Preparation beats the interview blues

How do you prepare for your first job interview for an IT management position?

You've gone for your first job as an IT manager or CIO.

It's something you've wanted for a long time, but the interview turned to custard. The interviewer thought you were an idiot and perhaps you shouldn't have resorted to violence when he told you that you didn't have the right temperament for management.

So, what do you do now? Well, preparation is the key word. This week I spoke to an IT manager, a CIO and a recruiter about how to prepare for an IT management position interview.

All say you should do as much research about the company and its technology as you can before the interview.

They suggest you:

  • Check out the company's Web site.

  • Talk to anyone you know who works at the company.

  • Talk to the company's suppliers. Mainfreight CIO Garry Collings says suppliers will generally be willing to talk as long as you take the right approach. "It's like anything - if you're polite you tend to get somewhere."

  • If the company is a public one, check its stock price.

  • Request an annual report.

  • If you're going through an agency, it should brief you thoroughly about the company. Recruitment firm, Resource Edge managing director Linda Peters says it should tell you about hardware, software, applications and packages.

New Zealand Dairy Foods IT manager Yvonne Boersma says before the interview you need to understand what the role is about and what sort of attributes the employer is looking for.

When you finally get to the interview, make sure you sell yourself, but all the people I spoke to caution against lying about your achievements.

Collings says make sure you sell your strengths, but don't pretend you are what you're not.

"Focus on the stuff you have a track record on."

Boersma agrees that it's important to just be yourself. She says try to be relaxed and confident.

All three say you should match your strengths to the requirements of the job, and make sure you have some examples that illustrate those strengths.

Peters says if the interviewer isn't asking you the questions that allow you to explain your skills, make sure you put those skills across anyway.

"Make sure they understand the technical knowledge you have, the people management skills and how you keep up-to-date."

Behavioural questions - where you're expected to explain how you'd react, or have reacted, in a certain situation - are becoming increasingly common.

Collings counsels against having prepared answers ready for such questions.

"Some people go in and you'd swear you'd just turned the tape recorder on - bulk standard answers come out."

Boersma agrees that preparing rote answers would sound unnatural, but does say it pays to anticipate what might be asked. She uses a lot of behavioural questions in her own interviewing.

"It pays to be prepared and don't be frightened to spend some time thinking about the question and a good example."

Peters says if you haven't come across the type of situation the interviewer is talking about, don't just say, "I don't know, that hasn't happened to me".

"Just say 'I haven't encountered that, but this is how I would handle it'."

Interviews are a two-way street. They're a chance for you to find out about the company you want to work at as well.

Peters says you should ask how many people have been in the role, how long they were in the role and why the previous person left.

You should also ask about the staff you'll be in charge of. "The aim is to just give you some idea of what you'd be coming into."

Peters suggests having about five questions to ask, usually at the end of the interview.

She recommends having them written down so your mind doesn't go blank.

Boersma suggests asking about the structure of the department and how it relates to the business.

"One good question I've been asked was: 'How is the IT department perceived by the rest of the organisation?'"

She says if you get to second interview stage, its a good idea to meet the other people in the team or even the person you are replacing to find out what the company is really like to work for.

Collings says listening is a crucial part of the interview, so you pick up everything and can ask relevant questions.

"Your ability to listen and pick up points from them is just as important as their ability to pick up points from you."

Send email to Kirstin Mills. Letters for publication should be sent to Computerworld letters.

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