We are always on the lookout for new talent, and as manager of our services team I interview a lot of candidates. Some are just starting their career, some are working on a second or third career, and some, like me, have spent years in corporate IT and are looking for a change or a challenge. If you genuinely want to succeed in this field, particularly as a consultant, here are a few useful bits of advice that have helped me to get where I am…
Beware The Dunning-Kruger Effect
In simple terms, the Dunning-Kruger Effect refers to the tendency for those who are less knowledgeable to overstate their qualifications and those who are more knowledgeable to understate theirs. This is, of course, a generalization, but I’ve seen it hold true more often than not in interviews. It might seem like the sound advice, then, would be to understate your qualifications in the interest of appearing confident. That may work for some in the short term, but it can easily land you in the stressful position of being stuck in a job you aren’t qualified for.
In my experience, the best way to combat the Dunning-Kruger effect in your career is to remember that you can learn something from every person you meet. Whether you are talking to a seasoned veteran, a high-level engineer or a part-time intern, the odds are very high that they know something that you don’t. So if you approach every conversation, meeting, or interview with the goal of finding and learning that something, you will show your knowledgeability in the questions you ask and at the same time your willingness to learn.
Blow Bubbles, Not Smoke
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard applicants gloss over the work they’ve done in their previous positions as though it were trivial, only to fall flat at the simplest of skill evaluations. The people that I’ve found to be the most successful are not the ones who feed me buzzwords and tell me what they think I want to hear, but the ones who show me, transparently, where their knowledge on the subject might be hollow. Knowledge gaps are trivial to fill, but if I have to first convince someone that they don’t know something, they are already starting out behind the 8-ball. As a mentor of mine used to say, “Ignorance can be easily cured. Stupid is terminal.”
Be Conversant In The Basics
In his work to promote blue collar occupations, TV host Mike Rowe often highlights the distinction between qualifications and competency. A college degree in IT or computer science may make you “qualified” to do a job, but it does not automatically follow that you are competent at that job. Nor does a lack of official credentials indicate a lack of competency. In this era of limitless information on demand (Google, YouTube, Lynda, Khan Academy, et al), there is no reason why anyone should walk into an interview for an IT position without the ability to intelligently discuss LAN/WAN networks, basic computer architecture, the major line of business application types (ERP/MRP, EMR, simple accounting packages, etc.), the concepts behind virtualization, and the fundamentals of systems troubleshooting. Don’t expect to be an expert (see the Dunning-Kruger Effect above), but if you aren’t able to keep up a conversation on these subjects it will be prohibitively difficult for you to demonstrate any value to your prospective employer.
Take Nothing Personally But Your Own Integrity
If you do succeed in landing that IT job you’ve been after, this one piece of advice could save your life. When I got my first position as a corporate IT Manager, I found myself frequently at the end of my rope facing the demands of a user base whose needs weren’t being met. A wise old friend and consultant, after letting me bend his ear about my fears and frustrations, said simply, “You can’t take this stuff personally. If you do, it will kill you.” He wasn’t telling me anything I didn’t already know, but just knowing that he heard me made the situation so much less daunting because I was no longer alone. I realized then that when a user called me with a full head of steam built up, it was out of that same fear that they couldn’t do their job and they felt alone in their struggle. If I simply listened and assured them that I wouldn’t give up until the problem was solved, even the most curmudgeonly of colleagues could be won over. As long as you are putting in 100%, you have no reason not to hold your head high and carry on.
For Entertainment Value…
Here are some examples of things to avoid in your job hunt (based on real experiences, believe it or not)…
– Don’t work on other projects during a phone interview
– Don’t hold a ruler up to a computer screen to measure anything except the screen itself
– Don’t tell your prospective employer that you don’t need to work and you’re just looking to keep busy
– Don’t fall asleep (Um…yeah.)
– Don’t keep talking until the interviewer is forced to hang up on you
– Don’t hug the interviewer (except in very unusual circumstances)
– Don’t insult your new/prospective employer’s IT environment
If You’re Still Reading…
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