job, you need to have experience in being in contact with several recruiters, representing different working styles. You can treat it as training, burning out someone’s time — being aware of how different styles of work recruiters can have, eventually, a candidate will know how to present himself properly and find an idea for their presence in a given recruitment process. If someone has never had contact with a recruiter or is looking for a job once every two/three years and occasionally attends interviews, the advice is to always approach the interview with humility but also with tactful confidence. During the first contact, you should maintain the status quo, between not going to the recruiter as a victim or a desperate job seeker. It is worth pointing out your own strengths, but also weaknesses so that the recruiter knows what offer to come back with or how to perceive the candidate’s profile. You shouldn’t go to a recruiter only boasting about your competencies, you should also be self-critical, and show what you don’t feel comfortable doing, and what your fears are. This looks very good in the eyes of the recruiter because if someone is critical of themselves, it shows high motivation or ambition to change. There are companies or recruiters who deal with quantitative “selling” of people, but there are also those who have a very wide network of contacts and opportunities, so if you mess up with such a recruiter, you can be blacklisted in many large companies or significant Hiring Managers in Poland, so you should always approach recruiters with humility and respect.
How best to discuss salaries? Should the recruiter and candidate negotiate, or is this perhaps the role of Hiring Managers?
Negotiating rates should always take place between the recruiter and the candidate to avoid unpleasant situations where we agree on one rate with the candidate, and then when the candidate talks to the client, he/she wants a completely different rate. This may discourage the client because suddenly the candidate will demand 50% more. On many occasions, I have been misled by a candidate during an interview, and when contacted by the client he changed his approach, arguing that he was “finally talking to someone in a position to make decisions”. It is the recruiter’s job to set the rate, to honestly present the candidate’s real, market value (diplomatically, of course). If the candidate is asking for a rate that is too high, the recruiter should tell him or her that and listen to the argument as to where it came from.
Is it common for candidates to criticize their previous or current employers? What are the most common things they complain about and how is this behavior perceived by recruiters?
I don’t want to generalize, but if someone has to complain about previous employers, it is usually young people. This is not due to the fact that this generation is inexperienced or demanding, but more because of a slightly different developmental or professional dynamic in this generation. People — let’s say 35+ years old — already have many jobs behind them, have some idea of themselves, know what kind of environment they wouldn’t like to work in, and can react relatively quickly if something disturbing happens. The people who tend to complain are usually younger people who are starting their careers.
However, as far as I’m concerned, it’s rare for anyone to complain or criticize their employer. Literally in every “online guide” or among the psychological principles of interviewing — the aspect of criticizing previous employers is unanimously cited as a reason for performing poorly in an interview. It’s a good idea to prepare one answer as to why you want to change jobs, so you don’t go too far with possible criticism.
How do high technical skills but poor soft skills affect candidate effectiveness?
In the world of IT, a lot depends on the business needs, if there is a “fire” and the project needs a specialist for “yesterday”, there may be a situation of hiring literally anyone, even a person who may bring an unpleasant atmosphere to the team. Sometimes a person is employed even for 2–3 weeks, just to get the project started, and then such a person is replaced. As for whether soft skills are equal or even higher than technical skills — rather not. In the world of IT, experience and technical skills are higher because here a lot of things can be assessed zero-one. That is why there are project specifications, and listed technology stacks so that someone suited joins the team, does not waste time and you do not have to spend a lot of time and money on his/her onboarding. Simply, he or she comes in and does his or her job. It is known that juniors or people to be trained always have to be compensated in terms of time and money to make them independent, but usually, when it comes to aspects of the IT industry, I would say 65% for technical skills to 35% for soft skills. Always the soft aspect counts because if there is a completely lousy person who curses, criticizes everyone, does not talk to anyone, is a narcissist, etc., it is usually a quickie. If such a person has very high technical skills but poor team play skills, he/she is often taken at the start of the project (2–3 weeks) with a view for later replacement. If everything plays out and there is synergy between the technical and soft aspects, we really have a very cool, healthy relationship and a valuable team member.
