March 8, 2011
Interviewing tips for the socially awkward
Like many techies, I know what it means to be painfully shy and socially awkward. (As a writer, it's pretty much part of the job description.) Unfortunately, face-to-face communication skills can make or break an interview, even if the job you're being hired to do is a solitary one.
For tips on how techies can boost their communication skills while job hunting, I asked Lewis Lin, CEO of Impact Interview, which offers classes on acing a software engineering interview. Here's what he suggested.
Take advantage of blogging or social media. As a programmer, engineer, or other tech worker, chances are you have an opinion on Facebook's latest privacy settings, whether Androids blow iPhones out of the water, or whether the TV show "The Big Bang Theory" needs more technical consultants on its writing team. Don't be afraid to express them online. "That's how you stand out and come off as an expert," Lin says. And, he adds, once you've committed your ideas to pixels, "Those words are going to come more naturally during an interview." (More networking tips for techies here.)
Use demos to help tell your story. If you're building an app or a website in your spare time, Lin suggests bringing a demo of your work in progress to the interview. "People in the industry gravitate toward demos," Lin explains. "Showing your product will get them excited." Besides engaging interviewers, a demo gives you an opportunity to show what you're passionate about, which is often where job seekers shine and come across as their most confident and capable.
Map out answers ahead of time. "Don't use the interview as a time to find out, 'Well, that story didn't work,'" Lin says. Instead, write down answers to all anticipated interview questions, whittle them down, and practice delivering them to a friend you trust to give honest feedback. Work on places where you sound stiff or long-winded; instead, aim for conversational yet concise. "A lot of people are nervous at the interview because they don't know what to say," Lin explains. "Getting those thoughts out in advance can be a big help." (More tips on answering interview questions succinctly here.)
Practice making eye contact. As a recovering shy person, I know what it means to live in terror of making eye contact. But the candidate who has difficulty looking his or her interviewer in the eye risks coming off as bored, rude, or even shifty, rather than warm, confident, and trustworthy. To improve your eye contact, Lin makes this recommendation: "When practicing your interview responses, put Post-it notes on an empty wall and pretend that your Post-its are your inteviewers. Practice holding your gaze on each Post-it until you become more comfortable doing so." Enlisting a friend can also help.
Take an improv class. As a techie, you may spend a lot of time working alone and living in your own head. An improv class -- which I've found much more fun than a traditional public speaking class -- teaches you to speak off the cuff, to roll with the communication punches, and to stop worrying so danged much about what others think. "It's really about playing to win and not playing to lose," Lin says. "I think people sometimes are so afraid of the consequences. They think, 'If I make the first move, they're not going to like what I'm going to say, or they're going to laugh at me.' The great thing about improv is it gets us out of these negative habits." (More tips on job hunting tips for introverts here.)
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Kristen Fife is a senior recruiter, career mentor, blogger and resume consultant based in the Seattle area.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
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