Tales From the Hot Seat

IT pros who have survived rough job interviews share their stories.

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"He loved it," Moskowitz recalls. "In fact, I think his answer started with something like, 'I already like the way you think.' We spent nearly the entire time talking about business-level stuff: high-availability requirements, ways to make the operation more efficient, personnel/management issues, and so on."

Not only did Moskowitz get the job -- a position as senior systems administrator -- he and the manager ended up working closely together on a big project. "I'd work for him again in a minute, and I'm pretty sure he'd hire me again if he ever goes somewhere else. He's also one of my references," says Moskowitz, who is now a principal consultant at Menlo Computing in Chelmsford, Mass.

How did you turn around an interview that was going south?

Mike Woycheck, a technologist at the Pittsburgh Technology Council, says that IT professionals generally dread being asked questions on subjects beyond their area of expertise. "The questions can be so niche, highlighting stuff that you can't answer. The interviewer can get the impression you don't know what you're talking about," he says.

Mike Woycheck

Mike Woycheck Woycheck says he keenly remembers having that experience while interviewing for a job as an IT manager at a small financial services company. The interviewer's questions revealed Woycheck's unfamiliarity with the financial services industry and statistical modeling, two areas of experience the company wanted in an ideal candidate.

Woycheck thought the interview was a lost cause, but he turned it around by talking about his previous experience, highlighting that he learned new technologies and different industries' requirements quickly. To prove the point, Woycheck says, he talked about his systematic approach to learning new material.

"I showed them I could learn the business and the sector and the statistical aspects of the job. It helped show that even though I didn't know everything about their topics, I was still a valuable candidate," he adds.

The approach worked -- Woycheck landed the job.

Michael Jones is now CIO at Children's Hospital and Health System Inc. in Milwaukee. But when he was interviewing for the job of chairman of the division of medical informatics at The Cleveland Clinic Foundation, a not-for-profit multispecialty academic medical center, he found himself in an intimidating situation: He was in a room with 25 physicians and Ph.D.s who were given free rein to ask him about his qualifications for several hours.

He soon noticed that many of the doctors didn't share his sense of humor. "You had to tell them when you made a joke," he says. And others didn't like his responses to their questions. "You could tell by their body language and their looks," he recalls.

Michael Jones

Michael Jones In other words, the interview wasn't going well.

Jones says that rather than panicking, he decided to "relax, give the best answers and advice I could, and let the chips fall where they may."

That perspective apparently helped him deliver strong answers and convey his expertise, because he got the job. He later learned from some of the interviewers that they had appreciated his frankness and his calm demeanor when things weren't going well.

Jesse Trucks is blunt in his assessment of an interview he had during his most recent job search. "I thought I had blown it completely," he says.

Trucks was talking with a hiring manager who was conducting initial telephone interviews to make sure that candidates had the technical experience required for the job.

"The beginning of the interview was focused very tightly on an area where I have some experience but am far from being an expert -- high-capacity storage systems," he says. As a result, Trucks says, he was forced to punt on the first several questions, saying he would have to "investigate or look up the details."

But instead of giving up, Trucks tried to move the conversation to areas in which he had more expertise, such as security architecture. "Eventually, the interviewer asked me a question directly related to security, so I could answer with authority," he says, and after that, the interview went well. Although the company expressed interest in hiring him, Trucks ultimately took another offer instead. He is now a systems engineer at Telephone and Data Systems Inc. in Chicago.

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Pratt is a Computerworld contributing writer in Waltham, Mass. Contact her at marykpratt@verizon.net.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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