Do gaps in knowledge about the employer cancel the chance of employment?
It always depends on the employer. Some are very orthodox in this regard. As a rule, big companies don’t pay much attention to this, smaller companies and startups do it more often. The recruiter’s job is to make sure the candidate always knows as much as possible about the client and the role/project. If this important aspect is overlooked, then the recruiter was simply a person not following good recruitment practices. After all, the recruiter can read up, google the reviews, and go to the website, they themselves need to be well prepared to inform the candidate further. Whether the candidate goes to the interview through the agency, or on his own initiative, in my opinion, he should read about the client, because it always looks good. If the candidate approaches the interview with such energy, with questions that indicate that he has prepared, read, and is curious — it will always be better received than passively sitting and answering questions.
How is it perceived for a candidate to ask multiple questions during an interview?
If a candidate tends to ask a lot of questions or knows that they are an analytical/organized person, or just that they want to know everything — I would definitely suggest that they prepare their top 5 questions beforehand, just so there is no chaos. If you approach recruitment interviews with care, the quintessential part of good preparation is creating a picture of the interview. This sorting out, writing 4–5 key aspects of the interview in Word, in a notebook, or on a piece of paper is advisable — it allows you to stay organized and maintain the pace of the conversation.
How’s the situation with the CV? Sometimes it takes a while for a candidate to send a resume. Is it necessary to have a CV to participate in the process?
Unfortunately, there are times when a recruiter has to wait for a resume a little longer and needs to remind the candidate about it. If we are talking about the agency, consulting, or recruiting world, it is always important for the recruiter to create such an aura in communication that the candidate is uncomfortable with being late. A specific deadline date and time should be set to oblige the candidate. But you can also help the candidate — if someone just doesn’t have time to do the resume, as recruiters we can do it on their behalf. Many times I have done the resume for the candidate, e.g., based on a phone interview or a well-filled profile on LinkedIn because I really wanted to present their candidacy within a certain time frame. We then make the candidate’s life easier, which he will certainly appreciate at later stages of the recruitment process.
In the IT recruiting world, for example, we never rely solely on a LinkedIn profile (I sometimes use this method to quickly discuss a potential candidate with a client). It is always essential to generate a resume. Having a good CV is essential as this document can “circulate” between Managers’ desks, so all information must be condensed into one document. I am definitely not fond of the tendency to create a one-page CV — I find it not very clear and I always advise candidates against it, as it is impossible to summarise many years of professional experience in a professional manner on one side of A4, and I have never encountered any comments from clients that “this CV is too extensive”. It is better to prepare a solid CV than waste time answering detailed questions from a recruiter or Hiring Manager later on.
Can you identify the top 3 tips for candidates to increase their employability?
A lot of people think that you have to take on more recruitment processes to increase your chances of getting hired. I would go in the direction of not taking on too much on your shoulders, concentrating properly, preparing for each process, and not taking on more than 3, maybe 4 recruitment processes at the same time. Just so that you don’t hurt yourself so that you don’t lose track of what you were telling someone, what the rates were, what the project was, what the terms were, and so on. So, to increase your chances of getting hired, don’t participate in too many hiring processes at the same time. Focus on 3–4 and “pump” as much of your own value into them as possible during interviews.
As for the second piece of advice — always try to prepare a syllabus for the job interview. Write out your pros, and cons, and possibly write down from the dash how you yourself would like to conduct the interview.
As for the third piece of advice — be confident, but to a certain limit. Don’t overestimate your skills or qualifications. Just because you were great at one interview doesn’t mean you’ll be a star at all of them. The same goes the other way. If you’ve been judged very negatively in one interview, you may be perfect on another, so never get discouraged by negative feedback, nor “grow with feathers” after very positive feedback. Always approach the process with a cool head.
Do you like what you’ve read, or are you currently looking for a new job? Feel free to connect with Kamil directly on LinkedIn, and if you’d like to keep up to date on IT recruiting tips, join the Call for Tech group on Facebook.
Originally published at https://nexttechnology.io on June 2, 2022.