I applied to several jobs around the end of August/beginning of September. About two to three weeks later, I was speaking with four companies at once and setting up interviews. I was referred to two of the companies. For one, I saw on LinkedIn that my friend knew several people at this company, so I reached out to him, he made an introduction, and my résumé got forwarded without ever applying formally. I had never done this route before, but it worked out pretty well! The companies I applied to were a consultancy, a pre-IPO startup, a recently acquired startup, and a larger company. In hopes that this will help someone who might be applying to jobs now, I'll go ahead and talk about the general interview processes, but I won't name any names.
Almost all of the interviews followed this general format:
1) Recruiter reaches out in an e-mail and schedules a 30 minute "screener call"
- These calls typically involved me explaining my research background and I talked about why I was interested in the company. It's definitely good to ask questions during this phase. Not all of these "screener calls" were with the recruiter. A couple were with members of the team I was interviewing to be hired on to.
- A note on recruiters - some are knowledgeable about the position they are hiring for, and some are not. It can at times seem like they are speaking another language and you are not talking about the same job. Don't be discouraged - press on and talk about how your experience is applicable. You will at some point talk to someone more knowledgeable about the job.
2) Two hour on-site interview
- For most of these, I spoke with groups of 2 or 3 for four 30-minute sessions. For some companies, I had one-on-one 30-minute interviews with individuals.
3) Final round on-site interview
- I came back to interview with more people whom I hadn't met yet. These were usually all pretty similar to the first on-site. Most of them were about two hours.
- One of the companies, the consultancy, had me come in for an all-day final round interview. I did a mock usability test, analyzed my results, created a PPT presentation, and presented to a group of people. This one was exhausting! I was also taken out to lunch and had a meet and greet with almost everyone in the company.
That was the general process and schedule. Below, I'm going to talk about other things that happened during interviews and give some advice and tips.
Debriefing with Recruiter/HR Person
- For most of these interviews, the last person I met with would be the recruiter or the HR director. This is the time when they would ask me how I was feeling about the company, if I had any concerns, and they asked me what my salary requirement was.
- For the final round interviews, when I met with the recruiters, I mentioned that I was interviewing with several companies. This put a fire under them to get back to me quickly!
Interview the Company
- Don't forget that you are interviewing the company as well. Some of the companies were highly organized and gave me a detailed schedule of who I would be meeting with and when.
- Many made sure that I was "checked on" and that my interviews were not running long. You could tell that my time was valued and respected.
- For one of the companies, however, despite getting a detailed schedule, I was left in a conference room for 40 minutes and not checked on. I had to go to the front desk (on another floor) to ask the receptionist what was happening. Then I was interviewed in a conference room and we went 30 minutes past the scheduled end time. At no point was I asked if I needed to be somewhere else or if I was okay on time. SAD FACE.
Cover letters, attire and courtesy e-mails
- COVER LETTER: For each job I applied to, I tailored my cover letter extensively. This is more simple to do than it sounds - read the job posting and try to speak to it specifically. Think of examples of how you've demonstrated whatever the posting has asked for. Get a real sense of what it seems is important to the company and emphasize those things. One of the job postings I read said that people who work at that company are a little bit weird. I literally added in this sentence: "I would love to sit down and discuss the details of my diverse research history and also measure exactly how weird I am."
- ATTIRE: I find that a safe bet for interviews (for women) is to wear a dress. It's not too casual and you can still show that you have some personal style. I wore a dress or skirt with a nice top and cardigan for many of the interviews. For a few of them, I wore red jeans and a nice white top, with cute flats. I justified wearing jeans for the companies that were startup-y and I knew that everyone interviewing me would be in jeans. For the tech industry, you don't generally want to wear a suit. Know your audience. For the consultancy, I wore slacks and a nice top for one of the interviews, because they are client-facing and seem to dress up at work.
- THANK YOU: After each round of interviews, I sent thank you e-mails to whomever I met with. I asked the recruiter for the e-mail addresses, or if I could send my thank you's through the recruiter.
Questions I was asked during the interviews
- Tell us about a time when something wasn't going right at a project and you had to be flexible
- This was the most common question I got. I personally am not good at remembering examples of situations like this, although I know when doing Trial Consulting, I had to be flexible constantly. So I didn't pick the *best* example, but instead the most recent.
- I talked about when something didn't go right at a project and what I did to adapt. I also talked about debriefing after the project and what I could have done better. Employers really want to hear about how you've learned from past experiences!
- What's your process for doing research?
- If we had X question that we wanted to answer, how would you go about researching it?
- If there's not enough information, make sure to say "I'd want to get more information first, so I would meet with X to try and define the research question more specifically."
- How do you keep up on the latest trends in the field? What blogs do you read?
- I rattled off blogs I read and I mentioned a specific one I like a lot, Dana Chisnell's blog, because I like that she specifically tells you HOW she does her research.
- What tools have you used?
- I spoke about using Skype to screen share and iShowU to record a screen. I also talked about tools I know about and would like to use but haven't because we haven't had the budget. And I brought up using TaskRabbit for recruiting.
- It's also good to talk about tools and skills you want to learn more about. For instance, I spoke about how I'm interested in learning more about wireframing and design.
- What are the challenges that this position faces?
- You want to find out the real dirt about what is good and bad about the company. You can also ask "tell me one thing you like about your job and one thing you would like to change."
- Is the company bought in on research?
- It's a good idea to find out if half your job will be convincing stakeholders about the value of research. If the interviewers are asking you what the ROI (return on investment) of research is, then they might not see the benefits of research yet. If you do get asked that question, try to talk about how research saves time because you are getting it right the first time, and time is money. Research leads to better products and better products lead to more profits.
- What's the culture like?
- This is where they start telling you about some of the perks, hack days, team outings, etc.
- What's the work/life balance like?
- This was something that was important to me!
- Can you tell me more about how the role takes in to account the needs of other stakeholders in the company?
- Will you be working with just the designers? Or, will your role be more cross-functional?
- Try to gauge the "politics" involved in getting research done. In the end, are you just doing the research that the top stakeholders want you to do?
- Basically, just make sure you have a lot of thoughtful questions to ask! Think about what is important to you and make sure you ask those questions. Like I said before, you are interviewing the company as much as they are interviewing you.
Timeline of the entire process:
August 22 to September 4: Applied to jobs
September 14 to October 5: Interviewed
October 9 to October 12: Get offers and negotiated.
October 12: ACCEPTED A JOB!
I'm happy to announce that I accepted a job at Yammer. I'll be starting the 29th (barring any unforeseen changes, and given that my background check doesn't yield anything unsavory).
If anyone out there has other advice on interviewing - what you wore, questions you were asked, etc. - please feel free to comment!